Apart from being blessed with splendid scenic beauty, Sikkim is also considered one of the popular spiritual destinations in India. Hence, the state is a beautiful blend of spirituality and nature, which is what attracts an extreme number of tourists from all over the world to visit this place.
Buddhism is largely practiced here and you can find more than 200 monasteries across the state, the famous ones being Rumtek Monastery, Pemayangtse Monastery, Enchey Monastery, Dodrul Chorten, Phensang Monastery, Phodang Monastery, Dubdi Monastery, and Tashiding Monastery. Some are popular because of their historical importance, others for their intricate architectural designs, while some are very charmingly placed on the hilltop amidst nature offering a spectacular vista. Sikkim’s multitudinous monasteries have been blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, a great Buddhist saint who influenced the lifestyle and culture of the Sikkimese people.
1. Pemayangtse Monastery, Pelling
Occupying a small section of beauty at the higher end of west Sikkim is the second oldest monastery of Sikkim–Pemayangtse. The word Pemayangtse means “perfect sublime lotus.” You can unravel Sikkim’s prime beauty by visiting during the spring-summer season when the sky is clear. Apart from enjoying the holistic site, you can also witness the enthralling beauty of the Himalayas as well. Pemayangtse Monastery offers a meditative environment quietly set amidst woods. It gives a perfect place to relax in solitude and listen to the sounds of nature. Being around 300 years old, it is a must-visit place as it offers the reflection of the rich architecture and the unwavering faith of the Buddhist followers. This three-storied building has many statues of saints and Rinpoches, including Padmasambhava. It also has several antique idols and scriptures. The main prayer hall is decorated with paintings and also the doors and windows are beautifully painted in traditional Tibetan design. The ruins of Rabdentse can be seen from here.
Getting There: Pemayangtse Monastery is located 2 km from Pelling and 110 km from Gangtok. There are plenty of taxi services be available from these places.
Best Time to Visit: March- June.
2. Khecheopalri Lake, Pelling
As the prayer flags flutter in the wind and the calming sounds of bells ring one after the other, you know you have attained bliss at Khecheopalri Lake, a sacred pilgrimage site that is considered holy by both Buddhists and Hindus. This religious place is believed to fulfill one’s wishes. According to legend, if someone prays and sprinkles the lake water on themselves, their wishes are likely to come true. It is also said that no leaves can be seen afloat on the lake despite being located amidst a dense forest as the birds remove the fallen leaves from the water. Khecheopalri Lake is a paradise for nature lovers and trekkers. There are various trekkers’ outlets and lodging facilities as well if you prefer camping overnight.
Getting There: Khecheopalri Lake is located 34 km from Pelling and 147 km from Gangtok. Taxis are available to reach this attraction from these places.
Best Time to Visit: February- March
3. Tashiding Monastery, Yuksom
Tashiding Monastery reflects an old-world charm and a serene ambiance that is ideal to seek enlightenment and spirituality. The monastery impresses visitors with its attractive architecture and a backdrop of grand mountain peaks. Tashiding Monastery belongs to the Nyingmapa order and was built in the 17th century on top of a hill between the two beautiful rivers, Rangit and Rathong. This popular monastery is believed to cleanse the sins of those seeking forgiveness and willing to repent. Tashiding Monastery is a must-visit attraction for its festival, Bhumchhu, which is a sacred water ceremony that is celebrated joyously during the 14th and 15th day of the first month in the Tibetan calendar. Surrounding the shrine are fluttering prayer flags and holy stupas that are built for the spiritual benefit of the devotees. Today, this monastery houses around 60 to 70 monks.
Getting There: This monastery is located in Tashiding near Pelling; it is 40 km from Gyalshing, 30 km from Ravangla, and 19 km from Yuksom. You can hire a taxi from all the major towns in Sikkim to get to this attraction.
Best time to visit: March to June. If you want to attend Bumchu Festival, it is best visited during the first month of the Tibetan calendar i.e. February or March.
4. Coronation Throne of Norbugang, Yuksom
Coronation Throne of Norbugang signifies the place where the crowning of the first Chogyal king – Phuntsog Namgyal took place in the year 1642. Later after the ceremony, a wall-like structure was erected and named Norbugang Chorten, which still marks the original site. It is believed that the people who had attended the ceremony offered huge amounts of treasure that is still buried beneath the Norbugang Chorten. Including this, the site has the seats of the 3 lamas and the king; a shrine with a huge prayer wheel; a mystic pine tree looming over the chorten, and the serene Kathok Lake from where water for the coronation was taken. One can also witness the footprints of one of the three lamas embedded in a rock opposite the king’s throne. The beautiful garden around this historical site has a rare collection of indigenous trees and plants.
