Gangtok, India

An Hillside Life

urban Himalayas
View of the town?s characteristic houses from the top of its Lal market.
SOS Nirvana
A heavenly encounter on an elevated bridge in the capital of Sikkim
a stupid
Monk works in front of the great sacred stupa of Do-Drul Chorten
Veg Assortment
Vegetable seller at Lal de Gangtok market
1920 ??
Movie scene? Street queue in Gangtok
the himalayan goddess
Sun rises and illuminates Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain at? face of the earth.jpg
Buddhist veil
Rumtek Monastery, one of the most disputed of all Buddhist domains
2nd touch
Young Buddhist apprentice summons others to classes at Rumtek monastery.
Kamal Saloon
Barbershop in the center of Gangktok
steps to heaven
Bright Tibetan architecture of the Rumtek monastery.
Buddhist apprentices in a rare moment of application, amidst much mischief
a lot of health
Vendors from Gangtok Lal Market at their high places of work.
Small crowd participates in another bingo afternoon on the terrace of Lal market.
against the sky
Buddhist prayer flags spread in the vicinity of the Hindu temple of Ganesh Tok.
a fluffy company
Child between two red panda extras, the animal mascot of Sikkim province.
Gappa Goal
Banca serves snacks of gol gappa (also called pani puri) in hollow dough balls that can be served stuffed or soaked in the most distinct Indian flavours, sweet or savory.
urban Himalayas II
Gangtok's houses, located in one of the first elevations of the Himalayas.
buddha cats
Cats walk on a balcony of Rumtek Buddhist monastery, the largest in Sikkim and India.
uphill, downhill
View from the lower entry point of the Gangtok cable car.
House of Tibetology
Building of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, a research center for Tibetan Buddhism but not only.
Gangtok it is the capital of Sikkim, an ancient kingdom in the Himalayas section of the Silk Road, which became an Indian province in 1975. The city is balanced on a slope, facing Kanchenjunga, the third highest elevation in the world that many natives believe shelters a paradise valley of Immortality. Their steep and strenuous Buddhist existence aims, there, or elsewhere, to achieve it.

The Spiritual Management of Wangyal Buthia

Sir Wangyal Buthia turned out to be something of a Winston”The Wolf” Wolfe of “Pulp Fiction”. Due to different differences, our relationship with those responsible for tourism in Sikkim had started well but quickly became complicated. We met them in early December. Since December we have been trying to confirm our itinerary in that province.

Sir Buthia would only be informed that he would be welcoming us there on January 7th, two days before we arrived. On that date, most of the issues remained unblocked. Buthia solved them all with incredible subtlety and humility.

"Okay. Sir… just enjoy. Everything is according to you. Let's together florish Sikkim world wide” assures us using an automatic translator and the most positive attitude.

When we found him in Rangpo, where West Bengal and Sikkim flirt, we quickly confirmed that Wangyal was Zen himself. Illuminated by their knowledge and spiritual light, Gantkok and Sikkim seemed ever more radiant.

The guide secure us with the handkerchiefs khata, silky guarantees of the sincerity and goodwill of your intentions. From Rangpo, we traveled uphill, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Red Panda Cultural Festival, one of the most important in Sikkim.

The event took place, however, in a stadium. Its artificial atmosphere of concrete and synthetic grass nullified any photographic interest we might have had in it.

Gangtok above, Gangtok below

In spite of the displeasure of his superiors, Sir Buthia understands our motives and nods. The next stop is the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. This museum and establishment employs researchers into the language and traditions of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism.

Namgyal Institute of Tibetology Building, Gangtok, Sikkim, India

Building of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, a research center for Tibetan Buddhism but not only.

In recent times, also the study and computer recording of the history of around sixty monasteries in Sikkim and their documents and works.

There we carry out our own investigations, which we only exchange for others, next door, around Do-Drul Chorten, a stupa that houses books and other sacred relics of Buddhism.

