West Sikkim /02

Next morning I woke up with hangover of my previous day’s disappointment. I opened my eyes and expected to see a gloomy cloudy sky outside. My friends were already awake and sipping tea. I sat up on the bed and one of them said, ‘Go out on the balcony and have a look around,’ I ignored her (as I always do) and went to the toilet instead to freshen up. I was feeling really cold and the first sip of the hot tea felt like heaven in that chilly morning. They were still insisting me to go to the balcony. I replied, ‘I have no intention to see fog and cloud. I am already feeling quite melancholic. I guess we made a mistake coming here.’ She made a grumpy face and said, ‘Ok, just go out and see.’ I obliged and reluctantly opened the door and stepped out in the balcony. I can not quite describe the waves of different emotions that passed through me in a fraction of second. I went from being sleepy and sad to flabbergasted to happy to euphoric within a jiffy. And before I could realize it, my fatigue was completely gone and I was jumping in joy and calling out my friends to come and join me. I was witnessing the Kanchenjunga in all her glory for the first time and I did not want to experience it without having my friends by my side. The cloud and the gloominess of yesterday were completely gone and the entire Kaluk was being flooded with sunlight. The sky was bright and blue and the entire range of the Kanchenjunga was dazzling before our eyes. Now I knew why people came to Rinchenpong.

After gratifying our stomach with a heavy breakfast we went out to explore Kaluk and Rinchenpong. There were a few places to see around Rinchenpong and our driver took us to Rinchenpong monastery first. If I was given a chance I would visit every Himalayan monastery, that’s how deep my admiration goes for Tibetan Buddhism. Rinchenpong monastery was built in 1730 by Ngadakpa Lama. It’s said to be the third oldest monastery of Sikkim. Lord Buddha takes his Ati Buddha form here. Ati Buddha or Adi Buddha is considered to be the oldest avatar of Buddha according to Vajrayana Buddhism. This primordial form of Buddha is said to exist before anything else ever existed. He is the originator of everything. Sound familiar? If we truly liberate ourselves from all the stupid meaningless rituals and boundaries of religions, we will be amazed to find that every religion in the world basically trying to tell us the same history of origin. How can we be different when our origins are fundamentally identical? We might have taken different routes, but our destinations are same after all. In Rinchenpong monastery Ati Buddha sits in Yab Yum position. In Yab Yum position deities sit in Padmasana embracing their respective goddesses in their lap. Yab Yum represents union of male and female. Vajrayana tells that no one can reach the ultimate point of spiritual attainment without their counterpart in the journey. 

We got off the car; a trail lined with traditional prayer flags led us to the monastery. The colourful flags are supposed to ward off evil spirits, and the white ones represent mourning. The Morning Prayer session was going on when we reached there. Little lama boys were playing musical instruments outside in the yard. One was playing a Choe-Nga which is a drum like instrument; a few others were playing a giant trumpet which is known as Rag-Dung. My friends were watching them intently while I got busy looking around and photographing the premises.

 The monastery was a two storied hut decorated with prayer wheels and intricate colourful designs. I told my friend in an all knowing patronizing tone, ‘See the heap of dry branches out there? Those are Juniper. It is used as incense in all Buddhist monasteries.’ This I had come to know from the documentary Sikkim, made by the greatest of all greats, our Satyajit Ray. The Kanchenjunga was visible from the vast green yard. The entire valley was being flooded with sunlight. The prayer was going on in the monastery in full swing; we could hear the lamas chanting ancient Tibetan mantras in a steady unvarying tempo. The entire ambience around the monastery was beyond any description. I felt I had come to a world that was very different from ours and I did not want to go back to my city life anymore.

Our next stop was Poison Pokhri and an ancient British Dak Bungalow. When the British army came to conquer Sikkim in 1860, the native Lepchas of Sikkim poisoned the lake that used to be the only source of water to the army. As a result, most of the army was killed and they were forced to retreat. Seriously, this race had no other job but to butt in others’ properties and torture and steal. Still it is impossible to hate them because of one single factor. Harry Potter. My love for Sikkim was multiplied a thousand times after hearing this story. The lake was now dried out and was surrounded by deep forest. Shooting of some Bengali film was going on there when we reached. We did not stay there for long. The sight of a dried lake did not give me much pleasure. The bungalow where the army had stayed was just above the bank of the lake. It was nicely maintained. I suggested to my girls that we should live here if we ever came to visit this place again. A bungalow this old and with so much history, must have a few pieces of ghosts left. If we got haunted by the ghosts of some racist British generals, that would be the experience of lifetime.

Rabindra Smriti Van was a total disappointment. A stone slab was standing erect amidst some bushes announcing proudly that R N Tagore had stayed there once and he had written the first verse of ‘Where the mind is without fear’ while his stay.

The last stop of our entire day’s sightseeing was a big surprise. The model organic farm by Azing Lepcha. We spent almost an hour there looking around the beautiful farmhouse and garden. Mr. Lepcha had developed this farm where everything was produced organically. They produced fruits, honey (from stingless bees), hens and several others by products like jam, jelly, pickles and alcohol-free wines. They also have a small guesthouse for tourists. We sat there for some time, soaking in every ounce of picturesque beauty around us; tasted farm fresh passion fruit; then tasted some fruit wine. They made wines from various fruits, like banana, orange, cherry etc. We bought organic honey and few bottles of wine to bring back home. The path that led to the farm was the most difficult part. We had to descend at least 3 to 4 km to reach there. Now just imagine the ordeal I had to go through while climbing up. Gravity is a mean bitch and one feels it more while travelling in the hills.

In the afternoon we decided to go for a walk around Kaluk. There was a big map of West Sikkim displayed in the middle of the crossroad at Kaluk bazaar. We saw that Hee-Bermiok village was just 3 km away from Kaluk. My instant reaction was, ‘Let’s walk to Bermiok!’ My friends' reaction was, ‘You have any idea what you are talking about?’ since the moment I had boarded the train, I was feeling somewhat invincible and I was pretty sure about myself that I could reach Bermiok by foot. We started walking; the roadside scenery was amazing. We could see small villages across the hills. Suddenly we heard the sound of prayer bells coming from some monastery. Now whenever I hear anything remotely related to monastery, I run towards it like a cat chasing laser dot. However there was no monastery nearby. My friend old me that we might have heard the echo from some monastery which was miles away from us.

No, we did not reach Bermiok that evening; after around 2 km we were already exhausted and it had started getting dark. We had to take the return course. But that walk will always be one of my most cherished most favourite memories ever. Sometimes, without our knowledge we create some magical moments that stay with us forever.

                                                                                                                                            (To be continued)