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HIGHLIGHTS OF WEST BENGAL AND SIKKIM

HIGHLIGHTS OF WEST BENGAL AND SIKKIM

BARDDHAMAN

THE RAJAS of Barddhaman (Burdwan) were once powerful landlords and great patrons of the arts. Today, the small, nondescript town is a gateway to some interesting sites. The rajas built several temples at Kalna, 50 km (31 miles) to the east, in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Shiva temple, with 108 minor shrines, is the most impressive. Nabadwip, 20 km (12 miles) to the north, was the birthplace of Sri Chaitanya (1486-1533), founder of the movement that revived the Krishna cult . It is a charming town, with a few old houses built of the narrow red brick, unique to pre-British Bengal. Pilgrims singing bhafans throng the Gauranga Temple. Nearby, in Mayapur, is the large and modern Chandrodaya Temple built by ISKCON (International Society

GANGTOK

THE CAPITAL of Sikkim, Gangtok reflects this tiny state’s extraordinary ethnic diversity. In the crowded city, which spills precariously down a ridge, Lepchas (the region’s original inhabitants) live alongside Tibetans, Bhutias, Nepalis and Indians from the plains. Though now hill of modem structures, Gangtoks “Shangrila” aspects can still be experienced in pockets of the city and in its alpine environs.

Until 1975, Sikkim was a kingdom, with the status of an Indian Protectorate. It was ruled by the Chogyals, Buddhists of Tibetan origin, whose dynasty began in the 17th century. However, the British Rays policies of importing cheap labour from neighbouring Nepal for Silk m’s rice, cardamom and tea plantations drastically changed Sikkim’s demography, soon Nepali Hindus constituted 75 per cent of the state’s population. In 1975 the population of Sikkim voted overwhelmingly to join the Indian Republic, ending the rule of Palden Thondup, the last Chogyal. At the northern edge of the town is the early 20th-century Enchey Monastery, whose large prayer hall is full of vibrant murals and images, representing the entire pantheon of Mahayana Buddhist deitie . Enchey’s festivals feature spectacular masked dances. At the southern end of the town is the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. Established in 1958, it has a rare collection of medieval Buddhist scriptures, bronzes and embroidered tbangkas . , Enchey Monastery daily and only allowed outside the monastery. ICI Namgyal Institute of Tibetology E Mon-Sat 1st & 3rd sat. fad

ENVIRONS: Saramsa Orchidarium, situated 14 km (9 miles) south of Gangtok, displays many of the 450 orchid species found in Sikkim. They flower from April to May, and again in October. Rumtek Monastery, 24 km (15 miles) southwest of Gangtok, is the headquarters of the Kagyupa (Black Hat) sect, one of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist sects, and the seat of its head, the Gyalwa Karmapa. The 16th Karmapa fled Tibet in 1959 after the Chinese invasion, and built a replica here of his monastery at Tsurphu in Tibet. Rumtek is an impressive complex, its flat-roofed buildings topped with golden finials, and filled with treasures brought from the monastery in Tibet. Especially splendid is the reliquary cborten of the 16th Karmapa, behind the main prayer hall, made of silver and gold and studded with enormous corals, amber and turquoise. Since the 16th Karmapa’s death in 1981, however, there have been two claimants to his title (and the monastery’s legendary treasures), including one who dramatically escaped from Tibet into India in 2000. Until this dispute is resolved, the armed guards that surround the monastery will remain. Rumtek:s main festivals are in February/March and in May/June.

Tsomgo Lake, 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Gangtok, lies at an altitude of 3,780 m (12,402 ft). Visitors to the lake require a special permit from the Sikkim Tourism office in Gangtok. The drive to Tsomgo Lake, close to the border with China, is spectacular, and the lake is an impressive sight both in spring and summer, when it is surrounded by alpine flowers in bloom, and in winter when it is frozen solid. Visitors can go for rides on the splendid shaggy black yaks that stand docilely on the lake’s shores.

PELLING

situated on a ridge, at an altitude of 2,040 m (6,693 III, with excellent views of the peaks and glaciers of the Kanchendzonga Range, Pelting Is a fast growing Down. With plenty of accommodation, It Is a convenient base from which to explore western Sikkim and embark on treks. This is the state’s most beautiful and unspoilt region, with expanses of forest, Men river valleys, superb trekking trails, and Sikkim’s ollest monasteries. Pelling is a day’s drive from Gangtok, and is accessible from Darjeeling (72 km145 miles south). The main attraction here is the monastic complex of Peinayangtse , built in 1705, Bon a ridge a half-hour’s walk from the town.

Surrounded by picturesque monks’ quarters and outhouses, the austere three-storeyed main monastery Is a treasure house of beautiful thangkas, murals and images, with a breathtakingly intricate t model of Zangdopelri, the ,even-storeyed celestial home Guru Padmasambhavaon the top floor. Pase am annual instigation,se with spectacular masked dances. Sikkim’s oldest itionastery, Sangachoeling (built in 1697), is a steep 40-minute hike through thick forests above Pemayangtse. It has exquisite murals. The ruins of Sikkim’s 17th-century capital, built by the second Chogyal  are at Rabdentse, 3 km (2 miles) south of Pelting.

ENVIRONS: Khecheopalri Lake, 33 km (21 miles) north of Pelting, is an enchanting spot which is sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus, who come here to make a wish. Seen from above, the lake is shaped like the footprint of Buddha. Though surrounded by dense forest, it does not have a single leaf floating on its surface, and according to local belief, a holy bird swoops down and removes each leaf as it falls on the water.

SILIGURI

SILIGURI , SITUATED in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas, was once a calm, provincial town, with quiet streets and well-equipped shops, where tea planters would come to stock up on provisions. Today, much of the town is a vast trucking depot, though it has some lively bazaars, such as the one on Tenzing Norgay Road. The Tibetan woollens on sale here are good bargains, and cane furniture, a speciality of the area, is widely available. In the winter, Siliguri hosts international Buddhist conferences and also serves as the transit point for travellers to the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary.

ENVIRONS: Clustered close to Siliguri are Jalpaiguri , the railhead for the area, and Bagdogra, which has the airport. Along with Siliguri, these towns act as gateways to the hill stations of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, as well as to Bhutan and Sikkim. The drive between these towns goes past beautiful green acres of tea plantations.

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