Monasteries in Sikkim are of three types :
Literally meaning "rock-cave" or cave hermitage. Although there are many such hermitages in Sikkim, there are four which are of special importance, one in each direction. The four are hallowed as caves where Guru Rinpoche and Lhatsun Chhembo are said to have halted and meditated. These are:
Lha-ri nying phu: The north face of the four, Lha-ri nying phu is situated at a 3-day trek precarious trek from Tashiding, west Sikkim. Not only is this the most difficult to reach, it is also the holiest. Its name means "the Old Cave on God’s Hill". Kah-do Sang phu: "The Cave of the Occult Fairies" is on the south gate and one of the easiest to reach. A five-minute walk across a pedestrian bamboo bridge from the Jorethang-Gyalshing highway just beyond Reshi hot-springs takes one to Kah-do Sang Phu where one can find footprints ascribed to fairies.
Pe-phu: Placed between Tendong and Maenam hills in south Sikkim, Pe-phu lies near Sangmoo Gumpa about 5 kms from Ravangla, south Sikkim, en route to Singtam. A huge cavern, believed to extend by a bifurcation to both Tendong and Maenam hill, visitors can still walk in about a quarter of a mile. As low as five feet at places, the cave opens up to a towering 100 feet at some sections. De-chhen phu: "The Cave of Happiness" is accessible only in autumn when the snow that hides it, melts. Distanced from Rimbi, west Sikkim, by a 3-day trek, it lies in the snows above Dzongri.
Monasteries are almost always translated as "Gompas". This is, however, a misinterpretation. Gompa literally means "a place of solitude", a religious escape where monks are trained in the finer aspects of Tibetan Buddhism practised here. Most gompas in Sikkim are found in solitary places since isolation from the world has always been a important for Buddhist learning; not as an act of self-punishment, but merely as an escape from mundane temptations.
Monasteries usually occupy commanding and frequently picturesque sites. A choice made easy by the two conditions laid in a guiding couplet on where a monastery should be built; "Back to the hill-rock, And front to the tarn". A monastery, wherever possible, should be built on a ridge and have a lake in front.
The door of the assembly room and temple should preferably face eastwards. South-east is the second choice and then south. A stream draining the site is considered inauspicious as monks believe that this would drain away all the virtue of the place. If such a location is unavoidable, then the main door is made to face another direction. A waterfall, is, however, considered a good omen and if one is visible from the monastery, then the door is made to face that direction. The monastic buildings cluster around the main building which is also used as the Assembly Hall or du-khang. Lining the approaches to the monastery are rows of prayer flags and chortens.
These are only temples and not also schools like gompas. Normally situated near villages, these normally have only a few monks ministering to the religious needs of the villagers.
Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre Distance - 24 km ( from Gangtok ) Built in - 1960
A short drive from Gangtok through the beautiful countryside one finds themselves in Rumtek Dharma Charma Chakra Centre. It was constructed by His Holiness the late 16th Gyalwa Karmapa in 1960. It is believed that the monastery is an excellent replica of the original Kagyurpa Monastery in Tsurphu, Tibet. The centre houses some of the world's most unique religious scriptures, manuscripts and religious art objects.
A fifteen minute walk downhill from Dharma Chakra Center takes one to the old Rumtek monastery which was originally built in 1730 by the ninth Karmapa but was destroyed by fire and had to be reconstructed to the present state. His Holiness late Gyalwa Karmapa lived in this monastery till the completion of the Rumtek Dharma Chakra Center.
The annual dances also called the Tse-Chu Chaams are held on the 10th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan calendar around June. Dances called the Kagyat are also held here on the 28th & 29th day of the tenth month of the lunar calendar.
Pemayangtse Monastery Distance - 140 km ( from Gangtok ) Built in - 17th Century
Pemayangtse is situated in Pelling, West Sikkim and commands an impressive view of Mount Khangchendzonga. It was originally a small Lhakhang built by Lhatsun Chempo in the 17th Century. Later during the rule of the third Chogyal Chakdor Namgyal, Jigme Pawo, Lhatsun Chenpo's third reincarnation extended it and rebuilt the structure. It is perched at a height of 2085 mts and is the second oldest and perhaps the most important monastery in Sikkim. This monastery belongs to the Nyigma order and all other Nyigma order monasteries in Sikkim are subordinate to it.
