I craved to visit Sikkim for two prime reasons. One was for the beauty of Himalayas and other for it’s rich Buddhist culture. And when I traveled there in December, Sikkim did not disappoint me with it’s quaint, laid back mountainous towns and colourful life.  Everything about Sikkim is vibrant . People generally wear loud colourful clothes and their houses are painted in bright hues with flower pots adorning most balconies. Even their places of worship, the monasteries, with it’s intricate paintings are a treat to the eyes. For the curious traveler, the people of this mountainous state seem to be celebrating their life. A stroll through MG Marg at Gangtok, bustling with winter carnival celebrations added to my conviction on this place. There was a vivacious crowd cheering to the ethnic dance performed on the pedestrian's only street. I also wonder if it was because of off-season, I was able to enjoy the beauty of this place more.

 We started our journey from Bagdogra to Pelling, traversing the misty tea gardens, dense hilly forests, following the long Teesta River meandering around the valleys. Wherever we went we could see Teesta, mysteriously green,  it’s sandy banks caressed by dense vegetation, catering to the adventurous traveler who takes to rafting through it’s cold rapid waters.

 The monasteries of Sikkim are a must visit. The Pemayangtse monastery at Pelling is situated on hill top, a muddy path leading up to the monastery flanked by numerous poles of prayer flags fluttering in the wind. Monk kids in maroon rob and shaved heads were running around the courtyard, enthusiastically playing a game of cricket. As we entered the sanctum, a prayer session was in progress. Rhythmic sound of drums and soothing chants echoed the room, where we saw huge striking   Buddhist statues,  the eight incarnations of Guru Padmasambava.  The beautiful paintings on the wall had started wearing off. Old scriptures, musical instruments,  masks & utensils from olden days were showcased. On the third floor was a seven-tiered intricately carved & painted sculpture of Sanghthokpalri, the heavenly palace of Guru Rimpoche.

Lingdum Monastery

  At Gangtok, we visited Ranka/Lingdum monastery. The towering architecture of the colourfully painted monastery, set against the green hills is a sight to look out for. The paintings on the walls, depicting Buddhist ways of life are quite detailed and painstakingly done.  There’s a long lane of prayer wheels leading to the entrance of monastery, each cylindrical wheel inscribed with the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. These prayer wheels are supposed to be spun by turning the handle beneath, as the devotees offer their prayer.  Watching the Chaam dance performed by the monks was in my wish list, but did not materialize since it happens only during auspicious occasions. It is a masked and costumed dance performed by the monks. When I saw the next date for Chaam dance, my heart sank. It was 5 days away and we would be out of Sikkim by then. Monks are very friendly folks and patiently answer our inquisitive queries regarding monastery. I see lot of black cats around, obviously their pets. Seeing these black felines, the first thing that came to my mind was the cover picture of the book  Dalai Lama’s Cat. I have never read this book, but somehow the picture I had seen suddenly struck me.

From our hotel at Pelling we could catch glimpses of Kanchenjunga, mysteriously veiled behind the clouds. Mt. Kanchenjunga the highest peak of India, the third highest in the world is worshiped by people of Sikkim & Darjeeling. December being unbearably cold and visibility poor, we missed on majestic views of Kanchenjunga. I would definitely love to come back here during Oct-Nov when the skies are clearer. Usually by 2 pm the temperature drops and sun would have come down by 4 pm. After that there is nothing much to do in the hills, except some street shopping. We then rush back to our hotel yearning for steaming cups of soup and platter full of hot momos accompanied by fiery chilli sauce.  On the streets it is quite common to see the local folks huddled in groups around an open fire place, chatting and warming themselves, not a care in the world as if they could spend their whole day here relaxed.

To be continued....