Sangachoiling Gompa

To find Sangachoiling Gompa start at the round just outside Hotel Garuda where the Share Jeeps stop, and cross the "Helipad" - the elevated gravel "stadium" where the local boys plays football in the evening, take the path at the left side of the other side of the "Helipad" and follow the path straight ahead. The Sangachoiling Gompa is situated at the top in front of you. The hillside is steep, and so is the road to the top. A new road was under construction April 1999. If it is finished, try to locate the old path, where it cuts short the bends of the new road. The old path was very, very steep, paved with natural stones and the occasional narrow steps was very steep when going down in the late evening rain. The entire funeral procession would walk up here, carrying the corpse all the way.

At the top you will enter a small wood, and the road turns left to find the Sangachoiling Gompa. If you follow the road straight ahead, you will follow the old royal route towards present Nepal, and there is a stone called the Rani Stone commemorating this. The original Sangachoiling Gompa originates in 1679, but after a fire, the present was constructed in the sixties. While Pemayangtse is of national importance to the state of Sikkim, Sangachoiling is the where the locals are cremated. There was two funerals the one day - one from Lower Pelling, the other came by trucks and buses from the district capital Gezing. There is a school at the Gompa, with at small schoolroom at the first floor.

When I visited Sangachoiling three Korean students, and a small boy in charge of the keys took us into the Gompa where an old monk held evening puja, upstairs where there are murals, and into the small room where he lit lots of candles under the "eyes" hanging around. Then he took us to the "money-house" - or Mani House where the prayer-wheels are. He tried to run across from the Gompa to the Mani House in the rain, protecting the flame with his hand, but did not succeed. To the right he is with the Korean students under the roof of the Mani House - from the left the student of literature and budding writer, the student of Buddhist philosophy, and the doctor of traditional Korean Medicine at the back. Just outside the Mani House is the slab for the funeral pyre, and a small shack.

The rain really started while we were at the Sangachoiling Gompa, and it looked like it would never stop. The evening was near, so we had to decide - go down in the rain - or take our chance the rain would stop before dark. Happily we opted for the right thing, and went down in the pouring rain. Just two of us had any raingear - the student of literature had just a very thin shawl. The path was wet an slippery, and the very polite young Asian would not leave an old man like me, so they trailed after me until the "Helipad", where the chance for cutting straight ahead was to tempting. It was getting rather dark at that time. Well, I took the long road, but my long legs got me to the Garuda door in time to open it for them. These are the things that make for great friends, and we met lots of time after that. A Korean Zen-Buddhist monk on leave from his monastery accompanied them, and in the evening I first acted as an interpreter between Koreans and a Japanese lady, and then we were chatting into the night.

Hotel Garuda is definetely not where you meet the local people, but a great way to have a multinational conversation.