The monastery houses numerous religious idols and other objects of worship, most of which are precious because of their antiquity. On the top floor of the monastery there is a wooden sculpture depicting the Maha Gurus Heavenly Palace "Sanghthokpalri". This master piece was completed by the late Dungzin Rimpoche, who took five years to craft it single handed.
The main festival of the monastery is on the 28th & 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar, normally corresponding to the month of February. During these two days religious dances are performed and pilgrims come from all over Sikkim to watch them. Dressed in costumes of rare magnificence, the Lamas represent Mahakala and Guru Drag-dmar. The dance ends on the third day with the unfurling of the `Ghyo- ku' - a gigantic embroidered Buddhist scroll as the devotees bend down in homage...
Pemayangtse Monastery and Rabdanste Palace in Ruins:
Around 6 km from Gyalsing town, this monastery originally built as an small temple in the last of 17th century by Latsun Chempo, later during the reign of third Chogyl Chakdor Namgyal, Jigme Pawa, the third reincarnate of Latsun Chempo extended and rebuilt the temple structure into a monastery.
The second oldest monastery, it is situated at a height of 6,840 ft is the head of all others and belonging to the Nyingma-pasect. Presenting a gorgeous view of the mountain ranges, it is now equipped with 50-bed Tourist Lodge catering to travellers who want to visit this ancient and holy place which is an ideal base for those who would like to explore the unspoiled charms of the neighbouring spots and trek to Yuksom and Dzongri.
The main hall has an area of 1500 sq.ft. The monastery houses religious idols and priceless antiques. On the top floor of monastery there is a wooden sculpture portraying the Mahaguri's Heavenly Palace Sangthokpalri. The main festival is on the 28th and 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar, normally corresponding to the month of February.
Rabdanste, which is couple of kilometers from Gyalshing bazaar and near the Pemayangtse monastery, was the second capital of Sikkim and was established in the late seventeenth century by the second Chogyal of Sikkim. It was abandoned towards the end of the eighteenth century because of the threat posed by the Nepalese and the capital was shifted to Tumlong. The Rabdanste Palace is in ruins and one has to trek about two kilometres from the main road near Pemayangtse monastery through a thick forest to reach it. The chortens around the palace have however withstood the elements of nature. The ruins are now being preserved by the Archaelogical Surnvey of India and have been declared as a monument.
Just adjacent to the Pemayangtse monastery is Mount Pandim Hotel. Daily buses are available form Gangtok to Gyalsing.
Enchey Monastery Distance - 1.5 km ( from Gangtok ) Built in - 1909 - 1910
An important seat of the Nyingma order, the Enchey Monastery meaning the Solitary temple, was originally built with the solace that no other construction would be allowed near it is built on the site blessed by Lama Druptob Karpo, a tantric master known for his flying powers. Lama Drupthob Karpo is supposed to have built a small hermitage at the spot he reached after he flew from Maenam Hill in South Sikkim. Later during the reign of Sidyong Tulku 1909 - 1910 the present monastery was built.
This 200 year old Monastery has in its premises images of god, goddesses and other religious objects. The present monastery was built in the shape of a Chinese Pagoda. The monastery follows the Nyingma Order and has around 90 monks. The annual ritual is celebrated with 'Chaam' or religious masked dance on the 18th & 19th days of the twelfth month of the lunar calendar around January..
Do- Drul Chorten Distance - km ( from Gangtok ) Built in - 1945-1946
Do Drul Chorten at Dotapu Chorten, Gangtok was built under the supervision of the late Most Venerable Trulshi Rinpoche after due prepartions in 1945-46, in accordance with the prophecy made in 1944 by his Holiness the Dud-Zom Rinpoche. Placed inside the Chorten are a a complete mandala set of Dorji Phurpa (Bajra Kilaya), one set of Ka-gyur holy Books, relics, complete 'zung'(mantras) and other religious objects. This chorten is considered to be one of the most important chorten of Sikkim. Around the chorten 108 Mani-Lhokor (Prayer Wheels) are installed.
