Woke up to a beautiful sunrise in Pelling next morning.
Was too cold to venture out, so I slept in till breakfast and then checked out. I was off to Ravangla, but first, I had to get to the Pemayangtse Monastery. It was a lovely drive, but, the monastery was closed. Not that I could have taken photos anyway because they don’t allow it. I was beginning to feel disappointed – first Enchey, then Sanga Choeling, and now Pemayangtse. I wanted to see the insides of one Sikkimese monastery for heaven’s sake!
I skipped the Rabdentse Ruins though. Stupid mistake, because I had the time for it. Maybe the next time I am there, I will go see it. But today wasn’t the day. Most of the route to Ravangla was through dusty connecting roads with a load of traffic – at least it was in Geyzing and Legship. Bakhim too was relatively high in traffic, but then after that, as we got closer to Ravangla, it started getting better.
I reached Ravangla by afternoon and walked around the main market area for a bit. It was too late to see the monastery or the park, so walked around randomly and found a nice little place where they served me something I have never had before – coffee with vodka! And there was a wedge of carrot on the rim of the glass! Met some people from the Sikkim Forest Department and spent the evening listening to them talking about their jobs. Quite pleasant it was, to be honest.
Strangely I couldn’t sleep at night, so I thought I would take some photos. Or at least give it a try. It was bitterly cold at 3 am at the hotel balcony, but it was extremely beautiful.
Next morning, I took a cab from the hotel to get to the Ravangla monastery. Now the hotel called it the Rabong Monastery, the cabbie said it’s Ralong, and the forest guys earlier had called it the Karma Thekling monastery. I don’t know what it was, but it was magnificent!
The exterior had a big compound, and the walls had these gilded mantras and Buddha sculptures etched on a platform built into the rock, as well as little statues of the Buddha all around. The compound was big enough, and I believe, is the venue for the annual Chham dance of the lamas. The views from here were quite spellbinding too.
In fact, it seemed pretty new to me. A little lama opened the doors so I went in. The interiors of the monastery were quite generic – like any other monastery. There was a large statue of Buddha and other smaller statues. But yes, this was my first open monastery on this trip! Phew!
A walk down a mud track and some stairs next took me to the Tathagata Tsal – the famed Buddha Park that was opened a few years ago. The sprawling park is dominated by a 41-metre tall Buddha statue that you can see from quite a distance, and it contains relics from 11 countries. I think once a year, in March, they bring out these relics for public view.
The manicured lawns in the park have hidden speakers that blast out Buddhist chants, lending the place a very calm, meditative feel. Inside the walls are painted with scenes from the Buddha’s life in two very different but intricate styles, and within the pedestal supporting the huge Buddha statue are murals of the 108 lives of Buddha, painted by the best religious artists from the religion. And all around are rows of prayer wheels leading up to the main entrance below the statue.
Around the park are scattered other attractions such as gift shops and a Hindu temple. There are coffee shops, souvenir shops and even a small guest house. I did not stop by any and walked down a very long flight of steps (300 I think) to the west end of the main bazaar at Ravangla.
My hotel was very close to the bazaar so it made more sense than taking a cab back from the Buddha Park.
So there. There are plenty of other attractions in Rabong – a carpet-making village, the Ralang monastery, a trek up Maenam Hill and more, but I didn’t have time to explore any more. I was leaving Rabong next day, so spent the rest of the evening walking around the main bazaar and had an early night.