Sikkim Revisited/5

Our stay in Pelling was over. It was time to leave. Next stop was Ravangla – the most beautiful part of Sikkim I have been to so far. We went to have breakfast at Kizom and I also had to bid adieu to Cedar. I hope to see him again on my next visit.

However the journey to Ravangla did not go as smoothly as planned. The car broke down right in the middle of nowhere and the driver had no stepney with him. We had to wait for an hour for his friend to arrive from Ravangla with backup. We had chosen to stay at Ravangla Hilltop Resort and to our sheer fortune we got the entire place all to ourselves. Off season is bliss. Everything was good about the resort except its location. It is literally perched on the hilltop and you need a car every time you wish to get down. And be ready to have all your bone joints dislocated during the 10 minutes ride from the resort to the main road. They also had a golden labrador who looked utterly neglected and fat. We went out on an evening stroll after reaching and half an hour later came back with leeches hanging from our exposed body parts. I love leeches. There is something so blissfully evil about this creature. I want to drink your blood but I am going to do it so silently and swiftly that you wouldn’t even know your body juice is being sucked out. And their coldblooded stubbornness is truly admirable.

There is only one word I have in my vocabulary to describe Ravangla in short. Surreal. There was something so otherworldly about the place that I had not experienced in any other part of Sikkim. I wanted to soak in every moment I was about to spend there.

Ravangla Buddha Park or Tathagata Tsal is the main USP of Ravangla. It’s a huge park with a colossal 130 ft Buddha statue in the middle. At the plinth of the statue there is a temple. The inner walls were painted in colourful frescoes depicting the life and works of Gautama. This was the first time I saw a place in Sikkim where the presence of Theravada prevailed side by side with Vajrayana. The giant water bowls outside had thick layers of coins at the bottom. I wonder how many of those wishes got fulfilled so far. There was a small temple in the park where one could light butter-lamps. I lit two in the memory of my dogs I had lost the previous year. And then found three fluff-balls playing around.

The three puppies were too cute to be left behind. I was almost dragged out of the park. Driver was waiting outside. The car roared into life. Next stop – Ralong Palchen Choling Monastery. This is perhaps the youngest of the monasteries in Sikkim. Built in 1995 this is another place that follows the Kagyupa lineage besides Rumtek.

I would never know that sky could look so beautiful had I not come to Ralong. There was no sign of monsoon anywhere. The golden coloured temple was dazzling under the sun in the backdrop of vast azureness. As if the gods themselves had built their golden abode encrusted with the opulence of lapis lazuli. I did not know what I had done to deserve this experience but I bowed in gratitude to the humongous idols of Rinpoche and Avalokiteshwara.

Ralong has another monastery complex nearby which is the older one. This one did not have the extravagant resplendence of the new one, but the serene atmosphere was more welcoming. It was under renovation. Workers were painting the walls with utmost concentration. Nobody even looked up for once at us. A young couple was sitting in the courtyard playing with their toddler son. I couldn’t help stealing a few glances at their happy faces through the corner of my eye. What I would give to exchange my life with that family.

Traditional Bhutia houses near old Ralang Monastery
After lunch I decided to meander about in the town. Since after dark there was nothing to do except looking at the night sky from balcony and listening to the nocturnal symphony coming from the woods. Ravangla has a Tibetan settlement and an army camp just across the street. The Tibetan camp looked completely desolate. My friend TS’s home is somewhere in the vicinity. Two dogs were enjoying afternoon siesta on the steps. I went to say hello to one of them, but he was not in a good mood. No point denying it, I feel devastated when I’m rejected by a dog. I left the camp questioning my credibility as a good human being and kept on walking further. The Tibetan settlement was left behind. The army camp’s area ended eventually. I kept on walking. The entire stretch of the road was completely deserted except for a handful number of cars passing by once in a while. I crossed a soft bend and then came to a sudden halt. What is that in front of me? A giant monster man was standing by the side of the road. Shoulders stooping, his silhouette looked really tired in the gloomy light of the setting sun. As if he was standing there from time immemorial watching over people passing by. He reminded me of Heimdallr, the ancient Norse god who watches over the nine realms. Maybe he wanted to go home now. With this decay of humanity all over the world the day of Ragnarok is not far away after all.

To be continued