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East India (Sikkim)
 

Sikkim

Tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas, Sikkim is a Himalayan wonderland with its lovely views and exotic orchids, and its forest-trails. A virtual Shangrila overlooked by Mt. Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak, Sikkim is attractive equally for the sightseer, the adventure sports enthusiast and those interested in Buddhism and Tibetology.

Buddhism is the predominant religion here, with many fine old monasteries rich with frescoes, religious paintings on silk and statues of the Buddha’s various incarnations. In Gangtok, the delightfully quaint capital, are pagoda like roofs of many buildings and the presence of crimson robed monks in the bazaars. The Institute of Tibetology, the only one of its kind in the world, was set up by the erstwhile ruler to promote research on Mahayana Buddhism, and on the language and traditions of Tibet. Lower down the hill is the famed orchid sanctuary where 500 species of orchids indigenous to Sikkim are cultivated. Sikkim offers several treks that lead through pine forests, through picturesque valleys, monasteries and to mountain lakes. It is also the base for mountaineering expeditions and the rivers Teesta and Rangeet offer excellent river rafting. Prior permission must be sought from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, by all foreigners wishing to visit Sikkim – though travel formalities are being relaxed gradually. Permission may, therefore, be sought from Indian Missions overseas, or from offices of Sikkim Tourism, A number of good hotels and lodging houses exist in Gangtok.

Gangtok

Entry to Sikkim is most convenient by coach, taxi or helicopter.The state of Sikkim lies in the shadow of the mighty Kanchenjunga and its capital, Gangtok, is a picturesque mountain clinging town with monastaries, parks, pagoda style houses and colourful bazars.


Pemayangtse
The mighty Kanchenjunga overlooks the land of Sikkim and Pemayangtse in Sikkim nestles close to Kanchenjunga. Pemayangtse is not a settlement. This is where 6000 ft above sea level one of the most famous Buddhist monasteries is located. The Pemayangtse monastery is the second oldest monastery in Sikkim and is the headquarters of the Nyingma sect. There seems to have been an earlier shrine at the sight of the monastery, which dates back to 1705. Many priceless antique idols are housed here, and the top-most floor, the most fascinating, contains some magnificent sculptures, very intricate and very intriguing. The locals say that it took seven years to put them together, in an attempt to recreate what a monk, Lhotso Chempo dreamt as the celestial palace of Zamdogpalri Rimpoche, one of the ancient religious leaders of the sect, What is amazing is that it was executed by a third man, Sandup Dungzing Rimpoche who was neither a sculptor nor an engineer. Rarely does a monastery suggest the feel of space and airiness that Pemayangtse does. From the monastery one can also see the ruins of the first palace of the Chogyals at Gezing where only a chorten and a bit of masonry have been left, though excavations could reveal more. The monks of Pemayangtse by tradition have been Bhutias. On one side of the monastery are some typical old stone and wooden dwellings: rough, with wooden pieces slotted together rather than nailed, and decorated with wooden carvings. These are the monks’ quarters and comforts have been deliberately modulated for bare survival under the strict Buddhist discipline. The Pemayangtse monastery, an oasis of serenity and a repository of centuries-old wisdom and scriptures, surrounded by mountains, glaciers and passes, is where you feel time is frozen in a frame of yesteryears. The evergreen shrubs of rhododendron, with those large clusters of trumpet shaped flowers can be seen blooming everywhere, and yaks and musk deer and red pandas follow you around the terrain. The mysterious aura around the monks while they hum mantras under their breath, spinning the ubiquitous chakras which never seem to leave their hands, blowing at conches and gyalings, or, if you happened to be there during Kagyat Chaam, performing ritualistic and a strangely rhythmic dance wearing ceremonial masks, will haunt you for days after you have left this cloud- woven habitation on the eastern tip of the country.


 
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