Mystic Rumtek Monastery: Gangtok Sikkim India
It’s a mystical place with a medieval aura; connected to civilization only by a precarious hairpin road that takes over an hour to traverse to the nearest town, Gangtok (in Sikkim State, India) near the Chinese border, at the foothills of the Himalayas. At 1500 meters, surrounded by snowcapped peeks, Rumtek Monastery (Dharma Chakra Center & Golden Stupa) may seem inhospitable, but amidst the cozy, smoky interior of the largest monastery in Sikkim, the atmosphere is conducive to peace of mind & inner calm. The fragrance of a thousand types of incense dances with chanting monks and reverberates with incessant rumbling drums around aged Buddhist masters, smiling child-monks (and Indian army guards), in scenes reminiscent of Heinrich Harrer’s “Seven Years in Tibet”.
address: Rumtek, Sikkim 737135
Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in India
Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism is the most popular form of Buddhism in this part of the world. However, even amidst Vajrayana, there are various schools, and Rumtek Tibetan Buddhist Monastery follows the one called “kagyu”, which is known for its oral lineage or what some call “whispered transmission”. It’s highly regarded amongst Himalayan / Tibetan Buddhists since it follows ascetic restraint, but also incorporates orally transmitted tantric mantras and emphasizing the importance of the Master. In keeping with the concept of the Master’s integral role in teaching disciples, Rumtek Monastery is said to maintain a “succession of reincarnations” of Gyalwa Karmapa, wherein each incarnation “leaves a letter predicting his next rebirth.” Today, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje (born in Tibet in 1985) is said to be the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 16th Karmapa Ranjung Rigpe Dorje’s, and his oral traditions, believed to come from eight-hundred year old oral traditions and meditation practices.
Rumtek Monastery was built in the 16th Century by the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje, however it was ruined and rebuilt in 1956 (accomplished with help from the Indian Government & The Sikkim Royal Family), and is today, not only the largest Buddhist Monastery in Sikkim India, but also a teaching complex known as the Dharma Chakra Center. It’s also renowned for a Golden Stupa (which contains the relics of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa) and walkways where pilgrims and monks perform “kora”. The Rumtek complex is considered the fulfillment of the 16th Karampa’s lifelong aspiration, and has become the international kagyu headquarters – the place from which Karmapa’s teachings are disseminated throughout the world; home to a new generation of “masters” who are being trained in asceticism, meditation and Kagyu oral traditions.
Rumtek Monastery located near Gangtok Sikkim India
Rumtek is located just 24 kilometers from the town of Gangtok (capital of the IndianState of Sikkim), and rests at an altitude of about 1,500 meters above sea level. It lies in a region considered to be auspicious, with snowcapped mountains in front, a river below, and springs and streams behind. From the hilltop, where Rumtek complex is situated, the town of Gangtok is visible, and at night, the twinkling lights amidst the Himalayan backdrop, make for a breathtaking view.
Due to its strategic geographical posoitioning near the Indian-Chinese border, the Rumtek Monastery complex is heavily guarded by the Indian army. It’s therefore important for visitors to have their passport and documents handy at all times in case there’s a check. Despite the military presence, monks in and around the grounds are jovial; seen with smiling faces and offering visitors a gregarious welcome. A visit to the monastery also offers the rare opportunity of mingling with child-monks, some as young as 4 years of age. Although photography is prohibited inside the monastery, its okay to snap shots around the grounds.
Gangtok Sikkim tourism – getting to Rumtek Monastery
In the Sikkim region there are 4 main languages spoken: Sikkimese, Pahari, Hindi and Tibetan, however English is widely used to communicate with visitors. Although there are several Gangtok Sikkim tourism guides and tour operators, most of them don’t offer routine trips to Rumtek Monastery, so if you want to go there, you’ll need to insist that the monastery is indeed the place you wish to visit.
There are several ways of enjoying off the beaten track adventures offered by Gangtok tourism experts. Though getting to Sikkim India takes planning, there are numerous options by air and overland. Here are some pointers:
- The nearest airport is Siliguri / Bagdogra, 124 km. away, in West Bengal.
- Two cities that are common departure points include Darjeeling & Guwahati.
- There’s a chartered helicopter service from Bagdogra to Gangtok.
- If driving, a 4X4 is recommended. Take highway 31A from Bagdogra / Siliguri.
- Local transport is via taxi. It’s common to share a ride with other travelers.
Accommodation - hotels in Gangtok
There’s no accommodation or hotel facilities in or around the Rumtek Monastery. The nearest place to stay is Gangtok (just 24 km away, but can take more than an hour to reach by taxi due to the curvy hairpin road), has several options. Hotels in Gangtok include the luxury Suhim Portico, the quaint Mayfair Gangtok hotel and Hotel Sonam Delek, amongst others. MG Marg Road and area offer travelers a good variety of accommodation, restaurants and shopping possibilities. Despite its remote location, there exists a surprisingly varied selection of places to eat and stay. In fact, curio shops, restaurants and hotels in Gangtok, provides a living for a majority of the town’s inhabitants.