Cenobium

Mountains taught me, when to use breaks, control the speed & maintain the momentum.

Riding on the curves of an anfractuous route from Darjeeling was fun as well as a thrilling experience. The narrow road passes through the small towns, beautiful forests and enormous tea gardens. On the crumpled way towards Gangtok, I stopped at the sight of Tea garden near Peshok. Away from the pandemonium of overcrowded Darjeeling, I felt peace here with nature.

This beautiful tea estate is spread across the hills creating unique perceptible patterns. There are 87 tea estates covering 17500 hectares of land which produces 9 million kilograms of Darjeeling tea per year.

The Tea plantations were not new for me. I have been to the similar tea estates of Munnar in the southern Indian state of Kerala. The worker ladies tying huge baskets on their back were going for work. Darjeeling Tea industry employes more than 50000 people permanently and more during plucking season. More than 60% of the workforce is women.

The descend had some interesting twists and colourful bridges adorned with prayer flags. This single-lane road was in a good condition but due to steep slopes, they kept gravel protruding on the surface to avoid tyre slips. There I had to use breaks more than the acceleration.

Inside Darjeeling Tea Estate

Teesta

Originates at an altitude of 5530 meters from Tso Lhamo lake of North Sikkim Himalayas, this 309 km long river runs downhill through Sikkim along the route from Kalimpong to Gangtok. The greenish water flowing over the huge stone boulders makes it a perfect place for River Rafting. The river has carved out ravines and gorges in Sikkim meandering through the lower Himalayan ranges, later joins the Jamuna river at Fulchhari in Bangladesh.

I was riding in the reverse direction of the mighty Teesta river which forms the West Bengal – Sikkim state border. From the Rangpo bridge, I officially entered into Sikkim, the mountainous state surrounded by three countries – Nepal, China and Bhutan. I passed through the check post, unchecked as no one stopped me. While enjoying the beautiful views, I followed the course of the river for a few more kilometres till Singtam.

The national highway 10, connecting Siliguri to Gangtok was in a good shape with a lot of twists and turns and a tunnel too. Being connected to the International borders, this route is important for Indian army convoys. Tourist vehicles and buses were also part of the traffic.

Before going to Gangtok, I decided to take a detour to visit a beautiful Rumtek Monastery. Even though the distance was not much, but it took me a while to reach the Rumtek.

Keeping track of time while riding in the Himalayas is one of the most difficult but essential thing.

Along the Teesta River

Rumtek Gompa

Rumtek is one of the largest and most significant monasteries in Sikkim, also known as Dharma Chakra Centre. It belongs to the Kargyu sect of Buddhists who originated in Tibet in the 12th Century. Perched on top of a hill surrounded by verdant green mountains, it is 23 km away from Gangtok. The architecture of this colourful and magnificent monastery is one of the finest in the world.

Surprisingly, the Rumtek monastery was peaceful and devoid of any tourists except me. That was a good opportunity to observe the life of monks also study the colourful murals on the walls, frescoes like many other Tibetan monasteries.

Unlike others, this place was patrolled by the Indian army. There was a history of violence between 2 sects supporting different candidates for 17th Karmapa. Indian Armed forces were there to quell the sectarian violence between these two factions.

The main shrine hall is decorated with the traditional manner with religious texts, Thangkas and silk banners. I love the way Tibetan people make use of every nook and corner of the buildings with vibrant colours. Not only walls but every religious artefact I observed has been made with intricate design patterns.

Strange to hear the violence was being used by the Buddha’s disciples for the post.

Rumtek Monastery

Buddhist Studies

For any religion to sustain, it’s important to pass on their teachings to the next generation. The Nalanda Institute of Higher Buddhist studies was there in Rumtek Dharma Chakra Center.

Rumtek Monastery was built by Gyalwa Karmapa in the 1960s, who was the 16th Karmapa i.e. head of the Monastery. Behind the main monastery building, there is a Karma Shri Nalanda Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies. There is a golden stupa, made of Pure Gold, which contains the relics of 16th Karmapa. This magnificent monastery was established with the aim of spreading Buddhist teachings around the world. Buddha understood the true nature of the universe & taught ways to deal with the sufferings through the Noble Eightfold Path.

The surrounding area was clean and green. I was amazed to see the use of plastic bottles for plantation at the garden in Rumtek Monastery. Plastic pollution is adversely impacting the environment, wildlife and also humans. Maharastra Government has taken a good decision to ban the single-use, disposable plastic. With such simple innovative ideas, we can put the plastic for better use.

Red robed monks were walking around. Their circular happy faces questioned my long face, what is it that really makes you happy. When I got onto my bike started riding down the slope, I found my answers.

Irrespective of the religion, the teachings are equally applicable to all human beings.

