The peace and solemnity that arises on a visit to the North Eastern state of Sikkim can be felt at no other place. This least populous state of India is well known for its delicious cuisine and calming landscape, but what sets it apart from the rest of the country is the fresh breath of spirituality that calms your nerves with every step you take. And what notably emits this sense of spirituality are the ancient and historic Buddhist Monasteries that adorn the surface of this state. Monasteries of multiple sects are a unique feature of Sikkim, not only because of their brilliant architecture, scenic surrounding or historic articles, but because of the legacy they hold and bestow upon the existing generation. Each monastery has a history that leads to its existence, and visiting even one such monastery can take you back centuries.
Another unique aspect of Sikkim are the Buddhist prayer flags that are found at various spiritual locations, especially at monasteries. They are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom and the flags are always arranged in a specific order, where all five colors together signify balance. To witness such beauty and spirituality when on a trip to Sikkim, a visit of the monasteries in the state are a must. Here is a list of the top 5 monasteries that are a must visit when you embark on a journey to this North Eastern state of India.
1. Dubdi Monastery
A Buddhist shrine of the Nyingma sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Dubdi Monastery also known as Yuksom Monastery is located near Yuksom, Sikkim. Believed to be one of the oldest monasteries established in Sikkim, the Dubdi Monastery was built during the rule of Chogyal Namgyal in 1701. ‘Dubdi’ when translated to English means, ‘retreat’ and this name is very appropriate for this monastery due to its hilltop location in a dense serene forest which naturally takes you to a place of calm and peace. Images of saints, divinities and other religious articles, manuscripts and texts adorn the walls of this two layer high stone structure. The bell shaped dome on the top of the roof, also referred as “Gyaltshen” is a sacred location known as the Hermit’s cell. This title was given to this part of the monastery when Phuntsog Namgyal was crowned as the first King of Sikkim at Yuksom in the year 1642.
2. Rumtek Monastery
Seated on a hill overlooking the state's capital Gangtok, the Rumtek Monastery is one of the largest monasteries located in Sikkim. Founded in the early 16th century by the 9th Karmapa Lama of Sikkim, it was initially named as the Dharma Chakra Centre. Established in order to pass on and spread the teachings of Buddha, this shrine consists of an exquisite temple and a monastery for the monks to reside in. A very prominent aspect of this monastery is the location of the very famous and ancient Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies, a Buddhist college, right opposite to it. Pilgrims, many visitors as well as the presiding monks often perform Kora along the footpath that circles the monastery. A 16th century golden stupa is preserved at this monastery as well as many historic scriptures that belong to Tibetan monks who fled Tibet when it was annexed by China and took refuge in Sikkim.
3. Lachung Monastery
Situated bang opposite the banks of the Lachung Chu river, the Lachung Monastery is located in a very aesthetic area amidst a bunch of apple orchards. An edifice incorporated by the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism in the year 1806 still stands tall today. This monastery also has an installation of Guru Padmasambhava’s statue to honour his memory as an individual believed to be one of the founding fathers of Buddhism in Tibet. The unique feature of this shrine is the fact that it is very vibrant and tiny, unlike other monasteries. The two prayer wheels which have dragons carved out of metal above it along with the two storied religious halls are the salient features of this monastery.
4. Tashiding Monastery
For one of the best views of snow capped mountains, this age old monastery is a must visit on a trip to Sikkim. Located between two scintillating rivers, i.e. Rathong and Rangit, this monastery was built in the 17th century by the Nyingmapa order on top of a hill. A strong belief of forgiveness is held within the walls of this monastery where it is often said that those who are willing to repent are deemed cleansed of all sin. This monastery also has its own festival called Bhumchhu, that takes place on the 14th and 15th day of the first month in Tibetan calendar. Prayer flags adorn the entire perimeter of the monastery, imparting a great deal of spirituality to the devotees, monks as well as visitors.
5. Phodong Monastery
Built by the Chogyal Gyurmed in the 18th century, this monastery belonging to the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism is a very important shrine to Sikkimese religion, spirituality and culture. A serene view of deep valleys and towering mountains is the reason why this monastery is very popular among visiting tourists, it also holds some very beautiful paintings and murals that give you insight into the culture of 18th century Sikkim. An earthquake destroyed the original building of the monastery, however, it was reconstructed by the Lamas in the late 1900’s making the monastery grander than it stood earlier.