Demazong – The hidden valley of rice..

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Something is missing. Isn’t it? It’s obvious that I was missing from past 4 or 5 days (Spiritual spree). Lol 🙂 But, I am saying about the thing that is missing from my North Sikkim trip. I gave a brief about all the places that I visited except Chungthang. Now, am gonna fill that gap. But, the title of this post says something else right? Don’t worry. The confusion will be cleared by the end of this post 😉

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Chungthang, a small town on the way to Yumthang, at a distance of 95 kms from Gangtok and an altitude of 5900 ft and stands at the confluence of the rivers Lachen Chu and Lachung Chu. Chungthang is surrounded by mountains and streams. It is very rich in bio-diversity with wide varieties of flowers and orchids. It has lots of small eatery shops, restaurants and of course liquor shops. There is no good accommodation available as such here.

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This small town is mired with myths and is full of legends. According to the legend, the Chungthang valley is believed to have been blessed by the Buddhist Guru Padmasambava (“the Lotus-born) also known as Guru Rinpoche. It is said that he visited this town before going to Tibet and left his footprint on a rock where he once rested. There is a small opening on this rock from where there is a continuous flow of water.

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It is also believed that Guru Rinpoche had grown some paddy here, which is supposed to be a miracle as paddy does not grow at such altitude and conditions. Later on, people earned their livelihood from growing paddy. And this is from where the word ‘Demazong’ (the Hidden valley of rice, as Sikkim is known) first originated. I think, the confusion is cleared now :p

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It is also believed that Guru Nanak Dev ji visited this place during his trip to China and Tibet. Guru Nanak Dev ji dug his walking stick at a place where eventually the stick has grown into a tree. A Gurudwara named Gurudwara Nanak Laama Sahib was built by officers of the Assam Rifles and Army personnel with the help of the local Lepcha tribe in the early eighties.

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While we stayed in a school compound on the way to Yumthang, we stayed in the Gurudwara on our way back to Gangtok. The Gurudwara provides accommodation to the pilgrims who pay a visit to the Gurudwara. It was quite a good accommodation, the beds and blankets, the washrooms and the hot water availability in such cool climate and the langar (kitchen) which provides tasty rotis and sabji to the visitors is truly relishing! Love to visit this place again 🙂

The end to my North Sikkim trip! Will be back soon with my Andaman Diaries 🙂

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Romancing Yumthang…

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Dr. Joseph Hooker in his “Himalayan Journal” of 1855 mentioned that Lachung and Yumthang are the two most picturesque places in the whole of Sikkim and had even compared them to the valleys of Switzerland. Everyone will agree with him after having the magnificent view of these vast grassy meadows covered with so many flowers of different colours. It was as if a carpet of flowers spread over the bare ground!

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Yumthang, situated at a height of 11800 ft is located at a distance of about 150 kms from Gangtok. The scenic beauty of this valley of flowers is breathtaking. The alpine meadows covered with primulas, the natural vegetation comprising of silver fir and pines, the blooming Rhododendron forests, the snow peaks of Himalayas with the Lachung River cutting across it is truly a fascinating destination for nature-lovers.

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The mountain peaks like Pauhunri and Shundu Tsenpa and some other glaciers form the backdrop of the river Teesta. Another speciality of Yumthang is the hotsprings. Yeah, even in the freezing temperatures, one can feel the warmth of this sulfur rich hot water, which is believed to have healing powers. A hot spring is located just right side of the river which is in a close proximity to our base camp. But, didn’t go there as it was snowing continuously and the water was not that warm 😦

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Our next destination is Shiv Mandir; six kms away further north. The trek to this place was so refreshing and exhilarating. The serenity of the valley cannot be described in words and one should experience this at least once in a life time! We started our trek towards Shiv Mandir early in the morning when it started to drizzle. Though the road is quite treacherous, the marvelous scenic views offered by the snow-clad mountains were awesome. Except for the road, everything else which we could see is covered with snow.

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There was a point when we missed the off-road track leading to Shiv Mandir and started stopping the car drivers asking for the directions. Interestingly, almost all the drivers stopped by and were very cordial in guiding us. Not only Yumthang is great, but it’s ambiance too! After trespassing few walls, passing through the barely grown shrubs and plants, sliding down the sloppy ice-sheets, we were at the Shiv Mandir finally.

