Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre, Sikkim, India

Meant to replace the Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet, Rumtek’s main monastery building was constructed between 1961 and 1966. Unusually for a monastery, the place is guarded by armed forces, following heated altercations and an invasion by partisan monks in the wake of the Karmapa controversy. To enter, foreigners must show their passport and Sikkim permit at the checkpost.

The rambling and walled gompa complex contains religious buildings, schools and a few small lodge-hotels, snack shops and souvenir stalls for travellers. There’s a mural of the original Tsurphu Monastery – destroyed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution – beside the main entrance. In the main hall, a giant throne awaits the crowning of the Kagyu spiritual leader, the (disputed) 17th Karmapa, who currently resides in Dharamsala. An ornate scroll, hand-painted by the young leader, adorns the monastery in his absence.

Behind the monastery building, up a flight of stairs running past a snack shop (good tea, instant noodles and momos) stands the Golden Stupa. Stuffed with religious paraphernalia, the smallish room holds the ashes of the 16th Karmapa in an amber, coral and turquoise-studded reliquary to which pilgrims pay their deepest respects. The keys to the shrine are usually with obliging lamas enrolled at the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute of Buddhist Studies opposite. Leave a donation and you’ll be blessed with a holy metal dorje (talisman symbolising lightning).

Visit India Epic India Route © Monika Newbound

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