Rumtek Monastery is the largest monastery of Sikkim which served as the seat of Karma Kagyu Buddhism. The monastery was originally constructed about 300 years ago but it was not until Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa arrived here and decided to rebuild it as his seat of power, that it gained preeminence. Ever since Rumtek monastery has been an important center of Buddhism.
I visited Rumtek monastery in my trip to Gangtok. It is about 24 kilometers from Gangtok and it took us around 30 mins to reach Rumtek monastery from our hotel near the MG Marg. Vehicles are not allowed beyond a particular point, so we got down and had to walk uphill around half a kilometer to reach the monastery. However, if you have physically challenged/old people with you, they allow you to drive to the monastery. Rumtek monastery is guarded by Indo Tibetian Border Police force after the political instability caused by the conflict regarding succession of the 17th Karmapa. Don’t forget to carry a valid photo ID proof when you are visiting Rumtek monastery as it is checked by the ITBP personnel at the gate.
While walking on our left side there were beautiful metallic prayer wheels with Buddhist mantras embossed on them. These prayer wheels are meant to be rotated in clockwise direction, so while ascending don’t go rotating the prayer wheels in anti-clockwise direction. While descending, the prayer wheels fall to your right side and hence can be rotated in clockwise direction in sync with your natural movement.
Rumtek monastery is a colourful monastery set against a beautiful hill. The entry charge is Rs. 10 per person. You have to pass through a security check before entering into the monastery premises. On entering, there is a large open courtyard which has a stone pillar in the center. Visitors attempt to land a coin on top of this pillar by tossing it up and it is it is considered a lucky omen if you are able to land the coin in three attempts. The monastery has beautifully adorned walls and colourful ceilings. The colorful artwork on the portico and the entrance door of the monastery is excellent.
The courtyard opens into a prayer hall. Photography is strictly restricted within this hall. The atmosphere inside is very peaceful and serene. There was complete silence and it was very dark as well. The hall has hundreds of miniature Buddha statues. There are photographs/idols of previous Karmapa(s) and other religious scholars. There are flowers, musical instruments and ancient manuscripts. There is large, golden statue of Lord Buddha on an altar in customary meditation posture. However, there is a wall right in front of the statue with a large photograph of a priest/king/Karmapa (not sure) on it.
After praying in the hall, we came out. The monastery compound has other buildings with beautiful facades. There are many monks who permanently reside within the premises. The 16th Karmapa resided on the first floor of the monastery which is closed to visitors. However, there is a golden stupa on the first floor which contains the relics of the 16th Karmapa to which the visitors are allowed. Behind the monastery is the Nalanda Institute of higher Buddhist studies.
Important points for visitors:
- Don’t forget to carry valid photo ID proofs.
- Reach early to experience the spiritual calmness which gets besmirched once a large number of visitors arrive.
- Insist on allowing your vehicle to the monastery if you have physically challenged/old people with you as it will be very difficult for them to walk uphill.
We spent about an hour in the monastery and I really loved the ambiance there. If you are visiting Gangtok, you must visit the Rumtek monastery. No other tourist attraction in Gangtok is as beautiful or significant as the Rumtek monastery so spend a good amount of time there. You can capture some stunning photographs as well if that interests you. Please share your experiences in the comments section below. Cheers..