The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This is not a regular temple; I mean not a big one which we generally see. It was aloof, small, and dark and lit by some lamps. The linga is placed on an elevated platform and there is a small track around it to do the pradakshinas. The tranquility of the premises invokes the spiritual nature of every person who visits this temple. Om Namah Shivaayah!

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Further up and about 23 kms from Yumthang at an altitude of over 15000 ft, there is a place called Zero Point or YumeSamdong. For most of the times, this place remains covered with snow. Without a visit to zero point, the visit to Yumthang would be incomplete! Anyways, my romance with one of the most beautiful places on the earth came to an end with this last trek..

Time to pack my bags.. 🙂

Nature at it’s best!

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Though it was a restless night, the early morning view of the nature, made us forget our restlessness and rejuvenated us in turn. It was an awe-struck moment to watch the entire land covered with milky white powdery snow, the verglass formed on the river, the green pines turning out white with the snow over their leaves and needles, entire mountain ranges looking like big cones of ice-creams and the colorful prayer flags with that white background!

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The snow-fall is going on. For most of our group members, this might be the first time seeing it snow and everyone was so excited. Everyone started enjoying the snowfall, clicking some good shots in various poses, while few of the others kept on removing the snow that was being accumulated over their tents so that they won’t collapse 😀

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It was freezing cold and we were instructed to assemble to perform a puja. As per the Indian tradition, when we set up a base camp, a ritual is performed to invoke the spirits of nature and local deities to safeguard us from all sorts of calamities.

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Once done with that, we started carving snowmen, decorating them with different things which we can gather, in fact that was a competition to see who’z gonna carve the best snowman 🙂 We played, danced, we are one big family now! As it was snowing continuously, there is nothing much to do. But, there was a good session on survival techniques. We learnt different things like preparing our food, collecting water in difficult situations, constructing out shelters. We had a hands-on too! 🙂DSC_0072

Uhh..This is life! Far away from the materialistic world and the concrete jungles, listening to the music not on tapes or DVD players, but from the flowing streams and blowing wind, enjoying a meal with friends sitting on the grass on a river side, singing and dancing not caring about what others may think; as if we were again into our childhood phase, replacing the mobiles and other complicated gadgets with simple cameras and torches. Life is so simple and beautiful 🙂 We were totally out of this world. Ain’t we?

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Welcome to “PARADISE INN” :)

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It was an ideal base camp. The leveled ground is elevated and safe from the flowing river one side and is protected well on the other side by the Alpine vegetation consisting of pines and silver fir. There were no human settlements downstream and has lots of empty space for all other activities. From here, one could see the vast, mirror-flat sheets of snow reflecting the mist peaks of the mountains. Our base camp is well connected with the roads and main center. And there is our “PARADISE INN”! 🙂 🙂

Well, don’t think that the Paradise Inn is a resort on the valley side or a luxurious room in a star hotel. It is our cute little, cozy tent erected just beside the river side. Oh Yeah! Why only a home or a resort should be named, why can’t be a tent which is going to be our home for the next few days? Logic right 😉 It is the most beautiful amongst all the things present there. Here on this beautiful valley of flowers – Yumthang!

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Thank you dear Stan for the wonderful name! Paradise Inn, as the name itself suggests, is truly a paradise, a paradise full of wonderful angelsStanzin2, Gaicham, Asha and Shweta. This small yet beautiful tent truly turned out to be my home with the presence of my sibling-friend Shweta and other dear friends. Though am away from my family, this tent never made me miss them, and justified the saying “Friends and family makes a trip more beautiful”.

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Paradise Inn, though not much big, can accommodate six people easily. And it was quite simple. It has a monstrous mouth 😀 , two ventilators, a pole in the middle which has a 12 watt CFB fixed to it and works only from the evening till the morning. I realized how beautiful this world is, though we are away from our homes, we are not missing our families too much, we are carefree and stress free as there was no beeping phones and complicated gadgets with us. What all we do is just eat, roam around, learn things, enjoy the nature, and spend some quality time with friends. How simple life was all of a sudden! True, life is always simple; it’s only us who makes it complicated.

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After dancing around the camp fire till the time we get exhausted, we had our dinner and retired to bed. Our beds were also simple. It comprised of our ground sheet, carry mat, a blanket and a sleeping bag with the inner. Though the temperature out was somewhere around 2 degrees, we managed to keep ourselves warm by zipping up in our sleeping bags and woolens.

