The dominant religion in Sikkim is Buddhism, and the culture reflects that facet. Monasteries here are not just beautiful but serene as well. In Gangtok, monasteries are an important part of the culture and a big tourist attraction.
Some important monasteries in Gangtok are:
The Enchey Monastery was the first monastery I visited in Gangtok. It is a good 30 to 45 minute climb from MG Marg. A small road meanders up towards the TV station. The winding steps and the greenery were just perfect for hiking. A small canteen outside the monastery serves amazing thukpa. The monastery is perched on the edge of a hilltop overlooking the Gangtok city. The narrow road leading up to the monastery was decorated on either side with colourful prayer flags and prayer wheels.
The first monastery was set up in the 1840s but the current structure was built in 1909 and belongs to the Nyingma order of Vajyarana Buddhism. The word 'enchey' means 'solitary'. It was believed that the monastery is the abode of the protecting deities of Kanchendzonga and Yabdean. Therefore, the monastery is much revered by the locals.
The monastery has been able to carve out a serene ambiance. It was almost bereft of visitors when I went there, and found it very peaceful. I was greeted by a young monk with a smile and a banana. In spite of so many intrusions into their daily chores and rituals, the monks have still smile and take care of the visitors.
The interior of the monastery was small but rich with artifacts, decors and materials of religious significance.
This is the most significant and beautiful stupa in Gangtok. It was built in 1945 by the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism. The stupa is in the middle courtyard, surrounded by smaller stupas and quarters for monks. The stupa is home to Dorjee Phurba, Kangyur relics (Holy Books) and other articles of religious significance. The stupa is also surrounded by 108 Mani Lhakor or prayer wheels and Chorten Lakahang and Guru Lakhang, which has two statues of Guru Rinpoche.
Institute of Tibeteology:
The Institute of Tibeteology is a Buddhism centre with special inclination towards preserving the tradition and culture of Tibet. The main hall houses some important artifacts. It was like visiting a museum. The centre is on a small hill covered by forest, about a kilometre from the main market in Gangtok. The centre was built in 1958 and is adjacent to Do-Drul Chorten.
Tsuklakhang Palace Monastery:
It was a palatial monastery when Sikkim was an independent kingdom. The Tsuklakhang Palace was the residence of the royal family in Sikkim. A portion of it is still owned by the royal family and tourists are barred from entering their private residence; however, the monastery adjacent to the palace and part of the palace is still open to visitors. The monastery is at a quiet location with the backdrop of green mountains.