Do-Drul Chorten, Gangtok, Sikkim, India

Monk works in front of the great sacred stupa of Do-Drul Chorten

A religious ceremony planned there keeps several young monks busy cutting and preparing flowers, while Buddhist faithful spin the 108 prayer wheels arranged around the monument.

Some time later, the opening of the Red Panda Festival ended. Traffic began to flow again along the main slope of the city. We too go to its height.

We needed to buy fruit for the evening. Wangyal takes us to the multi-storey building of the large Lal market. When we arrived at the base, we recognized a section of the town's houses that we had discovered on the Internet and that enchanted us. We immediately forgot about tangerines and grapes. We beg you to take us to the market terrace.

Gangtok Lal Market Stall, Sikkim, India

Vendors from Gangtok Lal Market at their high places of work.

Sir Buthia leads the rush as we climb several flights of stairs. At the top, it reveals a hidden corner among the many typical Sikkim food stalls that lined the edge of the building.

From this corner, we can better appreciate the curve of rounded, colorful and emblematic houses, minutes before sunset, to the sound of communal bingo that hundreds of Sikkim residents – including police officers – play there every evening. .

Gangtok House, Sikkim, India

View of the town's characteristic houses from the top of its Lal market.

Night was not long in falling. We were tired from the morning journey from Kalimpong, and the next journey of exploration would begin at inappropriate times.

The Omnipresent Kanchenjunga Mountain

The story has pushed Sikkim into a kind of groove on the Asian map. The old kingdom arises under the Tibet, between the Nepal and Bhutan, with the border between the vast Indian subcontinent and Bangladesh just below. The Himalayas are also emerging in its territory. An exuberant part must be said, starring the third largest mountain in the mountain range and in the Planet.

In Gangtok, since outside the monsoon months, Kanchenjunga is almost always present. We watched her wake up and pink to the day from the breezy, icy top of Tashi, one of the many viewpoints that serve the city.

The temperature hovers around 0º. A group of Indian military men in t-shirts enjoy the spartan atmosphere and train for any upcoming courier. The sun, on the other hand, emerges, triumphant from the start, from the east on our coasts. For a brief moment, the various pinnacles of the Himalayas rose and gold.

Kanchenjunga Mountain, Himalayas

Sun rises and illuminates Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain on Earth

Leave them to the frigidity of whiteness and height while a maddened flock of crows follows the example of the military and competes against each other and against the wind for the best roofs, terraces and branches in the surroundings.

More than a majestic peak, Kanchenjunga is part of the spirituality of the people of these places. Of Buthias and Lepchas. Even the Nepali, who form the majority in the province, have their lingua franca and named the neighboring nation. Finally, from the Tibetans who reside on the northern and eastern fringes of the province, closer to the Tibet.

Most of them believe in a Dzo-nga deity – a kind of local yeti – and in the existence of a Valley of Immortality hidden in the mountain range. At least the belief in Beyul Dmoshong is so real that, in 1962, a Tibetan Lama led hundreds of followers to the high, snowy slopes of Kanchenjunga, on a pilgrimage with the purpose of clearing the way into that same valley.

Sikkim: from Kingdom to Indian Province

But Sikkim is not just about mountains and Buddhist strongholds. For a long time independent or protectorate, the ancient kingdom was incorporated into the India, in 1975, during the term of Indira Ghandi, after a strong protest against the Chogyal monarchy and a referendum that resulted in a 97.5% yes entry into the Union, but whose legality continues to be disputed.

Today, fully integrated, Sikkim province is still home to a growing number of Bengalis, Muslims hailing from Bihar and Marwaris, the ethnic trio that thrives on trade in the southern region of Sikkim and Gangtok.

Lal Market in Gangtok, Sikkim, India

Banca serves snacks of gol gappa (also called pani puri) in hollow dough balls that can be served stuffed or soaked in the most distinct Indian flavours, sweet or savory.

We find them every time we return to the Lal market to restock, installed on their terraced stalls full of fruit, seasonal vegetables and other foodstuffs for the whole year.