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It was around 12.30 am in the morning when it started to snow. And, we were up the whole night to keep our tent safe by removing off the heavy snow that was accumulating over it. A restless night!

What’s gonna happen next? Just watch!!

 

Let’s go hand-in-hand and embrace the nature!

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On the track around 7 AM in the morning. Very punctual huh 😛 Started our trek towards Yumthang which is located at a distance of 25 kms from Lachung and at an altitude of 11800 ft. The road leading to Yumthang is through the snow covered mountains and lush green meadows.  After a km distance from our base camp at Lachung, we were out on to a vast meadow which is covered with lavender and yellow colored Primulas (small flowers which occurs in many colors). Now, I can understand why this place is called “The valley of flowers”. The entire meadow sees like an unforgettable combination of colors.

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The first leg of the trek is mostly a road trek through the lush green meadows, to some extent forests and the cascading waterfalls and streams. The day was sunny and it gave us a chance to enjoy the true colors of the nature surrounding us. Today it was some more special as I could see the group getting more and more close. Though it’s been more than a week since we met, we are yet to break the ice :p And this trek proved to be that ice breaking session!!

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 Yumthang is a land of more than a hundred species of Rhododendrons, Primulas and Magnolia. The valley has nearly 24 varieties of Rhododendrons itself, and to protect these varieties, a sanctuary name “Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary” has been declared by the forest department here. Though we got to see a wide variety of Primulas, we didn’t get a chance of seeing Rhododendrons except one or two, as they were still in the budding stage. Rhododendrons bloom from April to May end.

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After the sanctuary, the roads turned steeper and steeper. There was a stretch of moraines, the sediments that were carried down and deposited by the glaciers at the foothills of the mountains. Though this turned the trek route a bit difficult to access, the view of the moraines along with the glaciers and Snow Mountains was breathtaking.

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The nature has left a mark just after these moraines which is yet another picturesque scene. There is a lake which is greenish blue in colour and the specialty of this lake is it’s an artificial one. Now don’t think that it was human made, but it was made by the nature itself. Yes, it was created by an avalanche, after which an entire range of peaks got destructed and the snow got deposited there!

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We rested near the lake for half-an-hour and as I always say that the climate here is unpredictable, the temperatures dropped out drastically and it started to drizzle. Just after this lake, our second leg of the trek started and this was more adventurous than all the previous ones. Though the roads leading to Yumthang from Lachung are not in that good condition, the trek route engraved through the dense forests and streams is way better. As it was raining and snowing, the track was filled up with mosses and snow, which turned the way slippery. But, that was truly one awesome experience.

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Trekking for me is not merely walking along the roads or through the woods or a travel to a new place. Trekking is more like a learning process for me. Every time I go on a trek, I learn and earn. Yes, I learnt some of the most important lessons of life like “I don’t need a lot of material things in my life to be happy”, “we can’t take control of everything” and much more. I earned too, I earned a lot of friends some turned out to be my family too. This trek gave me a chance of molding myself into a better person.

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I could see lots of our friends talking with each other, exchanging greetings, encouraging and motivating each other. It opened up our hearts, now we are like one single family. It was 2 pm by the time we reach our base camp at Yumthang. Some of our friends who reached earlier than us has set up our tents and were busy preparing some food for us. We had our lunch around 3 pm, relaxed and it started drizzling by 4 pm. The temperature was around 10o. We had a camp fire around 6.30 pm and danced to the hilt! Thanks to our Quarter Master who prepared some delicious pakoras (savouries) and hot soup to energize us!

The real fun starts now 🙂 😀

 

Lachung – the Zumsa governed!!

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The night was very cold. But probably for the locals, it might be relatively warm. Usually it snows in Lachung till the month of March, but not this time 😀  Seven of us occupied a small room and it was pretty warm, might be because of the abnormal population which occupied it 😀 Yet another sound sleeps 🙂

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Hurrah! It’s a sunny day again. The day started with more like a poll. The poll was about whether we would like to trek to Yumthang on the same day or the next. As we hail from a democratic country, everyone has their own right to say what they feel and ultimately there will be a hung, the same happened there too. Half of us wanted to trek on the same day, while the other half wanted to do it the next. The deadlock got resolved with the intervention of our instructors and it was decided to continue the trek the next day.