Getting there: Coronation Throne of Norbugang is about 20 minutes walk from the main Yuksom Market. One can reach Yuksom by taking a shared Jeep / Taxi / SSRTC Buses from Geyzing (39 km / 1 hour 48 min) or from Pelling (40 km/ 1 hour 39 min). Private taxis are also available if one wants to explore the beauty of the nearby destinations on their own.
Best Time to Visit: March-May
5. Dubdi Monastery, Yuksom
Dubdi Monastery, alternatively known as Yuksom Monastery, is a Buddhist shrine of the Nyingma sect of Tibetan Buddhism near Yuksom. It was established in the year 1701, during the reign of Chogyal Namgyal. The literal meaning of the word Dubdi is “the retreat,” which clearly describes its hilltop location amidst the thick chestnut forest. This elaborately painted two-storied stone structure stands at an altitude of 2,100 m carrying images of divinities, saints, other symbols, and a collection of manuscripts and texts. Along with these, there are statues of three lamas positioned in the monastery, who worked towards the establishment of Yuksom. The ornamented bell-shaped gilded dome on top of the roof is known as “Gyaltshen.” Dubdi is a sacred place named as the Hermit’s Cell after the crowning of Phuntsog Namgyal as the first King or Chogyal of Sikkim at Norbugang Yuksom in the year 1642.
Getting There: This beautiful monastery is a 3 km walk away from Yuksom. One can reach Yuksom by taking a shared jeep / SSRTC buses from Geyzing (39 km / 1 hour 48 min) or from Pelling (40 km/ 1 hour 39 min). Private taxis are also available if you want to avoid the short trek from Yuksom to the monastery.
Best Time to Visit: March-May. It is open to visitors on all days of the week from 7:00 am – 4:00 pm.
6. Kartok Monastery Yuksom
Located in the picturesque village of Yuksom, Kartok Monastery is noted to be one of the three important monasteries in the town, the other two being Dubdi Monastery and the Ngadak Chorling Monastery, Kartok flaunts its smooth red structure dotted with golden, yellow outlines and Tibetan design. This monastery is a popular pilgrimage destination in Yuksom adorned by colourful prayer flags and flanked by the beautiful Lake Kartok. The name of the monastery came into existence after a lama who played a huge role in the coronation of the maiden ruler of Sikkim.
Getting There: Kartok Monastery is located in Yuksam. You can get taxi/bus services from all major towns of Sikkim.
Best time to visit: Throughout the year. However, the ideal time would be from March to June.
7. Ralang Monastery, Ravangla
Ralang Monastery is beyond comparison to any other monastery in Sikkim. It is undoubtedly an attraction that needs to be visited by every traveller wishing to explore Ravangla. To start with, the monastery’s symmetric layout gives a welcoming feel to visitors. Ralang Monastery has an extensive collection of paintings and thangkas that reflect the opulence of Buddhist art.
It is believed that when the fourth Chogyal returned from his pilgrimage, the 9th Karmapa threw grains of rice from Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet during Rabney (blessing) ceremony. The grains fell at this site, and thus the decision of constructing a monastery was taken.
Getting There: Ralang Monastery is 13 km from Ravangla and you have to trek to get there. You can get a cab from the city to reach the trekking point for the monastery.
Best Time to Visit: April-June. The annual festival of Pang Lhabsol takes place here in the month of August.
8. Buddha Park, Ravangla
Gently seated in a small tourist town in south Sikkim, Buddha Park is a must-visit place for every traveller. This famous attraction serves as an important landmark to the Buddhist community; it was constructed on account of the 2550th birth anniversary of Lord Gautama Buddha in 2006. There is a 130-foot high statue of Buddha here. This divine comeliness is fenced in by lush gardens. In addition, Cho Djo Lake is also located within the complex, adding to the charm of this place. Nearby are a meditation centre, museum, and Buddhist conclave.
Getting There: It is about 80 km from Gangtok. Taxi facilities are available from all major towns of Sikkim.
Best Time to Visit: April-June and September-November.
9. Rumtek Monastery Gangtok, Sikkim
One of the most significant and largest monasteries in Sikkim, Rumtek is perched on a hill overlooking Gangtok. The monastery was founded by Wangchuk Dorje, 9th Karmapa Lama in the 16th century. Originally called the Dharma Chakra Centre, it includes a beautiful shrine temple and a monastery for the monks. The shrine was established with a reason to spread the teachings of the Buddha throughout the world. The monastery is located at a distance of 23 km from Gangtok and is surrounded by lush green mountains. It is a visual retreat besides offering spiritual solace. The architectural design of the monastery is very similar to Kagyu headquarters, one of the schools for Tibet Buddhism. A Buddhism college, Karma Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies is situated opposite the monastery. A walkway surrounds the Rumtek monastery, where monks, pilgrims, and visitors perform kora (one of the circuits around a monastery). Inside the main monastery, there is a retreat center, a monastic college, stupas, a protector’s shrine, institutions for the lay community, and various other establishments. The beautiful monastery has preserved a golden stupa and many sculptures that belong to the 16th Karmapa. The monastery gained its importance after China annexed Tibet due to which many religious gurus relocated from Tibet to Sikkim. It is a storehouse of many religious art objects and some of the world’s most unique religious scriptures.
