Sikkim Diaries: Rumtek Monastery – A Symphony of Peace

The Rumtek Monastery

As human beings, our lives are a sum total of situations, experiences, emotions, people, circumstances. There are experiences and places that become a part of you on account of the magnitude of emotion you feel in that moment or space. While these could veer along the positive and negative path, sometimes the surreal touches your life and becomes like indelible ink on your psyche and soul. At times, the vibrations of a singular experience permeate your subconscious, a symphony that plays in the background, not loud, barely audible at times, but there. Quite a lot like white noise yet not so.

At a little distance from Gangtok is the beautiful Rumtek gompa which was was an experience, a memory, a moment that crawled inside me and made home in a part that reverberates with peace. At 1,500 metres, the monastery is surrounded by sights that take a little bit from the very best that nature has to offer. With a backdrop of majestic mountains, the gompa has a snow peak at the front while the ubiquitous Teesta river completes the picture of peace.

The cheerful red door

Rumtek’s cheerful red door

The first thing you notice as you enter the heavy red door is how peaceful the space really is. The genteel monks spoke in hushed whispers, their language sounding like a tinkle of a tiny nail against crystal, melodious, calm and charming. The sight of red, sunburned cheeks of young monk lads as they engaged in a game of football, chasing their boyhood with their yellow-maroon robes was a stark contrast to their older counterparts sitting in a circle busy with their sādhanā. The difference was both heartwarming and humbling.

Gearing up for some football

Gearing up for some football

The place does not have a lot to offer for the average, conventional tourist, but open your mind and you see beauty, right from the flutter of the monks’ maroon robes, to the way the sun kisses the vibrant reds, yellows and blues in the intricate patterns adorning the gompa’s façade or the bright sunshine warming your back as you shed your socks and shoes to step barefoot on the cool marble steps leading to the main hall.

The charming façade

The charming façade

The ornate entrance of the main hall

The ornate entrance of the main hall

As I sat inside the inner chamber of main building at Rumtek, cross legged and eyes closed, part of me felt that if I concentrate hard enough, I could actually touch serenity as if it were as tangible in existence as the prayer wheels that I passed by on the steep climb to the gompa. Everything disappeared, even the charm of the beautiful relics, the detailed and breathtaking murals on the walls, and all that was left is the hum of the wind while my mind was empty, completely devoid of any thought or a word.

Stepping outside the meditation hall, we were directed by a handsome, smiling monk, to the Golden Stupa – a smallish room inside the main building. This relic-filled room was ornate and grand; the massive, twin silver-rimmed elephant tusks sitting on the floor, the ancient looking relic boxes, ornate paintings and scrolls being a clear indication. Slightly more lively, this tiny room saw a flurry of activity as pilgrims and tourists alike came to pay their visits to the ashes of the 16th Karmapa, whose presence is marked by an amber, coral and turquoise-studded reliquary.

An endearing exchange outside the Golden Stupa

An endearing exchange outside the Golden Stupa

The quiet, the memory of the gompa, those moments of absolute yet blissful nothingness are a haven that I subconsciously retreat to when things get a little too much to handle. Rumtek is now a symphony that soothes my frayed nerves and dims the hum of my frenzied thoughts.

My Date with Solitude

Taking off early from work, I make my way to the movie theater and catch Kingsman: The Secret Service. At the ticket counter, the guy who checks out my debit card asks about the power bank attached to my smartphone (low battery problems) and its power capacity. “10400 mAh, charges your cellphone almost four times”, I reply smiling, slightly amused by the sudden question. Making my way to the movie hall, I settle on the plush couch in the lounge and realize that this is the same place I sat when I saw a movie alone for the first time. Looks like we have a favourite, my mind chimes in. The movie is thoroughly entertaining, and I giggle and guffaw at places where it is funny, at the edge of my seat when it gets intense. *Colin Firth*… sigh. My rumbling stomach takes me to Prithvi Café; a cool place that I am surprised I have never been to before but am reminded that it’s a date and its best that I have never been here before. A chicken-egg roll and Coke later, my hunger to see the sunset is yet to be satisfied. Making my way to the beach just at the end of the lane, I decide I’ll go to my favourite spot on Silver Beach, at the distal end from where I stand. I scope the shoreline, my vision moving languidly to the right and the left; taking in the skyline of my city, marvelling at how far yet near those majestic buildings are. 
Accompanied by the sound of crashing waves, people walking their dogs on a clear summer day, and pick the spot where the tide washed last night. There is a plinth, of cool moist sand, just soft enough to be comfortable and I settle in. The sky is bathed in light; bright, beautiful, colours blurring into each other like the waves that rise and crash on the shore in front of me. Burnished yellow almost overpowers the grand vista that is the summer sky, minutes before sunset. The sun preening beyond the horizon in a gloriously dazzling display – its light bathing everything it touches to gold; its reflection in the waves, the moist sand from the previous night’s high tide, my toes, my skin…

The Midas touch of the sun

The Midas touch of the sun

 

