Ravangla in South Sikkim is dotted with pretty villages surrounded by alpine trees, and jaw-dropping views of the Himalayas. Khanchengdzonga, Pandim, Siniolchu, and Kabru are the major peaks that are visible from various points in the area. It is also home to some of the most stunning monasteries and Buddhist temples in Sikkim. Here are some that you must not miss on your next visit.
This vast complex with manicured gardens features a 130ft statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha. It was consecrated by the Dalai Lama to mark the 2550th birth anniversary of Gautama Buddha. The imposing figure is depicted in the Dharmachakra mudra symbolising the Wheel of Dharma which was set in motion when the Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath’s Deer Park after attaining enlightenment. Hence, this park is also called Tathagata Tsal or ‘place of enlightenment’. About 60 tonnes of copper, and some 4kgs of gold, was used for this statue built in the repoussé technique (one of the oldest metal-working practices in the world). You must check it out after sunset, when it is lit up and visible for miles around.
The climb up to the statue is quite strenuous, but the remarkable murals and paintings inside the temple beneath the statue are worth the effort. You can get battery-powered vehicles (for a fee) to go around. Ask for one at the ticket counter. Inside the temple is a spiral gallery of stunning artworks which showcases scenes from the Buddha’s life. A glass-encased cylinder in the middle has murals containing holy relics from different countries. Look out for the hundreds of miniature Buddha statues in various mudras scattered around the periphery. Outside the temple are water fountains which function much like wishing wells. At the Tongchoe Lhakhang, you can light butter lamps in memory of your loved ones for a nominal fee. The site is within the complex of the centuries-old Rabong monastery, an interesting piece of traditional Buddhist architecture.
Close by is Ralang Monastery, another key religious place for Tibetan Buddhism. You can also walk to the Cho Djo Lake located within the complex. The park is about a kilometer from Ravangla town, so you can make this into a day outing. Make sure you are wearing sensible walking shoes when you visit because you will be doing a lot of walking and climbing. After all that walking (the complex is really huge), you can recharge at the eateries located inside the complex. You can also catch up on your gift buying list at the shops here.
Bon Monastery, Kewzing
Continue the Buddhism trail with a visit to one of the two Bon monasteries in India – the only other one is in Himachal Pradesh. Until the advent of Buddhism, Bon was the religion of Tibet. The founder, Lord Tonpa Shenrab, holds a prominent position in Bon culture. The monastery at Kewzing is built in an Indo-Tibetan style, and is decorated with paintings of deities, and the Bon Buddha. It’s around 6km from Ravangla along the Ravangla-Legship route.
About 2kms from Kewzing Bazaar is Mangbrue Gompa which follows the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism. Look out for the ruins of bunkers and outposts from the 19th century, when an invading Bhutanese army had used this as a strategic location.
View this post on Instagram
About 13km below Ravangla, is the new Ralang Gompa, also known as the Palchen Choeling Monastic Institute. Set up in the mid-90s, the gompa is home to about 200 monks of the Kagyu order. It is famous for elaborate sculptures. Inside the main hall is a 30-ft statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha. About 1.5km downhill, on the same road, is the smaller Old Ralang Gompa. Established in 1768, it is one of the most important monasteries in Sikkim following the Kagyu tradition. The old monastery was built in 1768 AD and legend has it that the 9th Karmapa, head of the Kagyupa sect, blessed the site of the monastery with grains of rice thrown from Tibet. It hosts festivals like Pang Lhabsol and Kagyed Chaam (generally around August–September and December). The famous Mahakala Dance takes place every year in the month of November.
If you feel up to it, hike to the monastery – it takes approximately two-and-a-half hours from Ravangla market. Look out for Titanic Point after Ralang – it’s a rock that juts out, shaped somewhat like a ship. You can get a good views of the valley, and West Sikkim.
Around 6m from Ravangala is the Doling monastery – the old one and the new one are opposite each other. The old Doling monastery is a haunting and peaceful place, with faded prayer flags and a sacred lake with fish bobbing up and down in it. The fish (it is one of the eight lucky signs in Buddhism) are released into the pond as a form of worship. The monastery follows the Nyingmapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. What draws people here are the footprints on stone – one of the deity Khanchengdzona’s horse and another of Lama Dorjelingpa.