Gangtok: The City on a Hill

It was the last day of our visit to Sikkim. I had 2 other states to cover in the remaining days and time was running out. Although we missed out on Gurudongmar Lake, Nathu La Pass, the West and South districts of Sikkim, the few days we spent in this serene place was perfect considering the time we had. We thoroughly enjoyed the night outs in Gangtok and our visit to North Sikkim.

Our agent arranged the last day for us to visit and explore the places in and around Gangtok and there was a lot to see. This time, we were alone and got a ride for ourselves, taking our own sweet time to see and explore. Our guide, a nice young chap was a DJ by night and friendly guide in the morning. We shared some good dubstep music which was his favourite. I must say that the warmth and hospitality we received in Sikkim cannot be matched in other places. The people are so friendly here and everyone treats you like their long-lost brothers and sisters of one big happy family. I have noticed a similar sort of friendliness in all the Buddhist culture places I have visited. Something for everyone else to learn from.

A milestone in Sikkim

A milestone in Sikkim

With the heavy rains the previous night, we were in for a cold, cloudy ash coloured day. No blue skies, just the cold chill of the fog around us. If I remember correctly that day the roads to and fro to North Sikkim and Tsomgo Lake were closed to all tourists. Our itinerary for the day was a classic “tour the city in a day” and most tourists do it on the first or last days of their visit. Rumtek Monastery, Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Ganesh Tok, Tashi View Point and a few other locations around the city, provided we had the time. At the end, we only had time for all the above and nothing more for this trip.

Since we were feeling lazy owing to the weather including our DJ guide, we took the day slow at our own pace without rushing into anything. We were a bit too lucky to squeeze in all the places we visited in those 6 days we were there, not everyone is this lucky at times I’ve heard. And that leaves me an opportunity to go back again and visit whatever I missed on this trip. Travelling is an ongoing learning experience. You can visit a place just once or more times and still learn a thing or two from the renewed experience. And this means you will find me visiting the same place more than a couple of times.

We checked out of our guesthouse and on the route to Rumtek we stopped at a famous viewpoint but our view was blocked by a blanket of grey clouds. We found a stall over there and got to eat some Maggi noodles, Tibetan momos (dumplings) and cheese omelettes with bread for breakfast. We got relaxed and sat down for a long time there to enjoy the sumptuous morning meal we had and a good conversation to go with it with our guide and another local who was there as well.

Steep uphill walk to the Rumtek Monastery

Steep uphill walk to the Rumtek Monastery

The steady drizzle kept falling and once it stopped we left for the monastery. It was crowded. At the gates were Indian military guards allowing passage into this sacred place of the Buddhists. You have to hike up a bit on a steep road to the premises and on the way you’ll see prayer wheels and a few souvenir shops. The colour green was in abundance in the surroundings and you could smell the rich air. As you walk upwards you wouldn’t fail to notice the grandeur of the hills opening up behind the curtains of clouds.

The outside walls on the way to the monastery had these words:

“Protect the earth, live simply, act with kindness, our future depends on it. – The 17th Karmapa”

We got to the monastery after that tough walk, reaching the Dharmachakra centre. The inside of the monastery is again an open courtyard akin to other monasteries with a viewing area. There were colourful mural paintings on the walls inside and stunning imagery depicting Buddha and other things. We then went to the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology from there. A statue of Guru Padmasambhava welcomes you in. Here like a museum you can see ancient artefacts and read stories related to Buddhism. There was a lot to read here with drawings depicting scenes and their explanations. The time came to a standstill when I was here. My friend and the guide who accompanied us could not find me around outside and afterwards jokingly said I was so engrossed with it I had already attained Parinirvana at the museum.

Courtyard of Rumtek Monastery

Courtyard of Rumtek Monastery

It was almost lunch time and we still had a few more places to visit and then catch an early evening taxi back to Siliguri to board our train to Guwahati.

We went to Tashi View Point to see some splendid views of the now open skies and the evergreen forests around and experimented with some time-lapse on the GoPro we had. There we bought some souvenirs to take home and to remind us of the good times we had spent in Sikkim. Our final destination for the day was Ganesh Tok, a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ganesh. A flight of stairs led us up and from here we witnessed 360˚ views of Gangtok. It was a day well spent with our guide viewing the beautiful city, its culture, the people and its history. I don’t think we could ask for more. We wanted it to last longer but you know all good things come to an end.

Prayer wheels at the monastery

Prayer wheels at the monastery

The guide dropped us at the taxi rank and quickly got us the earliest shared taxi to Siliguri. We were far too exhausted to talk to each other at this stage and still had to digest the heavy breakfast we had that morning and the 6 days we had just spent.

The scenery outside began to change and by nightfall, we were back in West Bengal away from the mountains and valleys and hilltops. Once we got off, we walked around the city in search of a local place to have a quick dinner. I think we were still having withdrawal symptoms from Gangtok, so the dinner was silent too. After dinner, a shared rickshaw pulled over for us and took us to the station. The slow vehicle was struggling to drag itself overloaded with around 10 people and our rucksack which together easily made up the size of another regular person.

In the hurry to find the train, we mixed up the platforms and almost missed it. But of course to our joy, we made it and we had a good night’s sleep aboard back to Assam. I had just spent the best birthday, one to remember for a lifetime in the city on a hill.



This post was published by Johann Kuruvilla

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