Much like yoga can help us to see clearly and bring our attention into the presence of breath and
movement, this magical and mystical journey of body, mind and spirit is the ultimate reminder of my practice. Sikkim is an amazing place of natural beauty, rugged adventure and spiritual tranquillity. This land of mist and mystery casts its spell, as one dreamy, hazy day floats into the next. Tradition asked all houses to face northwest, towards the benevolent face of Kanchendzonga, and reap the protective spirit of this sacred range. The grandeur of these high mountain peaks with gaping chasms and terrifying gorges, lush valleys, fast flowing rivers and glacial lakes, creates a rare and singular experience.
One of the most well known monasteries is Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre, seat of the Karmapa Lama. Rumtek was placed in its location because the 16th Karmapa had a vision of a rainbow from K3 which landed at the spot of Rumtek. Perhaps this is the true pot of gold at the end of a rainbow! It houses many sacred Buddhist treasures, including the mystical black hat of the Kogyu sect (in Tibetan Buddhism), which is said to give its wearer the power to fly. How can one not love a monastery that houses this mythical and magical hat? Images of the Karmapa are recognized by his mudra of holding 2 thunderbolts, or showing him holding his hat so it doesn’t fly back to the heavens!
At Rumtek, we arrive at afternoon prayers, and as we enter the main altar area, many monks are sitting in prayer chanting. I have many recordings of Tibetan monks chanting, and have always felt the power of prayer as it echoes in my practice room. But this! To be filled with the presence of so many young and old monks chanting in unison fills my heart with Mudita – appreciative gladness.
I bow the obligatory 3 1/2 times in full prostration to honor the large altar, and our Indian friend and tour guide Raj Madaan enters and bows as well. I am surprised as he is Hindu, yet he feels the significance of this room, and this place, and in respect bows to the giant Buddha. What connections we can have, how wonderful would it be if all religions could honor one another in this way. A bit of my heart swells more as I watch him. There is another Indian family visiting with their small child, and the child couldn’t have been more than 3, and he too mimics his parents and bows to honor the Buddha. I am thinking to myself – how much would the world change if we taught our children to respect all faiths?
Lama Paljor, our Tibetan monk has joined us today, and risen at 4am to drive for 5 hours from Kalimpong to accompany us on this day. Paljor and I met in San Jose when he came to make a sand mandala blessing at the SJ museum this past spring. I see him and immediately go to hug him. And then realize, I am hugging a monk! Uh, is that ok? Is there some protocol when one sees a friend, and he happens to be a monk, and a sand mandala artist, and an amazing Tibetan throat singer? Was I supposed to bow down, or bring my hands to my heart in namaste? That all seemed too formal for my beautiful monk friend Paljor.
He of course makes me realize it is just my delusion, illusion as we are walking down the hill and he puts on a hairband wig thing that he finds funny!
We head out of Rumtek, and stop at another monastery Rangan on the way, and a bit of rain comes down, and as we reach the monastery, we all gasp as the skies cast a heavenly light on us, and the light streams through the rain, looking like God has indeed seen us, and is smiling.
We head out of Rumtek, and are driving a “short” ride to a waterfall and monastery, and out of the jeep in front, I see a flash of light. I ask everyone in the car – “is that lightening?”, as it has rained on and off every day we have been in Sikkim. Winter Song says to me – “No Cora, that’s not lightening, that’s just Linda!” Our friend Linda, who is responsible for many of these images I am sharing, has been our resident paparazzi and photo editor, and given the spectacular scenery, hospitable Sikkimese people and colorful prayer flags, monasteries and wild and abundant flora and fauna, she has been snapping pics like mad. We now know her as Linda Lightening!
Another monastery, and another bumpy ride leads us to a large waterfall area, which is dedicated to Ban Jhakri Shaman and has some wild statues amidst the green tropical jungles. They remind me of South American deities, and I am momentarily confused – was there a cross culture I missed somewhere between the rainforest peoples of the Amazon and these rainy forests of the Hims? These flowers cant exist in these high mountains, can they? Are we in the rainforest, or the highest mountains in the world?!
These thick, verdant forests and lush vegetation seem out of place in these mountain places, and Sikkim has over 4,000 different species of plants, including 30 varieties of rhododendrons and 546 varieties of orchids! The setting sun paints everything with incredible hues of light and shadow, and we come to the waterfalls that are at the end of the walk. A perfect place for the first header of the trip!
We are all grateful and happy to be in this magical land, filled with the genuine, gracious and hospitable people of Sikkim. Indians, Tibetans, Sikkimese and Nepali all living together and sharing the magic of these mountains