Mystics and wild orchids

Dec 09 2007, 00:31 IST
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SummaryThe monsoon had outlasted its term this year. Travelling in the hilly Darjeeling terrain was disorienting.

The monsoon had outlasted its term this year. Travelling in the hilly Darjeeling terrain was disorienting. Hill stations aren’t always beautiful, I thought. Especially when they are soaked with the monsoon, with the strong smell of fungus. Otherwise Darjeeling is surely a sight to behold. But the thin road meandering upwards into the never-ending fog seemed rather boring.

Starting off from Darjeeling, we had begun to descend into the Teesta Valley. It would take more than an hour from here. Zigzagging steep bends, my journey was to enter Sikkim from the valley and then head on towards Rabdentse and Pemayangtse, the cradle of the Chogyal dynasty. Then I would head towards Pelling to witness the best views of the Kanchenunga, finally concluding the journey at the mystic Kechopalri lake.

The drive down to the Teesta Valley was through endless miles of tea gardens, through a golden harvest from the killing monsoon. Passing by Takdah, these were little stopovers en-route, and the weather cleared dramatically as we descended. Nearing noon, we took a break at the bazaar next to the Teesta River.

We proceeded on a straight run for a few miles after the break, through jungles of Rhododendrons and wild orchids. Demazong, as Sikkim is called, had started to enchant us all. Not much habitation was to be seen, except for an occasional little hamlet or villagers passing by.

In an hour we had ascended upwards again, over merciless broken roads to reach Pemayangtse, one of the most revered monasteries in Sikkim. Pemayangtse has always been an important seat of the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism. Founded in the early 18th century, the monastery holds an attendance of about a 100 monks. Traditional frescoes depicting Tantrik Buddhist methods adorn the walls of this monastery. The depiction of Sangthopalri, or heaven sculpted intricately on wood, is an interesting facet of the Pemyangtse monastery. Traditional austere dwellings of the monks can be found within the vicinity. Every new year, by the Tibetan calendar, the Padmasambhava Thanka, which is the size of the building itself, is on display for visitors who come here to pray and seek blessings. The prayer flags are in plenty, echoing sounds in the wind, while a group of young novice monks play cricket close by.

Not afar is the Sangacholing Monastery, which is presumed to be the oldest Buddhist establishment in the state. Founded by Lhatsum Chempo in 1697, this

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