One of the least populous states of India, Sikkim is a state replete with beauty and religious importance. Sikkim borders Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet Autonomous Region of China on different sides. Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital literally means Hill Top.
It is a scenic Hill Station which has beautiful mountains, beds of lush greenery, stunning falls and vivid flora and fauna. Besides the panoramic landscapes, there are many sacred sites and structures located around Gangtok. The amalgamation of different communities lends a cultural richness to this city. This harmonious blend of natural, cultural and religious richness makes Gangtok a place worth visiting.
From the view point of Buddhism, Sikkim is a very significant state with many ancient monasteries located here. The religious aura of Sikkim’s capital is enhanced by several important monasteries found in and around Gangtok.
Phodong Monastery, located some 28 km from Gangtok is an 18th century Buddhist Monastery. Its contributions in propagation of Buddhism, and beauty and serenity are some aspects worth exploring. The monastery also has an admirable collection of ancient murals. Rumtek Monastery, sometimes known as Dharmachakra Center is a popular site in Sikkim. This Tibetan Buddhist Monastery was originally built in 16th century and has undergone subsequent renovations. Located some 24 km from Gangtok, it is one of the largest monasteries in Sikkim. Some of the tourist attractions include a Golden Stupa, Buddha’s statue, and the prayer wheels in the monastery.
Though located 140 km from Gangtok, the Pemayangtse Monastery is also worth visiting. It is the oldest monastery in Sikkim; its history can be traced back to 16th century too. This also forms a part of the Buddhist religious pilgrimage circuit. This monastery attracts a lot of tourists owing to its scenic location, snow covered mountains in the distance provide a sparkling background. The major attractions within the monastery include statue of Padmasambhava, Tibetan designs in the main temple, beautiful grounds, and wall paintings. This monastery also boasts of a remarkable collection of Buddhist sculptures, antique idols etc.
Chaam Festival or Monk Dance is organized here which also marks the conclusion of Losar. Losar is the Tibetan New Year. Lamas dress up as Mahakal and in colorful costumes, fireworks and dance performance are a part of the celebrations. Pilgrims attend this festival in huge numbers. Even for non religious people this festival provides a stunning specimen of Sikkim’s cultural richness.
This lake is at a distance of some 140 km from Gangtok, and is a major tourist location owing to both its scenic beauty as well as sacred significance. For followers of Buddhism and Hinduism both, it is a sacred lake. It is also popularly believed to be a wish fulfilling lake. The lake is locally called the kha-chot-palri which translates as ‘heaven of Padmasambhava’. This lake is also a part of the religious pilgrimage circuit of the Buddhists. There are innumerable legends and myths associated with this lake. The lake’s appearance when viewed from a distance has been explained through various myths to. According to Buddhist myths, the lake is footprint of goddess Tara, whereas in Hindu folklore they are considered to be foot prints of Lord Shiva. During March and October several religious festivals are organized here which also sees pilgrims form Bhutan and Nepal attending it.
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology
The 14th Dalai Lama laid foundation stone of this institute in 1957. It is a world renowned institute that undertakes research work about people of Tibetan Cultural area. Sikkim is included in it too. The language, history, religion, art of Tibetan settlements is the major area of concern at NIT. It also boasts of the second largest collection of Tibetan works. Tibetan religious art and iconography are major tourist attraction. This Tibet Museum allows all visitors to glimpse the diverse and rich heritage of Tibetan Buddhism.
Situated 9 km from Gangtok, this is a Hindu Temple Complex maintained by Indian Army. The temple dedicated to Hanuman has several myths associated with it. It is popularly believed that while bringing the Sanjeevani to save Lakshmana (a famous Ramayana anecdote) rested here, and the temple is situated at that spot at an altitude of some 7200 feet. Its high altitude also makes this a place from where the panoramic view of the nearby areas can be witnessed. Parts of Gangtok, and of Mt Khangchendzonga are visible from here and make for stunning sights.
Some 50 km east of Gangtok, it is a very famous Himalayan mountain pass. Nathu literally means Listening ears. This is also the border between India and China connecting Sikkim to the Tibet Autonomous Region of Republic of China. The area has rich alpine flora and the road leading down to Chumbi Valley is visible from here. The sights on this road, which is also one of the highest motor able roads, are worth the visit. It is also an offshoot of the ancient and historically prominent Silk Route. Nearby tourist locations include Baba Mandir and Tsongmo Lake which is also known as the Changu Lake.
Annual Gangtok Food and Culture Festival is organized every year in December on MG Marg in Gangtok. Multicultural cuisine, musicales, dance performances for a part of this festival and attract a lot for tourists. Flower Shows are organized regularly in the Ridge Park, rich profusion of colors provide s a sense of strolling in nature’s close contact. The 1 km long rope-way ride from Deorali to Tashiling provides some spectacular views of the city of Gangtok. The high elevation also provides impressive views of the mountain ranges.
For nature lovers and people out to explore diverse cultures, Gangtok has a lot to offer.