By Alaric Moras
Gautama Buddha’s teachings may have flourished well-beyond the Indian subcontinent today, but India still holds a pivotal place in Buddhist culture and tradition. This is exemplified by the large population of Indians, most of them residing in the Himalayan regions, who practice Buddhism and have adapted its teachings into their daily lives. It is very interesting to travel to parts of Sikkim, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Darjeeling and even Coorg, and not just visit beautiful monasteries, but also live in the homes of locals and truly soak up the spirituality of the region through them. SaffronStays recommends 7 beautiful Buddhist destinations that you should visit this coming summer.
#1. Gangtok, Sikkim
For followers of the Buddhist faith, Sikkim holds a place of great importance. Having been specially blessed by Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century, it is considered a sacred land. If you’re travelling to Sikkim, its capital city, Gangtok, is the best place to start with. After you’ve enjoyed your share of local food and shopping, take some time to visit the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. The institute’s library holds one of the largest collections of Tibetan works in the world outside Tibet itself and a museum of Tibetan iconography and religious art. Later, take a day trip to Rumtek Monastery, the largest Buddhist monastery in Sikkim that lies scenically on a hill top. It is a treasure trove of some of the most unique religious objects found anywhere in the world and is also a world-renowned centre of Kagyu teachings. You can also visit Phodang Monastery, located around 28 kilometres from Gangtok, which, in spite of undergoing many renovations has its original frescoes and murals intact, making it a charming place to visit.
#2. Ravangla, Sikkim
Located on a ridge between Maenam and Tendong Hill, Ravangla offers unmatched views of the Greater Himalayas. Ravangla is also home to the Ralong Monastery, which takes great pride in staging the Pang Lhabsol festival every year between August-September. The festivities last for three days, and end with a show of the traditional Chaam dance on the last day. It is also here in Ravangla that Tathagata Tsal or Buddha Park is located. It houses not just a large museum and a lake but also a 130-foot tall Buddha statue that was consecrated by the 14th Dalai Lama, and has made the hill town an important part of the Himalayan Buddhist circuit.
#3. Darjeeling, West Bengal
The popular hill station of Darjeeling is visited by travellers throughout the year but very few manage to live with the locals and see the influence of Buddhism in the beautiful district. In your next visit, we suggest you do just that. Foremost among the Buddhist monuments in Darjeeling is the Peace Pagoda. Located atop the lush Jalapahar Hill, the Pagoda was built under the guidance of Nichidatsu Fujii, a Buddhist monk from Japan. Standing beside a large statue of Lord Buddha with chants of the monks in your ears, you can just about spot Kanchenjunga’s peak, making it a breathtaking experience. The Yiga Choeling Monastery, now fondly called Ghum Monastery, is located about 8 km from Darjeeling, and boasts a large collection of Buddha’s texts, including the Tibetan Buddhist Gospel. A good stop during the toy train ride!
#4. Nubra Valley, Ladakh
Located in the north of Leh, the Nubra Valley is famously called the valley of flowers. While the desert setting of the valley provides adequate cover for trekking and backpacking, there is a beautiful monastery that definitely calls for a visit. Set atop a hill, Thiksey Monastery, the largest monastery in central Ladakh, is a vision in white. It is spread over 12 stories, and houses shops, hotel, restaurant, school, museum, temples and even a nunnery. A 49 feet high statue of Maitreya Buddha is also erected here. The monastery is often referred to as Mini Potala due to its resemblance to Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Spellbinding, isn’t it?
#5. Lamayuru, Ladakh
Though very few Indian travellers stop by at Lamayuru, it is frequented by backpackers from across the globe on their way to Leh, and with good reason. The tiny settlement is home to hospitable locals who’ve opened their homes, which lie at a walking distance from Lamayuru Monastery, to those looking for a spiritual break. Founded in the 11th century, the monastery is home to about 200 monks and is one of the largest and oldest ones in Ladakh. Though much of the ancient monastery has crumbled, it still attracts many Buddhist followers today and we think it definitely deserves a place in your Ladakh itinerary.
#6. Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh
If you’re looking for a life changing trip this summer, look no further than Spiti Valley. A band of about 66 charming villages comprises Spiti Valley, the entire population of which practices Tibetan Buddhism. The picturesque valley is home to multiple Buddhist monasteries, some of which date back to 996 AD. Foremost among these is Tabo Monastery, rebuilt after an earthquake in 1975 yet still retaining its old world charm. A mountain stands in the background, and a short hike will take you to isolated meditation caves. For a hilltop view of the Spiti River, Dhankar Monastery is the best place to go. The highlight of the monastery is its Vairochana statue. Key Monastery is also worth visiting – it accommodates 250 monks and is decorated by beautifully painted murals.
#7. Kushalnagar, Karnataka
Lying along the Periyar river in Coorg is the town of Kushalnagar, an amalgamation of various cultures and traditions. 5 km away from here lies Bylakuppe, the second largest Tibetan rufugee camp outside of Tibet. One can visit Namdroling Monastery here which houses over 7,000 monks and students today. The walls of the monastery are adorned with colourful paintings that depict gods and demons from Tibetan Buddhist mythology. Shopping centres near the temples allow for the purchase of traditional Tibetan items like costumes, statues, carpets, jewelery and more. Sera Monastic University, one of the largest Buddhist universities, also lies here in Bylakuppe. Who knew the coffee plantations of Coorg hid a gem like this!
The best way to make the most of your trip to these Buddhist circuits is by staying with the locals. Visit our website for such homestay options.
About the author: Alaric Moras spends most of his time reading, writing and interning with industries that read and write. He aims to become a clinical psychologist, providing therapy and catching Freudian slips during the day, writing and reading through the night. He likes all manner of animals, the smell of books, and the oxford comma.