The Chorten is surrounded by Chortne Lhakhang, Guru Lhakhang, where tow huge statues of Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambahava ) are installed, Drupda( Meditation Centre), Nyingma Shede (Institute of Nyingma Higher Studies) and many smaller monuments including the 'kudung' of the latter Most Venerable Trulshi Rinpoche. The Sikkim Research Institute of Tibetology and other Buddhist Studies (SRITOBS) is located near the Chorten. His Eminence Dodrup Chen Rinpoche of Sikkim has his seat at the Chorten Lhakhang and guides the disciples, including the inmates of the Drubda, in their search for higher knowledge and practice of the tenets of the Nyingma Order.
The tallest statue of Guru Padmasambhava in the world with a height of 135 ft is built above the Namchi town. It is sorrounded by lush green forests. It is the place where one’s wishes can be fulfilled. It is located below the Tendong hill facing Namchi. The view from Samdruptse hill is something to be cherished and enjoyed.
It can be claimed without dispute that the 135 feet statue of Guru Padmasambhava constructed and installed atop Samdruptse (the Wish Fulfilling Hill) near Namchi in South Sikkim is the tallest Statue of Guru Rinpoche in the world. It took more than 1000 labourers and scores of experienced engineers and highly skilled architects and sculptors nearly three years to complete this awe-inspiring and towering statue. Hundreds of volunteers from different regions and surrounding villages also offered a helping hand to this prestigious project.
Phensong Monastery Built in - 1840
This monastery in North Sikkim was built during the time of Jigme Pawo. Belonging to the Nyingmapa order, this monastery, first established in 1840, stands testimony to the dedication of its monks who reconstructed the monastery within a year after it was burnt down in 1947.
The monastery is situated on a gentle slope stretching fom Kabi to Phodong in north Sikkim. There are around 300 monks under the monastery and is famous for the main annual Chaam (monk dance) performed on the 28th & 29th days of the tenth month of the Tibetan Calendar which normally corresponds to the month of December. Its name translates as "The excellent Banner" or "Good Bliss".
Phodong Monastery Distance - 38 km (from Gangtok)
Sect - Kagyupa
This monastery was built by the Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal somewhere in the first quarter of the eighteenth century in Phodong in North Sikkim. It belongs to the Kagyupa Sect and it is said to be the first Kagyupa monastery to be set up in Sikkim.
It is famous for its exquisitely delicate mural painting and frescoes. The original monastery has been rebuilt and is today one of the most beautiful monasteries in Sikkim. It possesses the old mural paintings and has around 260 monks. Like the Ralong and Rumtek monastery the main annual Puja is performed on the 28th & 29th days of the tenth month of the Tibetan Calender when the religious dances are performed.
Labrang Monasteryn Distance - 40 km ( from Gangtok ) Built in - 1814
Labrang Monastery is situated in North Sikkim, built 2 kms further up hill from Phodong Monastery. This is a much older structure. It is also unique in the sense that unlike most monasteries which were razed by fires sometime or the other, this one still retains the original structure. A pleasure for the eyes given its unique architecture, it is also one of the premier monasteries of Sikkim.
The location is a wide and open meadow, ideal for congregations. Dense forests surround the southern, western and northern sides of the compound. Gyalshe Rigzing Chempa commissioned Labrang Monastery in 1814, who then resided in Wangdiche, a palace in the vicinity. It adheres to the Nyingmapa School of Tibetan Buddhism as this was the prevalent school of monastery and inception. Its name literally means "the Lamas dwelling". It was consecrated to the memory of Latsun Chembo of Kongpu of Tibet, who initiated and propagated this school of Buddhism in Sikkim. Just below the road between the Phodang and Labrang Monastery are the ruins of Tumlong, the third capital of Sikkim.
Sa-Ngor-Chotshog Centre: Distance - 5 km (from Gangtok) Built in - 1961
Located on a beautiful hill top it is a Tibetan refugee monastic institution established in 1961 by his Eminence Luding Khen Rimpoche, Head of Ngorpa, sub-sect of the Sakya Order, with the blessing of H.H. Sakya Trizin and H.H. the Dalai Lama. This is the only monastery of the Sakya Order of Tibetan Buddhism in Sikkim.