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And what we gonna do all the day? Well, we’re going on a hike, not a long one though. We quickly finished off the puri sabji that has been served to us and got ready to go on a walk around the beautiful mountain village Lachung. Lachung, situated at an altitude of 9000 ft is about 115 kms from Gangtok and is the last village in North Sikkim before Yumthang. The village, spread out on either side of the river Lachung Chu, is surrounded by mighty mountains of which some are covered with snow and some not. And the beautiful waterfalls on almost all the mountains add to the charm of this little village.

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There are lots of hotels and lodges in this village; I think there is a 3-star hotel too. So accommodation is not a problem here and hence became an important tourist spot. There are small shops all along the roads; which sells all kinds of eateries and liquor, which the state is so famous for ;). We followed a road just beside the helipad located in Lachung. The narrow road bifurcates just after crossing the helipad. While the left one leads to Yumthang, the right one leads to the remote parts of this village.

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We took the right one, and this is one of the best so far. One can see that the nature is so beautiful as well as feel the wrath of it. Probably this is one the biggest marks of an Avalanche I have seen so far. Perhaps after 5 or 6 kms of walk, we reached a small monastery, sorry for not remembering it’s name (something like Chhuwa). It was so simple, yet very beautiful.. so peaceful with the positive vibes spreading throughout its premises. To my surprise, there was no one in the monastery as well as the premises. The sanctum was on an elevated platform and there were no lights inside except for some flickering butter lamps. I could see a statue of Buddha along with some statues of others, probably of Guru Padmasambava. 

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We were back by 2 pm and went on to a small walk to the helipad in the evening. It was rightly said that the weather is so unpredictable here. The day was so sunny, but by 4 pm the temperatures dropped so drastically and in a while it started to drizzle. We returned to our rooms and started the fun part of dancing and singing, as well as packing for the next days’ as it is going to be tougher.

Wait.. Wait.. Many of you might be thinking that I left something unsaid. The title of the post, right? Well, that is the most important feature of this little beautiful village. Lachung has a unique local and traditional self-government body called the Zumsa, a part of their rich tradition and culture. The Zumsa takes care of all the local disputes and are settled by a totally representative body of the village which is headed by an elected Pipon.

The best is yet to come! Stay tuned!!!

Time to move on! Lachung is waiting!!

 

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Though the classrooms were way dark and pretty cool, we, at least I managed to grab some good sleep that night. My darling friend Shweta woke me up early in the morning around 4.30 AM and when moved out of the room to the open ground, that was one awesome scene with the twinkling stars up above the sky, the moon throwing some bright light and the tips of the surrounding mountains shining dim in the moon light. But, I couldn’t get a chance to capture that awesome scene as it was extremely difficult to find out my camera in that dark cosy classroom 😦

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It was a sunny day and the weather was clear. We packed our rucksacks and left for breakfast. Before moving on, we quickly cleaned up the surroundings and set on to the track for Lachung, our next base camp at around 7.30 AM. Lachung is a small mountain village located at an altitude of 8600 ft and a distance of about 110 kms from Gangtok and 25 kms from Chungthang. And we gonna trek this 25 kms in a single day. Though excited, we were a bit scared too. Scared not because of the distance, but coz of the off-road route which we gonna follow!

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The way to Lachung is through quaint villages, scenic spots, and waterfalls. The first leg is of 12 or 13 kms. It’s almost a road trek except for one or two shortcuts. We stopped at a roadside tea spot around 10 AM where we got some buns and tea as refreshments. After relaxing for a short span of 20 minutes, we resumed our trek towards Lachung. They told us that the next leg is of another 12 kms but it’s only at the end of the trek we realized that it is nearly 16 kms.

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The second leg is far more beautiful than the first leg, as there were lots of streams which cut right through the roads, some lush green agri fields probably of some millets or fodder, yaks, Rhododendrons, waterfalls and the beautiful Teesta River running all way along with us. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the trek as the short hikes through the forests were spine chilling, because of the narrow margins and rough terrain.

