Tathagata Tsal

The Buddha Park of Ravangla, also known as Tathagata Tsal, is situated near Rabong (Ravangla) in South Sikkim district, Sikkim, India. Tathagata is Sanskrit and Pali word. It’s used to refer to Lord Buddha. The term is often thought to mean either “one who has thus gone” (tathā-gata) or “one who has thus come” (tathā-āgata). This is interpreted as signifying that the Tathagata is beyond all coming and going – beyond all transitory phenomena.

Lord Buddha is quoted on numerous occasions in the Pali Canon as referring to himself as the Tathagata instead of using the pronouns me, I or myself. This may be meant to emphasize by implication that the teaching is uttered by one who has transcended the human condition, one beyond the otherwise endless cycle of rebirth and death, i.e. beyond suffering.

This place was constructed in 2006-13 and features a 128-foot high statue of the Buddha as its centerpiece.

The site was chosen within the larger religious complex of the Rabong Gompa (Monastery), itself a centuries-old place of pilgrimage. Also nearby is Ralang Monastery, a key monastery in Tibetan Buddhism.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama consecrated the colossal 128 foot hammered copper statue of the Buddha, which he had earlier named Tathagata Tsal, at Ravangla. The statue of the Buddha marks the occasion of the 2550th birth anniversary of Gautama Buddha.

There’s huge gate with murals depicting Jataka tales – on the previous lives of Gautam Buddha.

The temple closes for public by 5:30 p.m. We just managed to get in as last visitors of the day. The main temple is below the huge statue of Lord Buddha. It has a huge hall and the walls have images of Lord Buddha and on his life.

There’s a museum too but we couldn’t see it as it’s getting closed.

There are a large number of steps to come down to the park and walk up  a large number of steps to get to the temple.

After getting out of the park, we had “jhal muri” and hot tea from street vendors. We returned to Gangtok through beautiful green road.

Char Dham [Siddhesvara Dham]

Char Dham or Siddhesvara Dham is a unique pilgrimage tourism venture of the Sikkim Government developed as “ Pilgrim cum Cultural Centre” having a 108 ft statue of Lord Shiva and replicas of four Dhams of the country at one place at Solophok hilltop in Namchi. Jaya & Babai visited this place last year. This time they came with me and Jaya’s father.

Char Dham are the names of four pilgrimage sites in India that are widely revered by Hindus. It comprises Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Rameswaram. It is considered highly sacred by Hindus to visit Char Dham during one’s lifetime.

Lord Shiva overseeing the Char Dham

The four most revered Dhams of the Hindus — Jagannath, Dwarika, Rameshawaram, Badrinath have been replicated in this fantastic complex to benefit the devotees and tourists.

Badrinath temple

For the consecration of the Dham Shri Jagadguru Sankaryacharya Swami Swarupananda Saraswati did the “Pran Prastisha” of the Dham.

There are replicas of the “Dwadash Jyotirlingas” (the twelve jyothirlinga) of Somnath, Mallikarjuna, Mahakaleswar, Omkareshwar, Kedarnath, Bhimashankar, Viswanath, Triambakeshwar, Vaidyanath, Nageswar, Rameshwar and Grishneshwar surrounding the statue of Lord Shiva and the Char Dhams.

There is a grand statue of Kirateshvar Mahadev and a temple of Shirdi Sai Baba too.

Lord Kirateshwar

In Hindu mythology, it is believed that Lord Shiva, after losing Sati in Agnikund, had gone into seclusion and became a hunter in the forests of Sikkim. There is also a famous Kirateshwar Mahadev Temple at Legship, in West Sikkim along the banks of River Rangeet.

There are Tulsi plants (Ocimum tenuiflorum) growing over 6 ft!

Tulsi plants

The Dham has stay facility for the devotees at “Yatri Niwas” which can accommodate more than 90 people at a time.

There’s a restaurant serving thali in the afternoon. We had thalis of food before leaving this place for Rabongla. The food was yummy!