Also in others where they sell countless Made in garments and utensils. China that, despite the bad relations between the India and the Dragon, cross the northern border on a regular basis and supply far more than Sikkim, the entire Subcontinent.

With the sun aimed at the zenith, the temperature becomes bearable. We close the contemplation and worship of Kanchenjunga. We return to the heart of Gangtok longing for the cozy porridge that, like children, we begged Sir Bhutia to escape our Indian breakfasts.

Gangtok's Overcrowded Streets and Alleys

As we reach the main artery of MG Marg, a statue as humble as Mahatma Ghandi himself blesses a multi-ethnic, young, and sometimes Westernized, sometimes traditional crowd that intersects in a much more orderly fashion than in the south of the Subcontinent.

Curved and divided into two sections depending on the capricious terrain, MG Marg is Gangtok's avenue par excellence. Sikkim prides itself on its status as the “greenest”, organic and cleanest province in the India. MG Marg proves at least the last of the titles.

When we walk through it, between shops and small shops full of products from famous but fake brands, agencies, bars and restaurants with minimally careful looks, we give ourselves the impression that we've landed in any corner of Europe, or the most civilized of Asia.

Street scene in Gangtok, Sikkim, India

Street movie scene in Gangtok

From there, Gangtok branches into a fascinating network of hills and stairs that keep the residents' legs strong.

We board the cable car that serves the city and enjoy, from a good panoramic distance, the gaudy and hanging houses. Another morning, Wangyal gets the company and jeep of a brother-in-law.

Most of the time in a pleasant chat, the two take us across the River Teesta and to the Rumtek Monastery, one of the most emblematic but also controversial in Gangtok.

Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, India

Bright Tibetan architecture of the Rumtek monastery.

In the early 90s, the right to ownership and administration of the monastery, the largest in Sikkim and the richest monastic center in the India generated a state of siege.

Rumtek: a Buddhist Monastery in a State of War

Anyone who thinks that Buddhism is just meditation and spiritualism is wrong. Real pitched battles broke out between the two factions.

Since then, until today, the Indian government has kept military machine guns present, with instructions to disperse any attacks perpetrated by the side that intends to reconquer the monastery.

The environment is surreal. A mystical ceremonial theme of horns and cymbals almost hypnotizes us, adorned by the gong played by a young monk who calls his colleagues to the learning of the day.

Gong for lessons at Rumtek monastery, Sikkim, India

Young Buddhist apprentice summons others to classes at Rumtek monastery.

At the sound of this soundtrack, we pass between bulky, camouflaged soldiers and cross the main portico. Indian visitors enjoy tossing coins into the air with the superstitious purpose of immobilizing them on top of the central pole of the peace flag. A large flock of pigeons flies over them.

We look for a privileged vantage point when we come across another younger group of apprentices sitting on the floor of a terrace, handing over their notebooks. The adult who supervises them is absent. Immediately, they replace the monastic chores with successive tumults.

Attract the pigeons with pieces of chapatis left in a corner of the ward. At some point, all the birds approach them. The little religious people hit us with stones and newly produced flour balls. Frightened, the pigeons flit above us, take a little tour of recognition and return to begging.

Monks at Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim, India

Buddhist apprentices in a rare moment of application, in the midst of a lot of mischief

The game is repeated until the tutor returns and puts them in line with vigorous lashes. On the other side of the courtyard, in one of the many structural layers of the temple, continue the horns, cymbals and the ceremony of homage and offerings to the 16th Karmapa, who has his relics in a golden and sacred stupa.

We left Rumtek to the rotten peace he had fallen into. We return to Gangktok. Upon arrival, artificial lights were already illuminating the city's XNUMX lives. We free Sir Buthia for his and we watch Lal's market bingo alienate hundreds of others.

Bingo in Gangtok, Sikkim, India

Small crowd participates in another bingo afternoon on the terrace of Lal market

The authors would like to thank the following entities for supporting this article:  Embassy of India in Lisbon; Ministry of Tourism, Government of India🇧🇷 Sikkim Tourism

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