Fear has a numbing effect on me. My brain goes blank and my body freezes. And once that happens, I find it hard to think straight, or think at all. When you come back home, and lounge in your comfy sofa, any trip feels good. That’s because you made it back – in one piece. But, when you’re there, living in the moment, it’s not a pleasant experience. And once you let fear rule you – there’s nothing else you can do.
After averting a possible disaster in the mountains, I wasn’t in awe of them anymore. I was terrified at their sheer scale and my inherent weakness. I wanted to run away or stay tucked in bed. We had a day more to go. Now, Sikkim has many more stunning places to see. Unfortunately, most of them involve high altitude mountain passes. Basil wouldn’t waste those days couped in a hotel room. So, we settled on a day tour around Gangtok. Our driver (from the earlier trip) was more than happy to show us around. I trusted him and his instinct. Trust goes a long way in the mountains.
I wouldn’t consider myself to be a deeply religious person, but there are days, on which, I could indulge in some soul-searching spiritualism. More so in a desperate bid to find peace and tranquility. I’ve found Buddhist monasteries to have a calming effect on me. And no matter what’s going on inside my finicky head, I end up with the feeling – everything’s going to be okay.
Rumtek Monastery owes its current form to the sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjun Rigpe Dorje, who escaped from Tibet in 1959. After the demise of the sixteenth Karmapa, there has been a difference of opinion among his followers, with regard to the rightful spiritual heir of the Karma Kagyu sect of Buddhism. With two recognized Karmapas, the tensions at the seat-in-exile of the 17th Karmapa are palpable. The guards are present to placate any unwanted skirmish that could arise.
When we arrived at Rumtek Monastery, I was unhappy to see armed guards at the gates. Why would a spiritual centre – built on the tenet of peace – require violence to protect it? I don’t think a gun and a monastery go well together. I don’t debate the need for protection; I question the basic premise of my presence. So much so for peace and calm. I guess, sometimes it’s hard to run away from turmoil. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the monastery inside. The monks were lost in a religious ritual that involved chants and dancing. We stood outside and observed in silence.
The Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies lies in the same monastic complex. Young monks were buried deep into their books. I felt mildly envious. A student couldn’t have asked for a better location. Studying in close proximity of nature – can only bring – a positive influence on oneself.
Eco Park II
I’ve forgotten the name of this picturesque park and I’ve conveniently named it as, ‘Eco Park II’. This park was much smaller than Eco Park I. It was deserted. We listened to the water gushing gently and took in the cool air. It was soothing to stand and absorb the sight – in front of us.
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology
Our driver didn’t have a fixed plan for us. So, when we asked him for a local museum, he took us to Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. For centuries, Sikkim has shared close religious and cultural ties with its neighbour, Tibet. The primary focus of the museum is to maintain, promote, and preserve Tibetan works of art, religious scripture, and culture. A photographic exhibition, on the first floor, showcased the checkered journey of Sikkim from a Princely Kingdom to a state in India. I remember feeling mildly overwhelmed.
Enchey Monastery was the last stop for the day. It was late evening and the monastery wore a deserted look. We strolled around without wanting to understand much. I’ve always imagined monks to be deeply spiritual people – including the tiny tots. You could imagine our surprise, when we saw two of them, engaged in a friendly wrestling match. I guess no matter what our calling, we will be human first.
Sikkim has always been close to our hearts. I remember wondering, back then, did we have enough in our bank accounts, if were to quit our jobs and settle in this secluded mountain state. I’m not sure how much has changed since then. Perhaps, I’d be disappointed and might prefer to live in the nostalgia of the past.