DSC_0245We could see more and more number of army people and their vehicles as were nearing Lachung. Before 1950, Lachung served as a trade point between Sikkim and Tibet and after the Chinese annexation, this has been shut down. The Indian Army now has a forward base at Lachung. Finally at around 3.30 PM we reached our base camp at Lachung. A hot meal was served to us and it felt so good to have something hot after a long trek.

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We had lots of fun before having our dinner and retiring to our beds. Lucky enough to get a bed to sleep, but not in the sleeping bag 😀 .  Stay tuned to see what’s waiting for us in Lachung!!

Adieu Gangtok.. Here we come Chungthang!!

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It’s time to move from Gangtok to our final destination Yumthang – the valley of flowers enroute Chungthang and Lachung. And the plan is to reach Chungthang by bus, and to follow a permissible route along the Teesta River to the picturesque riverside village of Lachung and then trek to Yumthang. The route to Chungthang is via Kabi Longtsok, Phodong, Mangan (head quarters of North Sikkim).

JpegWe celebrated Holi – the festival of colors in Gangtok and around 2 pm, set on our journey  to Chungthang, a valley located at a distance of about 100 kms from Gangtok in our buses.  Our first halt on the way was Kabi Longtsok, which is at a distance of about 11 km from the Northern Highway of Gangtok. Kabi Longtsok is a historical place where the colonists from Tibet settled down in the early 14th century.

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This spot has witnessed a historical event which came to be known as “the treaty of blood brotherhood”. It was a treaty of friendship in between the Lepcha chief and the Bhutia king to encourage the religious tolerance amongst devotees and people around the state. A stone pillar was also there in memory of this event. The lush green surroundings made this place spell bound. There is also a belief associated with this place. The belief is that if we construct a small stone building and pray for our wishes to come true, they would come true. We too tried our hands at it and succeeded in erecting some stone buildings.

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The road leading to Chungthang from here is very rough and narrow, especially filled with large size stones and boulders. The real fun is when there comes a bridge and we all have to get down our buses and cross over the bridges so that our buses and we would be safe :p. 

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Unfortunately a huge stone got stuck in between the back tyres of one of our buses, and we turned out to be fortunate as this gave us a chance of enjoying the scenic beauty of North Sikkim. After struggling for about an hour, finally our drivers succeeded in removing the stone and we resumed our journey. We reached Chungthang around 7 pm and our accommodation was arranged in a school premises which has no electricity.

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As it was the month of March, the weather was a bit stable throughout our journey and was relatively warm. But there was a drastic drop in the night temperature and it was very cold in Chungthang. We turned the classrooms into our bedrooms for the night by spreading out carry mats and sleeping bags.

Let me sleep tight tonight, so that I can trek down to the beautiful Lachung tomorrow 🙂 😀

Gangtok – Land of Monasteries

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The last part of my Gangtok trip and also the most beautiful part which am gonna cherish through out my life 🙂

Sikkim is justly famous for monasteries. Red-clan Lamas, flickering butter lamps, colorful prayer flags (worth mentioning that these represent the five elements of nature – earth, sky, water, air and fire) and the melodious chanting are the part of the ambiance which this state offers us. Gangtok is also an important Buddhist place and is land of some 200 odd monasteries. Here are some important ones which I covered as a part of my trip.

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Enchey Monastery:

This is the oldest monastery (approx 200 years old) of Gangtok and is located 3 kms northeast of the city. This is the seat of learning for the Nyingma order (Vajrayana Buddhism), the 4th oldest belief of Tibet. It was established by Lama Druptob Karpo, a renowned exponent of tantric art. And the legend is that he came here flying from Maenam hill in south Sikkim. The Buddha, Loketeswara and Guru Padmasambhava are the important deities worshipped in the monastery.

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Rumtek Monastery:

The biggest monastery in Gangtok and is located on the outskirts of the city (around 23 kms) is on a hill, the seat of The Gyalwa Karmapa of the Kargyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. This monastery demonstrates the best of the Tibetan architecture and is an almost replica of the original monastery in Tsurpu in Tibet. The main building is three storied and the complex also has the Nalanda Institute of Higher Buddhist studies, the Dharma Chakra and the Golden Stupa. The monastery houses the Black Hat and some of the rarest Buddhist religious art objects found in the world. Perhaps, this is the only monastery which has got a high range of security on its’ premises.

