During our visit to Darjeeling last year we made a trip to its neighboring village, Ghum. This small rustic village is not only famous as the India’s Highest Railway station but also is home for some very ancient Buddhist monasteries. On our way from Bagdogra to Darjeeling we had noticed couple of colorfully decorated monastery entrances and we decided to save a day during our stay to visit these beautiful places.
As promised we made the trip on our last day in Darjeeling and combined it with the joy ride in the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. As we made our trip towards Ghum we were disheartened to learn that some of the monasteries are not accessible as it was raining quite heavily that day. Hence we had to contain ourselves with just three of the main monasteries that were easily reachable via taxi.
The Yiga Choeling Gompa or famously known Ghum Monastery was the first Tibetan Monastery to be built in Darjeeling by a famous Mongolian monk Sokpo Sherab Gyatso in 1850. The monastery is about 5 minutes journey from the Hill Cart road, Ghum. When we reached the Gompa it was closed for public, however with the help of our driver the young monk who resides in the monastery opened it up for us. A magnificent 15 feet high statue of Maitreya Buddha (Also known as “Future Buddha”) is placed in the centre with smaller statues of other deities placed on the either sides. Although photography is allowed inside, a nominal charge of Rs. 100 is charged per camera if you wish to click pictures.
Our next stop was the Samten Choeling Gompa, which is located right next to the Hill Cart road. Climbing down the stairs from the big archway, there is an open patio that leads you to the main hall, café, souvenir stall and the monk’s living space. This monastery is quite crowded in comparison to the Yiga Choeling Gompa, with several passing by tourists making a quick stop here as this very close to the main road.
The place has a very serene atmosphere and one can spend good part of an hour strolling through the premises and watching the monks offer their prayers. The monastery has a 26 foot statue of Lord Buddha is the highlight of this place as it is one of the tallest Buddha statue in West Bengal. The walls of the monastery are painted in beautiful Tibetan art portraying the basics of Buddhist philosophy.
Our last monastery for the day was in Dali, the Druk Sangag Choeling also known as the Dali Monastery, which was built by the late Thuksey Rinpoche, a famous Tibetan Teacher in 1971. It is a massive structure when viewed from the road and is one of the largest monasteries of the region. The monastery building has a school in the first two floors and the main prayer hall on top. We could see a lot of young Buddhist monks in the premises and when enquired we learnt that this monastery also offers traditional training in Buddhists philosophy. The main prayer hall was closed for the day when we arrived; hence we peered through the windows to get a tiny glimpse of the Lord Buddha Statue.
The time spent in these Gompas (monasteries) is one of the most peaceful and enlightening one as we not only got a chance to learn about the Buddhist culture but also the disciplined life of the monks.
Apart from these monasteries you can also visit the Tiger Hills at the early hours of the morning to catch the sunrise and the panoramic view of Mount Kanchenjunga on a clear day (if you are lucky enough!!).