After Darjeeling we headed on to Sikkim, our last state in India and the second smallest of the Indian states. Originally founded in the 17th century and ruled by a Buddhist priest-king, Sikkim only recently officially joined India in 1975 after the Indian military deposed the Sikkimese monarchy.
Once we got to Gangtok, the capital of the region, I tried to find the locally made millet beer like I had on our last hike, but was repeatedly told that none was available. Eventually someone was nice enough to explain that they don’t sell alcohol on the day of the full moon. It turns out the Buddhists follow a lunar calendar for their religious observances and the full moon is a Poya, or holy day. Oops; I guess we’ll go back to being dry again.
While walking around we found that Gangtok has a great pedestrian mall which is perfect for people watching and avoiding the fumes from the non-EPA-regulated cars in India. While there we caught some music and dancing from a local cultural festival which happened to be going on. Our luck with stumbling upon random festivals is still holding strong.
The next day we visited the local Tibetology center which had a number of interesting Tibetan articles of historical, religious, and cultural significance. In the early 20th century, Gangtok was a major stopover on the trade route to Lhasa in Tibet and to this day is still a popular Buddhist pilgrimage site with its various monasteries. Interesting place.
After that we headed on to Ravangla, where it was raining again. It was nice the next morning so we walked up to visit their new giant Buddha. Completed in 2013, its 130 feet high and very impressive up close. Even larger than the 112 foot high Buddha we visited in Hong Kong, but only if you include the base. On the way up we noticed that even the simplest houses had a bunch of flower pots outside. It really makes a difference in a place; makes it much more inviting.
Later we caught a cab up to the local Ralang monastery. Although renovated in 1975, the original monastery is so old I couldn’t find a construction date listed. Over a thousand years, presumably. Impressive. The driver was a very excitable Buddhist who did his best to explain the whole philosophy in broken English. He was super excited that we are vegetarians but couldn’t understand why we don’t have kids. He kept coming back to it so we promised to consider it for his sake.
He was able to talk his way into the closed monastery while all the monks were in front practicing what looked like a form of Tai Chi. He taught us how to bow down and prostrate ourselves when we entered. We were happy to do it the first few times, but after number 5 my knees were starting to twinge. Luckily it ended soon after that.
Our next town was Pelling, where it was also raining when we arrived. Another Kindle day since the power was also out, so no TV. The next day was sunny and we had a stunning view of Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak, right from our hotel room.
We hiked up to another monastery and were lucky to catch them chanting in unison for about a half hour. It was really quite pleasant and relaxing to listen to.
Later we heard about a nature hike leaving from a different monastery. We hiked up the (huge) hill and asked a number of people which way to go, but they grew increasingly vague the farther out of town we got. Eventually the road ended and we followed a path into the jungle. After hiking for over an hour, we gave up and turned around. It may not have been the right hike, but it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed it immensely. A great way to end our time in India, despite ticks for both of us and a leech for Jen. Tomorrow we’re off to Nepal and more of the Himalayas.