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Ranka Monastery:

Also known as Lingdum monastery, is located about 20 kms from Gangtok. A relatively new monastery located in a vast area. This is the seat of Zurmang Kagyud lineage of Buddhism and follows the direction of the 12th successor of the lineage Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche. This turned out to be my favorite of all the earlier monasteries which I saw as this one was extremely peaceful and the view is just breathtaking. And there are many young lamas undergoing training here. This monastery is full of wall paintings, murals and scriptures which are placed orderly inside the main sanctum.Desktop3

The last monastery which I visited was the Tsuklakhang Palace or Tsuklakhang Royal Chapel and monastery is a Buddhist palatial monastery in Gangtok, and it has a lot of young lamas who studies there. This has a large depository of Buddhist scriptures and literature.

There is also a center for Tibetology in Gangtok where in which we can see their scriptures, statures of Buddha and many more. In all, Gangtok is not just a place to enjoy nature but also a place to learn, to know about one of the oldest religions in the world. Importantly, we can find all the different sects of Buddhists and their traditions here.

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In all, these monasteries took me to an altogether different world. A world of faith, belief and peace!! Thank you Gangtok. C u soon again!

I take this opportunity to dedicate this post to one of my new friends “AHEN”, who is eagerly waiting to visit monasteries and meet some Bikkhus!!

Gangtok – a beauty galore..

Sikkim became the 22nd Indian state on Apr 26, 1975. Bordered by Nepal, China’s Tibet Autonomous region, and Bhutan on three sides and West Bengal to the south, the state has cultural influence from all these regions. Gangtok, the state capital is in the South East region of Sikkim.

My day out in Gangtok..

The best way to start a day is having a short trek in the woods. Everyone would love to do that.. Then, how about a trek to a good view point early in the morning? Yes.. It was around 4.45 in the morning when we set out for a short trek through the woods from the place where we stayed, to Ganesh Tok, one of the best view points in Gangtok. Located about seven kms from the city gives a view of the spawling city and across the hills, the snow-capped peaks of Khang-zeng-donga and Mt. Siniolchu are easily visible behind the spread of humanity. There is a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha here. A good paragliding site in Gangtok. The Himalayan Zoological Park near Ganesh Tok is one of the best places to see the Himalayan fauna.

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Though the trek is a bit tough as it rained on the previous night and there was no proper track leading to Ganesh Tok, we enjoyed it thoroughly as it was still dark and the cool breeze was so soothing.

Tashi view point is the place from where one can get a clear view of the mountain Kanchendzonga  and Hanuman Tok is yet another view point, where a temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuma.

Done with the trek.. What next? Obviously food.. 🙂 🙂

Gangtok is an excellent place to try Sikkimese cuisine which has distinct links to Tibet. Dumplings called momos with various stuffings and different noodle broth collectively called Thukpas are common delicacies. As we walked down the MG Road in the heart of the city, the aromas of different dishes hit our noses. A special mention should be made about Thukpa, also known as Gyantuk, a Tibetan import is one that should not be missed when one visits Gangtok.

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I would suggest Hotel Tibet which is located just opposite to the Cafe Coffee Day on the MG Road to try these delicacies as I found the food here very tasty and yummy. Also try the different kinds rolls and especially the Sel roti with Aloo dum, a famous local delicacy in Roll House.. And am posting the pic of the best Roll house as one can find a roll house on every street of Gangtok.

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How about a walk around?

The first thing which will strike everyone is the traffic on the narrow roads. But what amazed me most is the vehicle density and the efficiency of the traffic police of Gangtok, who are perfectly enforcing and implementing the traffic rules and managing the traffic. Police men and women are extremely well in handling the things without being rude or offensive. Really impressed! Honking is an offense. So be careful!

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MG Road truly resembles a European setting, complete with shops and restaurants, bars and pubs, pretty gardens in middle of the paved walkways, colorful flowers, benches to relax and garbage pins placed everywhere and especially the locals following the rules strictly and politely saying the visitors to follow the same. Truly Gangtok is the most cleanest city!

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The Lal Bazaar is a must visit in Gangtok. Clothes, shoes, jackets, fresh vegetables (organic), fruits, flowers, eateries.. what not, one can find everything here. Do visit the Kanchendzonga mall in the Bazaar.

What r u waiting for? Pack ur bags now.. And stay tuned as I am gonna bring out few more things..