Ethereal Tragedy

Breathing in the mountain fresh air
We drink in the stars
Shining like lost dreams
or wishes waiting to happen
A sight both ethereal and tragic
A call to our souls, a punch to the gut
And a humbling of the senses.

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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.

The Beginning

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To the boy I met
In the mountains of the North East,
The brown of your gaze
Calmed the fire in my mind
The crinkle of your smile
Thawed the ice in mine
And as we sat admiring
mountains, hills, valleys passing by
I stole glances at
the blazing sunsets in your eyes

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 : My People

Travelling. I’d read a lot about how it changes you as a person, forces you to see life from the outside, appreciate smaller comforts but could never really fathom what it would all feel like. Well, not until I travelled to Sikkim with a bunch of people who I have come to adore, care for and trust thanks to the one week with them.

The untouched beauty of the place, the crisp mountain air – clean, pure yet so thin that your lungs are left asking for more, the warm people, the lovely food… I know that when I say this, I speak for the others that I travelled with – I’ve got vacation blues.

The beauty of Sikkim is pristine, pure and completely breathtaking… Literally in some cases as we went higher up in the mountains. Life there was so idyllic. We’d begin our day far sooner than we did in the comforts of our homes in Bombay, sure there was mild complaining, a little running around in circles (mostly me) and a lot of bantering but it was all an experience in itself. One that, I’m sure none of us will forget in a long time to come.

We’d down steaming cups of black coffee, coffee or chai as we gorged on some local delicacies like lightly spiced but aromatic thukpa, deliciously decadent momos, Maggi soup or the ubiquitous omelette and/or bhurji pav and then pile up like cattle in a car to reach our destination. Sikkim changed us, altered our habits. It forced us to slow down and literally stop and stare. Without even making any effort we became more conscious of every little thing we’d encounter, became more involved in conversations and started listening, really listening instead of merely hearing.

It was amazing to travel with people who were similar on so many levels. Sure, I was friends with most of them but this trip brought us closer. Right from massaging each other’s cold feet and numb toes with copious amounts of body lotion to heating socks with the hair dryer so that toes get warm and toasty or making a huge pot full of instant noodles in our kind hostess’ warm kitchen to playing like toddlers in the snow and pushing each other; this trip bonded us all in ways we cannot imagine. Companionable silences punctuated raucous bouts of giggles, screams and long bantering sessions made the lengthy drives through the winding mountain roads an absolute joy.

These moments, experiences and people that made this trip what it truly was – quintessentially amazing.

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.