Through monasteries and the dance of death (2/3)

The next day we would head to north Sikkim for an overnight trip. It would be the coldest leg of our trip, or to put it crudely: the real shiz bro. Bro, I learnt there was also the abbreviated version of Border Roads Organization. Although, their boards will remind you less of safety and more of the Bro Superior: Barney Stinson.

The BRO code

The BRO code

Anyways so we travelled from Gangtok (East Sikkim) to North Sikkim. North Sikkim is like one mini incursion away from China. Ok sorry :P. While we could not go to the Nathula Pass, one of the three open trading border posts between India and China, or the much touted Gurudongmar lake due to snow – making me realize that visiting that part in December was not exactly a bright idea –we did go to the beautiful snow clad Yumthang valley.

The scenic and snowy Yumthang valley

The scenic and snowy Yumthang valley

It was an organized tour and like all organized tours there were little groups formed which made for some good old saas bahu moments during the trip. And all this was happening in the backdrop of some absolutely retarded numbers belted out by our driver. While I thought they were songs from shady B grade movies, I am now horrified to find they are songs from our mainstream Bollywood movies. I shall sample a few:

(You have to read the lyrics. Hyperlinked for you above)

Now once we reached North Sikkim, I realized that the absence of heat has to be filled in by will power. The thing with these near sub-zero places is that even deciding whether to drink water or go to the loo is a painful process. You need a constant supply of will power as your body refuses to get out of the little comfort zones it gets into. But I do carry fond memories of the bonfire we arranged for and the conversations with several locals there in that little oasis of heat.

The recipe of a good journey includes this pungent ingredient called blunder. We had a good journey which therefore entailed a mini blunder. A day before we were to board a train from New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to Guwahati, we realized that the train was not at 11.30pm from NJP but was rather reaching Guwahati at that time. The boarding time at NJP was 2.30pm, roughly 10 hours earlier. I had not checked the tickets properly. And assuming the train was at 11.30pm the next day which give us another day, we had planned to leave for Darjeeling and travel bookings were almost done.

Now it is at such times you realize the importance of whom you are travelling with. Some hyperventilating clown could have blown up the issue and some unwanted drama would be in place. Vijay and me on the other hand, quickly cancelled the bookings and in half-an-hour from the time we had stumbled upon the blunder, were on the way to Rumtek and Ranka monasteries in Sikkim. No tempers running high. No unwanted fuss.

An ever smiling driver (he was smiling all the time even once when he was slightly miffed with us) took us to Rumtek monastery which is the most beautiful monastery in Sikkim. The moment we stepped in there, I had a feeling that plan B was better than plan A. Maybe I had reason to be optimistic considering I had screwed up.

The beautiful and serene Rumtek monastery

The beautiful and serene Rumtek monastery

In what further confirmed that it was not merely some guilt that was brought out the aesthete in me at the monastery, when we reached the Ranka monastery, we were witness to the Lama dance: a dance that takes places only once a year. Maybe the gods were happy that we accepted our karma (the fuck up) earlier that day with aplomb and was rewarding us. Ok maybe it’s the monastery talking. There were monks with masks and constumes dancing with knives in hand. It was a scary sight. And apparently it was meant to be that way.

The lama dance. This particular dude was quite scary.

The lama dance. This particular dude was quite scary.

When I asked someone about the relevance, they told me that it was believed that anyone who saw the dance would no longer fear death. It made perfect sense to me, as by now it had instilled the fear of god in me. There were several children who were being encouraged/coaxed by their parents to see the dance (when I searched online I came across a slightly different explanation for the Lama dance although I like the one the lady told me better)

Dance in progress

Dance in progress

And then I did something that I had wanted for a long time. I have always been curious about the lives of monks and finally got talking to a 23-year-old monk from Bhutan. I went bonkers. The journalist in me took over.

Me: Are you allowed to eat meat/marry/play/../..? and on and on

Monk: People generally think that life in a monastery is hard. That Buddhism is very rigid. But it is not that way. There are certain things we are not allowed to do in a monastery but once we are on leave, we are allowed most things. Buddhism is not that rigid.

Me: So when you go to Bhutan and meet your friends who are not monks do you envy that?

Monk: No ya, I think Buddhism is Ok. I think it is about being satisfied with what you have. You will always want more. Its about being satisfied.

Now every third person you meet could tell you something like that. But somehow when it came from him, the words had a peaceful effect on me. I realized sometimes the WHO matters more than the WHAT.

On the way back we got talking to a father who had come to drop his son, now a monk, to the monastery and discussed religion with him. All in all by the end of the day we did not regret missing Darjeeling. What I felt bad was not being able to meet this friend (the stranger with whom I celebrated my birthday) based in Darjeeling who was looking forward to meet us there. Some other day I guess, some other trip rather 🙂 . Like they say Inshaallah

For me one of the best things about travelling is the actual travel time. I love those bus rides which will take like 5-6 hours. All I need is a window seat (optional as years have gone by) and some good music. This time round I had great music. Some wise cell in my head prompted me to take Rabbi along and his music resulted in so many beautiful moments. In fact looking back on of the best moments I had was on this bus ride from Gangtok to Siliguri listening to Rabbi’s songs. Like a friend said, ‘That man is something else.’

Now it was that time of the trip when trains were trolling us. When we reached the NJP station, the train – because of which we had to skip Darjeeling was – wait for it — 17 hours late. We somehow got a ticket and bundled ourselves bag and baggage into the next train and landed at Guwahati station in Assam at 4am.

I think all the fatigue gave way when we found these special tea stalls in Assam. So in Assam, the tea stall owners have these mini plastic packets containing different types of cakes, donuts, puris, that you can have along with tea. I freaked out and had nearly five cake slices and a few donuts atleast.(pic) One day Vijay and me would spend Rs 125 on one tea stall where the cost of tea was Rs 6 :-/ I knew for the next three days, my breakfast was sorted.

The tea seller

  The tea seller

The tea seller's wares :)

The tea seller’s wares 🙂

Then I had the best baths of my life. It had nothing to do with the facilities. I had not bathed for like 4 days :-/ Before you judge me don’t negate the extreme cold and the following water problem in our Sikkim hotel. I felt I was in some kind of trance and could go on bathing. Nevertheless, post the bath, I was now set to explore Assam and Meghalaya . . .

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