The Sikkim Diary - Gangtok

Two years ago, I came across a Bengali crime thriller novel in some magazine. Its backdrop was in Sikkim (No, I am not talking about Ray’s Gangtok-e Gondogol). I don’t remember the name of the story or of the author, but what interested me the most, was the subject. It was about Tibetan-Buddhism and its gods and goddesses and its customs. Since then, Tibet, as well as Sikkim have been on my ‘must visit places before I die’ list.
Darjeeling and Sikkim are any quintessential Bong’s favourite hill stations. Every year, during summer and during the puja vacation you will find a chunk of Bengali tourists in those places.
Our trip was for 7 days and I was determined to cover almost eighty percent of Sikkim within that time. How naive of me. After going through the travel forums, I had come up with a pretty ambitious itinerary.
Kolkata to Bagdogra was a one hour flight. It did not cause us much trouble; although the short journey was quite entertaining as there were a few morons on the plane who wouldn’t stop taking pictures of them ON the plane. One girl even took videos of the take off AND of the landing.
Siliguri to Gangtok was a 5 hours drive and it was an uncomfortable journey as they carried 10 people in one Bolero. We reached at around 7pm and got a hotel at M G Marg. Temperature was at 15-16 degree and it was chilly even in mid-April.
Next morning we went out for a stroll on M G Marg. We had our breakfast at Baker’s Café. We had heard so much about this place and I was dying to visit there. I would say it was one of the best things about Gangtok. Everything about this place was awesome. The food was great and very well-priced, and lots of varieties to choose from. Staffs were polite and helpful. This applies for every Sikkimese person we met there. Polite, soft-spoken and extremely friendly & helpful. The ambiance at the café was excellent. It had two sides, one facing M G Marg and the other facing the entire Gangtok city. The interior was made of wood and very nicely designed. We spotted some really cool posters there. Each day we spent in Gangtok, we went there every morning and evening to have our coffee or tea.

Baker’s Café
M G Marg
After breakfast we hired a cab to roam in and around the city. Our driver’s name was Mr. Passang. He was a very good-looking Sikkimese probably in his mid thirties. He was very polite and took us to all the famous tourist places of Gangtok.
Our first stop was Chorten stupa. According to the Buddhist custom, a stupa contains the holy remains of some head Lama. The stupa was encircled by many prayer wheels with prayers written over it. There was a huge prayer hall adjacent to it. The hall’s floor was made of wood and the entire hall was adorned with colourful Tibetan wall-hangings. There was a golden throne (somebody later told me that it was the throne of Holy Karmapa) in the middle. On its left was the shrine of Lord Buddha and other Tibetan Gods and on the right side seats for the monks.

Chorten stupa

Dharma Chakras

Next we went to the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. It was named after Tashi Namgyal, the eleventh Chogyal (king) of Sikkim. It had a museum which was a tourist attraction. The museum was phenomenal, especially for Buddhism enthusiastic people like me. In the middle of the hall there was a giant idol of Lord Manju Shree Nath, the Buddhist god of knowledge and wisdom. There were century old scrolls and Thangkas that came from Tibet. Old Tibetan ornaments, accessories used in Buddhist rituals, idols of various Tibetan gods were also there on display. Photography was prohibited inside the museum. Later we visited the museum gift shop and I did lots of shopping from there. The shop had a fantastic collection of authentic Tibetan stuff and it was also fair priced.

Next, the cab took us to Rumtek monastery. It is situated at the outskirt of Gangtok city and it is said to be the largest monastery of Sikkim. Security was pretty tight there; ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) was guarding the place and they would ask for ID proof before entering the gumpha. As usual, photography was not allowed inside the prayer hall. It was completely silent, dark and cold inside the hall. Walls were designed with colourful Tibetan paintings of Buddhist gods. At the middle a huge golden idol of Lord Gautama Buddha sitting in padmasana; on his left was Lord Manjushree Nath. We had to make a clockwise circle around the room as told by the monk standing there. I never felt as serene as I did for the next 15 minutes sitting on the floor of the prayer hall.

We stopped at a roadside shop for lunch. It was a small but busy shop crowded with tourists. There was a smiling old Sikkimese man serving hot water. And our waiter was a young man-boy who started reciting the menu so fast that we had to ask him to slow down. J It had started raining by then. Hot chicken momo and thukpa felt like heaven in that cold. After lunch we headed for our hotel.

In the evening we went out to roam around M G Marg. We sat on a bench and spent some time watching the evening hustle-bustle of the city. I was mostly watching pretty Sikkimese girls/women and silently admiring them. Boy are they pretty! And so beautifully dressed! I spent 6 days in Sikkim and did not see a single woman who could be called fashion impaired. Anyways, we took early dinner that day and called it a night. Next morning we would start for Lachen.
Stay tuned for the next part. :)
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Outfit details:
Top: Wardrobe
Denim: Levi's
Necklace: J crew