Surrounded on three sides by precipitous mountain walls and tucked away in a corner of the beautiful Indian Himalayan mountains, Sikkim, an independent Kingdom until 1975 (and where plenty of forward planning is still required to obtain permits from the Govt. to gain entry) was my pathway from Delhi through to Darjeeling and a trek along the Singalila Ridge, border of India and Nepal.
Sikkim isn’t exactly on the tourist radar (which is one of the reasons it appealed to me!) but it should be… and while it falls short with lack of infrastructure, the roads are incredibly bad, but no worse than Ladakh or rural Nepal I guess, and the discomfort and carsickness is soon forgotten once you look around. Apart from magnetic views of the great Himalayas, the culture and history of this tiny state is mesmerising, and the capital Gangtok must be one of the most beautiful hill stations in India.
You can feel the peace and closeness to the almighty in Sikkim, where sacred words mingle with the whirring prayer wheels, dedicated monks attired in red robes chant sacred hymns while thumping drums and blowing trumpets, and colourful prayer flags, which represent the five elements of nature – earth, sky, water, air and fire, flutter in the constant winds of the mountains.
Oozing with tranquility and serenity, the distinct Buddist Monasteries in Sikkim not only unwrap incredible architecture but they exude peace along with a vibrant culture that can’t be witnessed elsewhere in the world. The monks fascinate me, particularly the child novices in training, but it’s a hell of a schedule they follow, 7 days a week! Up at 4.30am for the first hour in the temple reciting mantras followed by personal hygiene in one of several fountains and then off, barefoot, through the nearby village to ask for alms of food and money. Back to the monastery for 7.30am breakfast with whatever was collected in the village, school for the novices for a few hours and then the second meal of the day at 11.30am, the last time they can touch food till the following morning. The remainder of the day is filled with school and prayers before med at 7pm sharp. As you can see, not much time for leisure, but the monks seem to be always smiling and sunny, one even had the time to ask me for my phone number!!
Sikkim is also home to a small, scenic tea estate known as the Temi Tea Garden. Located in the Tandong mountain range and laid out between the altitudes of 4,000 and 6,000 feet, the steep slopes and hand picking of the leaf ensures the garden is one of the finest producers of organic tea in the world.
And unlike the more than 100 plantations of Darjeeling tea, built by the British planters for their own financial gains, Sikkim’s Temi Tea Garden is the only one in the entire state, initiated by the last King to provide a livelihood to the vast numbers of Tibetans fleeing their homeland after Chinas invasion in the early 1950’s. And yes, the tea was amazing!
Yes, well worth the effort!