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Posts Tagged ‘Gantok’

Sunday at Tsamgo

I was waiting for Sange’ call to provide me the details of the driver who would take me to Tsomgo . As soon as my mobile hummed I picked it up to speak to Sange who provided me the details of the jeep and driver whom I had to meet at the Vajra theatre. He asked me to take a taxi over there but after some scouting around, chose to walk it down to the theater which turned out to be a very pleasant 20 minute walk. I was greeted by complete chaos and cacophony at the taxi stand and now I was wondering how I was to find the jeep number Sange had given. Half an hour of hunting in the stand didn’t yield much result and I called Sange back to provide me with the mobile number of the driver. A couple of phone calls later I finally managed to bump into the driver who was to take me there. At 9.30 am I was at last packed of with nine other people to see Tsomgo and Baba mandir. All nine of my companions were either from Bihar or UP and it was extremely entertaining to listen to their conversation in the typical hindi style.

 The road is winding all the way to the top but it well compensated with the scenic beauty of the surrounding mountains. There were times when it appeared that we were floating in the clouds as there was a layer of fluffy cumilo-nimbus clouds right below us. All of a sudden our jeep came to a halt and all I could see ahead of us was a bee line of jeeps, trying to break their line (in the normal Indian impatient way) and honk their lungs out creating an utter mess of the place. The reason for this chaos turned out to be the army checkpost where all the tourist jeeps had to show and register the permits for all the passengers they were carrying. This is an army ritual which needs to be followed by all going to Tsomgo lake or Nathula, due to the close proximity of the area to the China border. At the check post met up with Sange, who introduced me to one of his colleagues who would show me around the lake . After the check post the entire path is dotted with army camps of varying sizes . When we reached Tsomgo lake the driver told me that we would first go to Baba mandir and then halt at Tsomgo on our way back. So I made the decision to carry on with them ionstead of getting down at Tsomgo, which proved to be a wrong one at least in terms of weather.

 Baba mandir was at least another hour from the lake and I was already wondering if I had made the right decision.   I was greeted by a flock of Indian tourists at 13000 feet all of whom were scrambling into the mandir . The mandir is actually a shrine which has been created in memory of   Harbajan Singh. The story goes that in October 1968 sepoy Harbhajan Singh was escorting a mule caravan from his battalion headquarters in Tekula to Dengchukla, he fell into a fast flowing stream and drowned. Search for Sepoy Harbhajan was made with no results, and it was on the fifth day of his being missing that his colleague Pritam Singh had a dream of Harbhajan Singh informing him of his tragic incident and his dead body being found under the heap of snows. Harbhajan Singh desired to have a samadhi made after him but Pritam Singh ignored the dream as just as an imagination. Later when the body of Sepoy Harbhajan Singh was found at the spot where he had informed, the army official was taken aback and to mark respect towards his wish a samadhi was constructed.

 By the time we reached Tsamgo it had become cloudy though I did manage to take a few photos. Once I reached the lake I met up with the two ‘pokhri rakshaks’ or lake guards.       The NGO I am working with has initiated a wetland conservation program called Pokhri Sanrakshan Samiti to save a few lakes from environmental degradation. For this they have started charging all tourists a sum of Rs.10 which goes into the upkeeping of the lake. The important thing is that they have empowered the local community as custodians of the lake and to take care and execute projects to reduce degradation.I will also be helping out on this project at a later date and would post more details about the same then.

 It had started to rain by the time we left from Tsomgo and was glad that was carrying my rain jacket. On our way back, one of the Bihari’ was in full mood and was cracking jokes about the place he was from getting everyone in splits. Frankly did not understand much but his accent and his way of talking just made me laugh out silently. Reached Gantok market at around 4 to put to an end an enjoyable Sunday outing.

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A short outing to Rumtek

Dallas was running out of ideas to pass our time on Saturday and so he suggested we go to Rumtek to see the monastery over there. It is touted as one of the main tourist attractions around Gantok and so I approved of the plan. Rumtek is around 22 kms from Gantok with good access via taxis , or so I thought. We went to the taxi stand but had to wait for around 30 minutes for the taxi to get full before it started . It was a one hour drive through lush greenery and some entertaining local gossip.  Along the way one gets good vistas of Gantok city surrounded by green mountain slopes giving an impression of a rudimentary castle in the air.

The first thing I notice as I enter the monastery complex is the ITBP guard station, from which one of them gives me a peering glance to inquire if I am a foreigner or not. I speak to him in fluent hindi to eliminate any of his doubt. A five minute walk through the complex gets us to the main gate of the monastery where I buy two entrance tickets for us. I walk into a huge quadrangle with the monks quarters on both the flanks and the main temple opposite the gate. It is the largest monastery in Sikkim and home to the Karma Kagyu sect of Buddhism.   The Rumtek complex was founded by the sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje after he ran away from Tibet to avoid communist prosecution and to continue with his preaching.

The main temple is a magnificent and opulent four storied structure. I went inside the main temple hall which is open to all visitors and was enthralled by the vividity of the paintings and it’ colors. Unluckily I did not have much understand into the meaning of the paintings and Dallas seemed to be least interested in them. The hall is supported by red pillars from which silk banners and intricate thangkas hang. From here we walked towards to Nalanda Institute and the Golden Stupa. I was really astonished to see the number of ITBP cadets and they had an entire army post inside, it was both sad and painful to see a heavy army presence in such holy a place.

 

The Nalanda Institute was a richly painted five storied building. The institute was founded to preserve and propagate the teachings of Buddha and, in particular, the Kagyu tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. It is supposed to be the most important learning centre for Buddhism in the world.   

                                                       Namgyal Institute

Since we could not go in, just had to admire the institute from outside. By this time Dallas was really getting restless and so could take only a brief glance inside the Golden Stupa. It contains the precious relics of the sixteenth Karmapa and is bejeweled with ancient turquoise and coral, and decorated with filigree and fine metalwork. came out and roamed about a bit in the gardens to take in the peaceful and serene atmosphere, till I was interrupted by an impatient Dallas and asked if we could leave.

So started our homeward journey which turned a bit ugly and adventurous. On reaching back to the road we did not find any shared jeep to take us back and after 30 minutes of waiting did not yield any results we started walking down. But as fortune favours the brave we did manage to get one after about 20 minutes to comfortably reach Gantok.

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