The first site that I visited in Gangtok was Rumtek Monastery. Rumtek Monastery is situated about 24km southwest of Gangtok, and is the main seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage, also known as the Black Hat sect. The Karma Kagyu order was founded in Lhasa, Tibet, in the 12th century by His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa who is the head of the Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism.
The sixteenth Karmapa fled to Sikkim in 1959 during the Chinese invasion of Tibet, after which His Holiness established the Kagyu order in Sikkim and built a new monastery on a land donated by the Sikkimese king.
The sixteenth Karmapa was also instrumental in spreading Tibetan Buddhism to the West and had set up over 200 Karma Kagyu centres, so much so when he died in 1981, he left behind a wealthy monastery with lucrative international network. However, there are tensions between two sects on the rightful successor to the throne (their disputes have lengthened into court battles), resulting in Rumtek Monastery currently guarded by Indian army against possible sectarian violence by the feuding parties.
Rumtek Monastery consists of the main temple hall, a golden stupa and the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute. Photography is allowed only in the courtyard of the monastery – it’s prohibited inside the main temple and the golden stupa.
As I observed the murals and thangkas on the walls of the prayer hall in the main temple, I noticed a room with the door left ajar. I peeked in the room and saw a monk sitting on a stool bent over the table, working on something with his hands. I was very curious but was afraid to interrupt as he seemed so engrossed in his work. Ordinarily, I would have walked away but these last few years of travelling solo have made me braver in approaching people 🙂
I knocked on the door and asked if I could come in. Without so much as a glance toward my direction, he said yes, and when I moved closer to the table, he was moulding tiny clay objects. I asked what was he making and he replied dharma – Buddha image. On the table laid several clay moulds, a jug of water and a book of sketches which I assume were instructions on how to sculpture the dharma.
Behind the main temple is the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute where monks spend a minimum of 9 years studying here, followed by an optional 3-year period of isolated meditation. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to enter the institute.
Here are scenes from the monastery grounds.
– Entry to Rumtek Monastery is free.
– Foreign nationals need to show their passport and the Sikkim entry permit.
Planning a trip to Gangtok soon? Let’s book your accommodation here:
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