Tashiding Monastery Distance - 40 km (from Gyalshing) Built in - 17th Century
This important monastery belonging to the Nyingmapa order was built on top of a hill that looms up between the Rathong river and the Rangit river, where a rainbow emanating from Mount Khangchendzonga came to an end. At first only a small Lhakhang was built by Ngadak Sempa Chempo inthe 17th Century. The main monastery was built by Pedi Wangmo during the reign of Chakdor Namgyal and some of the statues built then still exist.
The sacred objects of worship in Tashiding are the chorten Thongwa Rangdol and Bumchu( holy water). The chorten was built by the Lhatsun Chenpo and it is believed that merely to view the chorten is enough to cleanse one of all sins. Carved skillfully on flagstones surrounding the monastery are holy Buddhist mantras like "Om Mane Padme Hum" by the master craftsman Yanchong Lodil...
Pal Zurmang Kagyud Monastery/ Lingdum Monastery Distance - km ( from Gangtok )
The present Gharwang Rimpoche is the XIIth successive incarnation of Zurmang Gharwang. This monastery is situated on the Rumtek-Ranka-Gangtok road at Lingdum, about 45 minutes drive from Gangtok. The complex is a fine example of Tibetan monastic architecture.
Tsuk-La-Khang Monastery Distance - km (from Gangtok)
The royal chapel, Tsuk-La-Khang, is located within the Royal Palace premises near the Ridge Park in Gangtok. It is two storied and is the principal place of worship and assembly and the repository of a vast collection of Buddhist scriptures. A magnificent portal breaks the starkness great facade, at each corner of the building, is a wood sculpture relief, the formidable head of a snow lion.
Resplendent Buddhist murals span the stoutly ornate wood of the wall, while the eternal butter lamp burns before the floor ceiling altar; the air of peace and calm is heightened by the fragrant juniper incense that pervades chapel air.
Phang Lhabsol and Losoong( Tibetan New Year)Festivals are celebrated in the ground adjacent to the monastery once every year with the performance of the Chaams or the masked dance. A venue of ceremonies of national importance in the olden days, it was here that the kings of Sikkim have been coronated, their children married and their council sworn in. A beautiful and impressive building which is the principal place of worship and assembly for Buddhists.
This royal chapel is repository of a large collection of Buddhist scriptures. Interiors of this building is covered with murals and lavishly decorated altars holding images of the Buddha, Bodhisattva and tantric deities. The chapel is the site of many festivals and the most interesting of them being one dedicated to the God of Khangchendzonga. The other important festival is the celebration of New Year, when the famous Black Hat dance is performed demonstrating the triumph of good over evil.
Sanga Choeling Monastery Distance - 7 km ( from Pemayangtse ) Built in - 1697 Sect - Nyingmapa
Sanga Choeling means 'the island of esoteric teaching'. 45 minutes walk from Pelling will take you to this second oldest monastery of Sikkim. A 4 km trail rises from the playing fields just above Pelling to reach the small monastery of Sanga Choeling is one of the oldest gompas in Sikkim. This gompa is another of Lhatsun Chenpo's creations, and is highly venerated among the Nyingmapa. Gutted by fire, it has been rebuilt and houses some of the original clay statues.
Dubdi Monastery Built in - 1701
Dubdi Monastery, one of the oldest monastery in Sikkim, is located at the top of a hill about an hour's walk from Yuksam. Also known as the Hermit's Cell after its reclusive founder Lhatsun Namkha Jigme, it was built by the followers of the Nyingmapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The trail to Dubdi winds through lush forests high above the village, offering scenic overlooks and impressive mountain views. For bird watchers, an early morning or late afternoon visit is particularly rewarding. Dubdi means 'the retreat' .
Kewzing Monastery This monastery is located near Kewzing in South Sikkim. It was built during the reign of Chogyal Thutob Namgyal.
Simik Monastery This monastery is situated in near Singtam town. It was built during the reign of Chogyal Tsudphud Namgyal.
Hee Gyathang Monastery Sect - This monastery is located in and follows the Nyingma sect of Buddhism.
