Friendship, harmony, a lofty mountain and a wrathful deity — these are the four things that Pang Lhabsol, an annual festival in Sikkim, is about. The peaceful hill-state was once torn apart by strife and enmity between the Lepchas and the Bhutias (of Tibetan origin). Locals believe that Pang Lhabsol was first celebrated sometime in the 13th century to mark the beginning of peaceful relations between the warring groups. Lepcha chief Thekongtek and Tibetan crown prince Khya Bumsa erected nine slabs at Kabilunchok (near Gangtok, the current capital), tied animal intestines around those, and took a blood oath of friendship under the gaze of the mighty Khangchendzonga (considered a guardian deity of Sikkim by the Lepchas). Mahakala, a deity revered by the followers of Vajrayana Buddhism as the enforcer of dharma, is also associated with this historic occasion.
Held in several monasteries across Sikkim in the seventh month of the Tibetan calendar (August-September) every year, the festival is becoming popular among tourists, photographers and documentary filmmakers. The best highlight of the day-long festivities is the mask dance — an ancient Bon Tibetan ritual — by the lamas. Locals turn up in big numbers to seek the blessings of the deities and the monks, while visitors eagerly await the parade of the dancers in colourful masks and drapes.
The best time to visit Sikkim to get a glimpse if this festival is in the second half of August and the first half of September.