Rumtek Monastery is perched on a hill overlooking Gangtok. It is one of the most significant and largest monasteries in Gangtok. Built in the 16th century, the monastery served as the main seat of Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism for some time. But in recent times it has been in the news for the ugly Karmapa controversy, involving tworival organizations. These two rival organizations Karmapa Chatitable Trust and the Tsurphu Labrang supports different candidates for the 17th Karmapa. Trinley Thanya Dorje’s supporters claim that a sniper tried to assassinate him in the monastery. Neither of the Karmapas resides here anymore. Unlike other monasteries, there’s an unusual military presence here. Visitors are frisked before entering the monastery. But it still draws many visitors.
Rumtek is 24km from Gangtok at an elevation of 1500m. A small road meanders down and spiral’s up again through small houses and terrace rice fields. It passes through enchanting woods festooned with rare plants and haunted by echoes of sloshing streams. Driving through this woods and villages in itself is a great treat and enrich your photographic memory of Sikkim. Locals Taxis to Rumtek are available at the taxi stand beneath MG Marg. Some locals whom I shared taxi with, travel almost daily from Rumtek to Sikkim for work. People here are warm and helpful.
Rumtek Monastery was originally built by the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje in the 16th century. Much later, in 1959 the 16th Karmapa rebuilt the monastery after fleeing Tibet. The monastery was in ruins; so at the generousity of Sikkim royal family and Indian Government other sites were made available to a new monastery but the Karmapa decided to rebuild the old one. It wasn’t surprising. The monastery is fed by running streams, shielded by the mountains behind and offers great view of Gangtok and snow range mountains.
It took four years to complete this largest monastery in Sikkim. In 1996 the 16th Karmapa inaugurated the seat called ‘The Dharmachakra Centre’ and sacred items and relics brought from Tsurphu monastery of Tibet were installed. A building just opposite to the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies now houses the Golden Stupa, which contains relics of the 16th Karmapa. The Indian Army stands guard outside the door. Inside a lone monk chants prayers, while a recorded chanting plays on a small walkman. The Golden Stupa can bee seen through a glass. The black hat crown had been locked away since the 16th Karmapa passed away. No one had really seen it. Nor will anyone see, until the crowning of the 17th Karmapa when the hat will be unlocked for crowning. But with all the feuds going on it seems unlikely in the near future. Outside the Monastery, young monks show off their athleticism and skills, passing a small rubber made ball in the air with their feet. Their chuckles and smiles belie the grave seriousness of that monastery.
No doubt, Rumtek monastery is one of the grandest and most colorful monasteries in Sikkim. But it will offer much more when it gets back its glorious past!