Khecheopalri Monastery This monastery is located just above the famous Khecheopalri lake near Yuksom.
Melli Monastery Melli basically means 'a lepcha village'. This monastery is located near Yuksom.
Sinon Monastery Distance - 10 km ( from Tashiding ) Built in - 1716
Sinon means 'the suppressor of intense fear'. The monastery is located on a hill top.
Dalling Monastery Built in - 1840 Dalling means 'the thunderbolt'. This monastery is situated near Kewzing in South Sikkim.
Yangyang Monasterymn Distance - 10 km ( from Rabangla ) Built in - 1840
Yangyang means 'the ridge of fortune'. This monastery was built in 1840 and is situated at a place called Yangyang.
This monastery is located in Namchi, the district headquarters of south district and was constructed during the reign of Chogyal Gurmed Namgyal.
Chawayng Ani Monastery
This monastery is located near Phensang which is on the highway between Gangtok and Mangan. It was built during the reign of Chogyal Tshudphud Namgyal.
Taktse Ogyen Choekhorling Monastery
The area around the monastery was initially surrounding by huts used for meditation known as Chamkhai. Later on the Chogyal of Sikkim gifted it to the nuns who used to meditate there and it was converted into a monastery. One of the few monasteries in Sikkim exclusively for nuns. It is around 5-6 kms north of Gangtok.
Rhenock Monastery Distance - 63 km ( from Gangtok )
Karthok Monastery Distance - 32 km ( from Gangtok )
This monastery is located in East Sikkim near Pakyong. The present structure of the monastery was built during the reign of Chogyal Thutob Namgyal. Karthok Monastery is the sixth oldest monastery of Sikkim, an important seat of the Nyingma Order. The original monastery was destroyed and a new one is built in its place. The unique architectural design of the original was, however, retained.
Bermoik Monastery Built in - 1952
This monastery follows the Nyingma sect of Buddhism. It is situated in South Sikkim above Singtam.
Lachen Monastery Built in - 1806
This monastery in North Sikkim follows the Nyingma sect of Buddhism.
Lachung Monastery Built in - 1880
This monastery in North Sikkim follows the Nyingma sect of Buddhism.
Sang Monastery Built in - 1912
This monastery is situated in a small village called Sang near Rumtek.
Ralang Monastery Distance - 6 km ( from Ravangla, South Sikkim )
This monastery belong to the Karma Kagyu order and was built after the return of the fourth Chogyal form his pilgrimage to Tibet. The Karmapa performed the 'Rabney' (blessing) on its completion from Tsurphu itself, and grains from this ceremony fell on the ground at Ralong and were witnessed by the devotees. A few of the grains are still in the possession of some of the monks. Between 1975-81 the government reconstructed the monastery. The monastery has around 100 monks. The main ceremony falls on the 28th and 29th day of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar, when the 'chaams' are performed. It is situated near Ravangla in South Sikkim.
Old Ralang monastery: is situated 13 kms away from Ravangla with the spectacular peaks of Narsing, Jopuno and Kabur in the background. The monastery was built in 1730 on a site blessed by an earlier incarnation of Karmapa where the grains of rice thrown by him from Tibet had landed. The monastery is one of the most sacred and important monasteries following the Kagyupa tradition.“Pang Lhabsol" the worship of Mt Khangchendzonga & " Kagyad " Chaam masked dances are held every year on the 15th day of the seventh month of the Buddhist calendar coinciding with August / September and on the 29th day of the tenth month just before Losoong - the Sikkimese New Year in December.
New Ralang monastery: also known as the “Palchen Choeling Monastic Institute”, was built by the XIIth Gyaltsab Rimpoche, one of the four regents of the Kagyupa sect and completed in 1995. This is the biggest monastery in Sikkim and its architecture and paintings have been painstakingly undertaken to maintain the authenticity of the Kagyupa monasteries from Tibet. The sacred “Mahakala Dance” is held here every year in November.
This is the only Gelugpa monastery in Sikkim and is situated near the Tibetan border.
Shurishing Yungdrung Dungdrakling Monastery
Being situated in Sosing in South Sikkim, this is the only monastery in Sikkim that follows the Bon faith.