Ranka Monastery-My experience
Ranka monastery, also known as Lingdom monastery is a fairly new monastery as compared to the more famous monasteries in Sikkim. It was completed only in 1999, and for that reason most people skip Ranka monastery and visit the more important Rumtek monastery which was originally built in the 18th century.
I was headed to Rumtek monastery that day, and was waiting for a shared taxi to take me there when I was told that all the taxis are headed to Ranka monastery, and none would leave for Rumtek that day until much later.
Why? Because the Rinpoche was conducting a service at Ranka monastery, and it was an auspicious occasion which will be attended by devotees from around the state. I decided that missing out on such a rare occasion would be a big mistake, and changed my plans for the day.
I got into a Bolero headed towards Ranka monastery, and waited for it to fill up.
Distance from Gangtok
Ranka monastery is 17km from Gangtok, and the journey will take 40 mins.
Ranka monastery is located amidst 21 acres of forested mountains, and is privy to stunning views of lush mountains. The view from the first floor viewpoint of the monastery attracts many to the monastery.
There is a long stretch of prayer wheels at the entrance of the monastery. They also have accommodation which they offer free of charge to those who wish to stay a few days to understand life in the monastery.
I was told that I could stay there for a couple of days, but unfortunately, I visited on my last day, and couldn't stay. Maybe next time I travel, I'll plan to spend a couple of days at a monastery!
The large central courtyard leads to a prayer hall, inside of which there is a 5m tall gilded statue of Buddha.
The Rinpoche was seated inside during the ceremony, leading some of the prayers.
Note on shared taxis in Sikkim
Locals travel within Sikkim in shared cabs, it is their version of a local bus (there are no buses in Sikkim). Shared cabs don't leave the taxi stand until they are full (usually 10 passengers +1 driver). This is the most economical way to travel within Sikkim.
On your return from wherever you are going, you can stand on the road, and flag down a passing shared cab (there are some designated spots near popular landmarks, they aren't marked, so ask a local, else, stand anywhere and stick your hand out to stop a passing cab), and if there is enough space, and if they are headed in the direction of your destination, get into the cab.
Is it safe?
Yes, it is safe to travel in shared cabs. Just be prepared to get squished!
I was sitting next to a man who was a volunteer at Ranka monastery, who got me permission to take photographs at the event. (See, how it becomes beneficial to talk to locals!) Photography was otherwise prohibited at the event. I was careful not to be intrusive and did not go into the prayer hall, or take pictures of the ceremony. (it is important not to take advantage of the liberties granted to you)
I stayed at the monastery listening to the prayers for about 2 hours. It was my first time participating in a Buddhist prayer ceremony. It was a peaceful ceremony, with a low murmuring of chants. Some devotees prayed with prayer beads, the others had a prayer wheel which they rotated as they chanted along.
I took a seat next to the youngest monks- I find them absolutely adorable! When everyone around them was lost in prayer, they were being who they were-kids!
They were playing pranks on each other, laughing, making faces, and occasionally getting shushed by the older monks.
I am so glad that I made it to Ranka monastery that day, instead of going to Rumtek monastery. Sometimes a last minute change in plans brings you the most beautiful experiences!