Soft, cool and perfect... Love the beach

Soft, cool and perfect… Love the beach

I sit there, quiet, slightly stupefied even. Calm, after what felt like ages, nary a thought in my otherwise buzzing mind. I welcome this feeling, like a parched traveller does to water in the oasis. This moment, it is cleansing and I am reminded of the tranquility I felt in the inner chamber at the Rumtek monastery in Sikkim a little over a month ago… Good times. 
On its way to a descent, the sun becomes visibly smaller as it retreats behind the haze of pink, yellow and lilac that has taken over the sky. In a few seconds, it disappears completely. The blip gone and the sky’s blank albeit with a tinge of pink, quite like the skin of a woman sated and aglow after the expert ministrations of her attentive lover. I smile as I realize this and blush for some unknown reason. 

My favourite thing about beaches

My favourite thing about beaches

The air gets chillier and the evening, darker, I decide to make my way back home. My slippers slap at the fine sand and I am basking in the afterglow of a blissful two hours in my company. I break into a smile and hug myself as the salty sea breeze howls in my ears. It sounds like a tune, as if the wind is carrying with it a hum, a song of the waves, in a language that I do not understand yet feel strangely calmed by… 
A successful me-date; a well-deserved one, especially after a stressful month at work. I think there will be another one, I giggle inwardly.

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Sometimes, it is the ordinary that catches your eye, warms your insides and makes you smile. The extraordinary is always present, glaring at you in the face with its magnificence and magnetic charm. It is the ordinary that sometimes kicks you in the guts and turns things upside down.

Little Whites

Sikkim Diaries: Bathed in Beauty

One of life’s greatest gifts is the ability to find beauty in everything you encounter. So what do you do when beauty finds you? For starters, you simply look at it in awe, marvel at the sight that your eyes behold, drink it all in and commit it to memory, so that the moment lingers on in the most perfect of ways for the rest of your days. That’s what Sikkim is all about. Wherever you go, there is a spectacular sight waiting to burst out in front of your eyes, awaiting its chance to cast a spell. After a point, you almost stop taking pictures because the mind gets baffled at the onrush of scenery and the abundance of greenery.

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Located among the majestic Himalayan Mountains, Sikkim is nothing short of a dream for nature lovers and photographers alike. With an elevation ranging from 280 metres (920 ft) to 8,586 metres (28,169 ft); this land-locked state in India provided us with breathtaking views of valleys, sunsets that displayed fiery tones of reds, oranges and yellows and a chance to literally drive through the clouds whilst descending from the Nathu La Pass. Majestic, stately and excessively gorgeous, simply looking up to stare at the mountains was an experience that humbles you and makes you grateful to simply be there.

The Teesta River that runs through the entirety of the state was a vision of enchantment. Majestically flowing between ravines and gorges, turns and plains, this river was entirely something else. To see the aquamarine water shimmering in the sun was as fabulous as it was calming. The thick white foam, the strong current cutting the rocks creates a symphony far sweeter than those produced by artful musicians for it connects with your soul and makes it dance.

The Teesta River, glistening in all its splendour.

The Teesta River, glistening in all its splendour.

Waterfalls are ubiquitous in the landscape of this part of the country and can be seen in versions both behemoth and miniature. Whether it was the beautiful Banjhakri falls at Rumtek, the Twin Waterfalls at Lachung or the little springs that burst out from the sides of the mountains, there was beauty providing us company as we traversed on the long, winding and lonely routes.

The Ban Jhakri Falls and a rainbow..

The Ban Jhakri Falls and a rainbow…

Moving south, Sikkim gets a lot warmer, the cold winds recede but the picturesque view remains just as appealing as the mountains, waterfalls and riverbanks. Tea gardens thrive in this area for the weather is just perfect – balmy with an ample amount of sun and shade. The smell of the wet earth and tender tea shrubs as they dance in the sunny breeze tingle the senses and cast a spell; making you crane your neck from the car and stare at the lush greenery as long as the route permits.

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The Temi tea gardens, Namchi, South Sikkim.

Sikkim has a grace that makes you feel so beautifully insignificant, it humbles you and takes the whole perspective of being human to an altogether different plane.

Sikkim Diaries: Tashi Viewpoint

Sunset at the Tashi viewpoint, Gangtok, Sikkim.

Sunset at the Tashi viewpoint, Gangtok, Sikkim.

At 6000 ft, as the bright reds, brilliant orange and demure pinks lit up the sky at Tashi Viewpoint, Sikkim, I felt a strange but calming vibe in me. The kind that makes you happy and grateful to be at a place and simply behold the beauty and drink the moment in.

Insignificant?

Oh! Look how beautifully these yellows fall
Brilliant in their hue, demure in size
A cluster here, a bunch there,
Playing amid branches green, branches bare
They answer the wind’s playful call
Like snowflakes on a winter night
Their insignificance adorns the summer noon,
Alas! They are trampled upon too soon

Insignificant?