Mani Lhokar at Do-Drul Chorten

Gangtok

The capital city of the mountain state of Sikkim – Gangtok – was visible from the roof of Rumtek Monastery. The colourful houses on the slope were blurred due to evening fog. Cloudy weather made it difficult to keep track of time. I descended the winding road and ascended again to reach the hill town.

First, I headed to the hotel room, kept my luggage and got freshen up. It was 5 o’clock in the evening. When I came out of the hotel, it started raining, which washed away my plan to get into the ropeway. Even though it was not so late, the darkness had swept the town.

Do-Drul Chorten monastery was nearby, so I decided to explore this unplanned destination. The white stupa was built by Trulshik Rinpoche, head of the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism in 1945. Around the stupa, there are 108 colourful prayer wheels on all sides. There I met another girl Youtuber, we had a little chat and parted our ways.

Due to rain, I decided to walk on the streets of Gangtok at night. On the way, I saw a beautiful painting of reclining Buddha on a secluded wall. This man, Prince Siddhartha, founded a religion that has lasted for two and a half millennia. After a long spiritual search, he went into deep meditation, where he realized the nature of the mind. Finally, he achieved a state of unconditional and lasting happiness: the state of enlightenment – Buddhahood.

The Reclining Buddha is a major iconographic theme in Buddhist art.

City Lights, Gangtok

MG Marg

Gangtok – Capital of Sikkim – is situated at an altitude of 5500 feet on the eastern Himalayan Ranges. The MG road, the most happening place & a shopping hub, is situated at the heart of this hill town. I loved this open boulevard, lined with glittering shops, cafes, restaurants, and amazing people. No vehicles are allowed on this road, so Jenny was taking rest while I was strolling on this paved road.

This focal point of Gangtok is a ‘Person on Foot’ zone on which no vehicles are permitted. This one-kilometre stretch lined by green coloured buildings is free of trash, smoke, and vehicles. There are numerous seats laid at the centre and both sides of the street to seat and enjoy the vibe. MG Marg, a simple commercial centre, is evolved into a beautiful stone-paved boulevard lined with shops.

Strolling alone on the street and watching the people around was fun. I was the odd man out because I was wearing a riding jacket, unlike others. Shopping was not on my mind because I just can’t carry more weight of non-essential stuff. But my eyes were looking at the restaurants as I could not proceed with a hungry stomach.

Not in a fancy outlet but at a local shop, I had Thupka, a Tibetan Noodle Soup. In cold weather, the hot soup was all I needed. Before going to sleep, I contacted the agent who was working on the permit I will require the next day

For a hill town like Gangtok, MG Marg is the best place to hang out at Night.

Aerial view of Gangtok City

Gang-Tok

Established as a Buddhist pilgrimage site in 1840, this city became an independent monarchy after British rule. It was the main stopover in the trade between Tibet and British India. In 1975 after years of political struggle and uncertainty, this mountainous Northern state joined India to become the 22nd state, with Gangtok as it’s capital.

Next morning, to get a bird’s eye view of the Gangtok city, I went to Ganesh Tok situated at 6500 feet high and located 6 km away from the capital of Sikkim. Perched on the hillock, this colourful temple is dedicated to Lord Ganesha. This is probably the best place to get a spectacular view of the Gangtok city spread over the slopes.  The circular balcony offers an obstruction-free view of the city as well as Khanchendzonga mountains.

Another higher point was Hanuman Tok from where the entire range of Kanchenjunga is visible on a clear day. Located in the upper reaches of Gangtok, this immaculate and divine place is dedicated to Lord Hanuman. As per the legend, Lord Hanuman flew down to this very spot to rest while flying with Sanjeevani mountain to save Laxman.

When I was climbing the stairs, I heard the Hanuman Arati which was being performed by the Indian army jawans. This place offers a splendid view of the neighbouring hills and valleys, including Mount Khanchendzonga.

The fog has created the various shades of blue mountains spread across the horizon.

Hanuman Tok

Kangchenzdonga

The 3rd highest mountain in the world can be seen from the Ganesh Tok as well as Hanuman Tok viewpoint. Just 11 km drive from Gangtok towards Nathu La, the Hanuman Tok is situated at 7200 feet altitude. I could only see the faint borderline of white mountains through the fog. I wished badly for a clear day. At the viewing area, the Indian Army has kept an image to identify some of the worlds tallest peaks which are visible from there.

While I was exploring the viewpoints around the Gangtok, my agent was getting the permit for me. To visit the protected areas in Sikkim we need to apply for the permit. In order to save time, I had taken the help of the local agent. If you are going to spend a day in Gangtok, you can get it by yourself from the tourist office.

Soon I was going to ride to the Nathu La pass on the Indo-China border. Before that, I have to collect the required documents & permits, fill the petrol tank and eat something before embarking the journey.

Mountains are peaceful. That might be the reason Buddhism flourished here.

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