Wednesday, August 24, 2011

sikkim by India Travel Blog

Sikkim – II: Gangtok Zoo and Lingdum Monastery by India Travel Blog

As I write this, I am trying to think how Gangtok is different from any other hill stations. Like its other counterparts, Gangtok too has its share of some great views, a large number of hotels and a dedicated shopping area. The local travel agents have perfected the process of herding the tourists with three-point, seven-point and nine-point tours. I am unable to find anything to set Gangtok apart, except that it is yet to become a big fat dot in the tourist map. The number of people arriving here is probably much less than what you see in Shimla, Manali or Ooty and the number of hotels here are also not as many. But Gangtok is catching up, and catching up fast. The Government of Sikkim is doing everything possible to increase inflow of tourists year after year.
Yet, there is a feel good about Gangtok that you don’t necessarily see in other hill stations. You are less likely to see touts rushing after you the moment you arrive, trying to squeeze every bit of your money. You don’t see any kind of solicitors troubling you as you walk on the roads. People here are still nice and friendly. The hills around the town are still green and are not littered with hotels and resorts. Even the shopping street is so well managed that I don’t feel the claustrophobia that I tend to feel in other such places. Gangtok is still beautiful.

And the most beautiful part of the town is perhaps the zoo spread over a large area. When we started planning our first day in the town, I suggested that we go to Gangtok Zoo first.
‘Would you really like to see the zoo?’ some one responded immediately.
In return, two of us who had been here earlier said quickly in unison – ‘it is a beautiful place.’ It is an open-air zoo spread across a large area on a hill with plenty of space for each of its inhabitants. A zoo is indeed a confined space, but the sloth bears, snow leopards, pandas, civets and wolves living here still have plenty of space to walk around in their large enclosures. Sometimes these enclosures are so large that you won’t be able to see them without waiting for them to emerge from the woods. A family of pandas, a family of bears and a bunch of civets living here seemed happy, considering that they live in confined spaces, but a leopard and a Tibetan wolf looked lonely and brooding.
The paths that connect these enclosures go through thick woods and bamboo groves running for several kilometers. The cool weather of Gangtok has allowed a large number of flowers to bloom along these paths, forming bright yellow and purple dots in the woods.
A Tibetan Wold at Gangtok Zoo
A Tibetan Wolf
A video on Red Pandas in Gangtok Zoo by Sankara.
Lingdum Monastery is located in a quite place in the middle of woods – the kind of place perfectly suited for spiritual pursuits. The facade of the monastery is a long two-story structure with large windows. A long wall of prayer wheels stands on the open area in front of the monastery. The monastery looked large, but I wasn’t prepared for what is inside.
lingdum monastery
As I walked through the front door, I was taken away by what I saw. Standing in the center of the monastery, surrounded by thick woods on all sides was a superb seven-story building adorned with Buddhist symbols all along its walls. In front of it was a wide open space where several young monks were on a learning session. The maroon-robed kids were dancing gently to the sound of drums in small groups, swaying their hands and occasionally jumping back and forth. Behind them, the tall tower rose high, superbly decorated with vibrant colours and beautiful paintings. In the next minute or two I took a few pictures of the monastery, but soon realized that in the short evening I was to spend here, I would rather sit quiet and take in the peace of the atmosphere than go on a clicking frenzy. I put away my camera and walked alone quietly along the monastery, feeling a sense of peace growing within me. As I write this, I realized that the experience of being in the monastery was beyond words and stopped making further attempts to describe the inner joy of being in the place and experiencing a feeling of nothingness, a feeling that nothing else but being there really mattered.
lingdum monastery
A video of monks practicing their steps by Sankara.
As the sun made his way beyond the ridges and the last rays of light kissed tower of the monastery, we retreated to our resort walking away unwillingly from the monastery. As we drove into Gangtok town and walked amidst revelling tourists at the shopping center, I wondered if these monastic retreats played a significant role in keeping the people of Sikkim friendly and in keeping Gangtok a hill station that is a lot more charming than its counterparts.

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