Saturday, May 12, 2007

Himalayan Holiday - Gangtok

Breakfast had a colonial feel to it, as we sipped Darjeeling tea in cane furniture in the hotel garden. It's always seemed strange to me that it is hard to get a good cup of tea in India. The locals brew a milky, sweet concoction that I find hard to find favour with. Of course this is a purely British viewpoint. A colleague at work had exactly the same problem, but in reverse, when he went to the UK. Breakfast complete, it was time to head off to Rumtek monastery.

Rumtek is a 1960s replica of the original monastery which was in Tibet. The 16th Karmapa Lama decided on the location after fleeing from the Chinese. He decided on the location because the mountains, streams and views were all auspiciously arranged. It's certainly a very scenic part of the world. Since the 16th Karmapa's death there has been controversy, as there are two 17th Karmapa Lamas in India. The Indian courts sided with Thaye Dorje, but the monks in Rumtek are followers of Ogyen Trinley Dorje. Matters are at somewhat of an impasse, and neither reside at Rumtek. The former is in nearby Kalimpong, whilst the latter stays in a monastery near Dharamsala, and the Dalai Lama whose endorsement he has.

The walk uphill from the roadside gate to the monastery itself was lined with prayer wheels. San counted 108, and your hands get a bit sore from all the spinning required of them. The monastery, in common with others we saw on our holiday, didn't shy from the brighter parts of the spectrum. Especially inside, where photography is prohibited, the walls, ceilings and hanging tapestries provide a dazzling array of colours. There were young novices in the courtyard, and some of them weren't quite as engrossed in their monking as they probably should have been, and would look and wave at the tourists. We then headed back down to the car. Before we reached the gate, we passed a shop, and the slightly surreal spectacle of three local women gossiping about the previous night's Ireland/Bangladesh cricket world cup match.

We headed back to Gangtok, and onwards to the Museum of Tibetology. There are two parts to this museum: the ground floor houses a library and a history of Buddhism exhibit; the upper floor is a photographic exhibit on the subject of Sikkimese royalty. The library contains a mix of modern Buddhist literature and ancient texts donated by the Dalai Lama. The Buddhism history exhibit gives a good introduction to a religion with which I am unfamiliar. The history was illustrated with painted silk panels illustrating various stages of the Buddha's life. There were also historical artifacts on display. These ranged from the secular, in the shape of old money, to the sacred. Many of the sacred articles, such as horns and drinking vessels were fashioned from human bones, including a few skulls. This was to remind the monks of their mortality.

The photography exhibit was also interesting. It featured the same amazingly coiffured Queen as seen in our hotel, and quite a few other well tonsured royals. The dynasty ended not with a firing squad, but a referendum, as the the people of Sikkim voted overwhelmingly to join the Republic of India. There are two extant children of the old King: the son lives a secluded life in deepest Nepal; the daughter married a rich British advertising executive and resides in New York City.

The afternoon was spent driving to various viewpoints so that we might see the splendid Mount Kanchenjunga. Sadly, the clouds had rolled in and rendered the worlds third largest mountain invisible. The silver lining was that the temperature was very pleasant, and a relief from the 40˚C we had left in Pune. Steve, if your reading, I recommend we follow the old British tradition of having an official summer residence!

Not being able to see far we took a close look at the local plant life at the annual Gangtok orchid show. There were some spectacular flowers on display, and although I am not that interested in matters horticultural, I really enjoyed the flowers.



Blogger Aanchal gupta said...

Just back from a fantastic trip to Sikkim . I Experienced snowfall and snow in North Sikkim and weather was sunny and glorious everywhere we went! Thanks for this posting .
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic place!!!Nice post.Thank you!!

3:04 AM


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