The main structure of the building is made in accordance with the traditional designs of Tibetan monasteries. Interiors are covered with murals, frescos, traditional Tibetan architecture, sculptures, and paintings. There is a shrine hall in the main building which is decorated in a traditional manner with religious text, Thangkas, silk banners, including a 10-foot statue of Sakyamuni Buddha. The monastery is enshrined with 4 statues -Virupaksha, Virudaka, Dritarashtra, and Vaishravana, who were considered as the guardians of the universe. As per facts, Rumtek was the first monastery built in India with all the traditional architectural designs and became the model for various other monasteries built later throughout India. About 2 km away from Dharma Chakra Center is the rebuilt 300-year-old Rumtek monastery which was originally built by the fourth Chogyal. His Holiness late Gyalwa Karmapa lived in this monastery till the completion of the Rumtek Dharma Chakra Center. The annual dances are held here on the 28th & 29th day of the tenth month of the lunar calendar.
Getting There: Taxi facilities are available from all major towns of Sikkim.
Best time to visit: October to mid-December
10. Enchey Monastery, Gangtok
Enchey Monastery, which translates to “the solitary temple”, is a sacred Buddhist pilgrim site surrounded by splendid natural beauty. Tall pine trees, the exhilarating whiff of flower-bedecked meadows, and the scenic view of Mt. Khangchendzonga infuse devotees with the feeling of being amidst a serene and blessed environment. This 200-year-old monastery is an important seat of the Nyingmapa order of Vajrayana school of Buddhism. It is believed that Lama Druptob Karpo, a renowned tantric blessed with flying powers, flew from Maenam Hill and constructed a hermitage at this location. It was later renovated in the Chinese pagoda style under the reign of Sidkeong Tulku (1909-1910). At present, this sanctimonious monastery is home to 90 monks. The Monastery pays its reverence to Buddha, Loki Sharia, and Guru Padmasambhava. The large metal-roofed prayer hall inside contains several images of gods, goddesses, and other tantric murals. There is a wheel of law on the porch that gurgles in perfect symphony with the chanting of the monks.
Other than its surreal location, Enchey Monastery is popular among tourists because of its very famous Chaam dance; a special prayer offering made by masked monks. It is also performed during the Pang Lhabsol festival.
Getting there: Situated on the Nathula-Gangtok road, it is easily accessible by road. You can hire a taxi from Gangtok and reach Enchey Monastery in 15 to 20 min.
Best Time to Visit: September and October to witness the yearly festivals of Detor Cham and Pang Lhabsol.
11. Phodang Monastery, North Sikkim
Phodong Monastery comes under the Kagyupa Sect and was founded by the fourth King Gyurmed Namgyalm. During its construction, the king passed away but with the help of supporters, the construction of the monastery was completed in 1740 AD. The monastery sits at an elevation of 4500 ft and is easily accessible by road from Magan. Phodong Monastery currently houses around 260 monks of the Kagyu lineage. The walls of the monastery are adorned with beautiful murals, paintings, and frescos.
Getting there: Taxi facilities are available from all major towns of Sikkim.
Best time to Visit: March-May and October -December
12. Lachen Monastery North Sikkim
Offering a quiet backdrop and spell-binding views, Lachen Monastery is a noteworthy attraction in Lachen that was originally built in 1858 A.D by the Nyingma Sect of Tibetan Buddhism and with the help of its 8 monks who transformed a small hut constructed by Lama Karchen Dorje Drak to what it is today. Lachen Monastery, also known as Ngodub Choling or the Launching Gompa, is seated at a picturesque location overlooking the village and housing the statue of Guru Padmasambhava. The premises are decorated with colourful prayer flags and prayer wheels. Feel bliss as you enter Lachen Monastery, It is a mind-boggling pilgrimage experience.
Getting There: It is located 1 km from Lachen. The best way to reach here is by walk.
Best Time to Visit: March-June.
Other than monasteries, Sikkim comprises sacred Buddhist sites in the form of lakes, caves, and stupas. The Sikkim’s Buddhist circuit will take you through a spiritual journey where you can find yourself in the process of self-actualization within the serenity of natural beauty.
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