The environment here is serene and divine. It’s a nice place and we felt blessed visiting all the temples.

The Siddhesvara Dham has won the National Tourism Awards 2010-11 under the category of “Most Innovative/Unique Tourism Project” by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.

Samdruptse – “Wish fulfilling hill”

On our way to Char Dham, we went to Samdruptse, near Namchi.  Samdruptse is situated at around 75 km from Gangtok.

Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche)

Samdruptse literally means ‘wish fulfilling hill’ in the Bhutia language. A unique, awe-inspiring and gigangtic 135 feet high statue of Guru Rinpoche a.k.a. Guru Padamasambhava is installed atop Samdruptse.

Padmasambhava was born into a Brahmin family of Northwest India. According to tradition, Padmasambhava was incarnated as an eight-year-old child appearing in a lotus blossom floating in Lake Dhanakosha, in the kingdom of Oḍḍiyāna in the present Swat Valley of Pakistan. His special nature was recognized by the childless local king of Oḍḍiyāna and was chosen to take over the kingdom, but he left Oḍḍiyāna for northern parts of India.

It is the highest statue of Guru Padamasambhava in the world. His Holiness the Dalai Lama laid the foundation stone of the statue in October 1997. It was completed in February 2004.

The land of Sikkim, at the border of India and Tibet, was consecrated as a hidden sanctuary for the Buddha’s teachings by the great master Padmasambhava, who blessed it with the vajra wisdom of his body, speech, and mind. He is considered as the second Buddha.

The path leading to the hill-top is lined by coloured flags with Buddhist hymns were being played through sound system placed along side the pathway.

People have been stacking stones to make cairns. Earlier used as messengers, signs and landmarks in unoccupied lands, locals suggest that they are also known to bring good luck for travellers.

A cairn in the structure of a stupa

Guru Rinpoche is the patron saint of Sikkim. Padmasambhava is said to have transmitted Buddhism to Tibet, Bhutan and neighboring countries in the 8th century CE. In these lands he is better known as Guru Rinpoche (precious Guru). He introduced the people of Tibet to the practice of Tantric Buddhism.

Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava) oversees parts of Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Sikkim from the hill-top.

It is also said that the Samdruptse hill is actually a Dormant Volcano.

Myths say that the buddhist monks have been going on top of the hill and offering prayers to the volcano to keep it calm.

In the hillock at the back of the statue, Buddhists place their prayer flags and built cairns stacking stones to bring good luck to them on the top of ‘wish fulfilling hill’.

 

We had hot tea at the restaurant in a complex outside the entrace to the temple…
…and then went ahead for Char Dham.

 

 

Temi Tea Garden

We planned to visit Char Dham in Namchi. We left the hotel early after having our breakfast.

The road to Namchi from Gangtok is via Temi Bazar. The road cuts from the National Highway at Singhtam. The scenic beauty is excellent on the sides of the road.

A Sikkim tourism restaurant just above the river after crossing Singhtam

Temi is famous for its internationally renowned tea, which is sold under the name Temi tea. We stopped at the garden, which is about 60 kms from Gangtok.

One can savour the breathtaking view of temi tea garden from the road.

It’s one and the only tea estate in Sikkim, which produces top quality tea in the international market.

Temi tea garden is considered one of the best in India and in the world.

The garden is laid over a gradually sloping hill.

The tea produced in this garden is also partly marketed under the trade name “Temi Tea”.

There’s a restaurant selling hot momos and tea. Momo is a type of dumpling native to Nepal, and in some communities in Tibet, Bhutan.

 

We enjoyed the lovely tea with hot momos and fale. Fale (falay) is another Himalayan cuisine but not as popular as momo. Fale is TIbetan style puff pastry filled with minced goat/lamb meat.

Then we drove towards Namchi.

Banjhakri Waterfalls

Banjhakri waterfalls is a popular tourist spot near Gangtok in Sikkim.

We visited Gangtok for a couple of days with Jaya’s father. He wanted to see the institute of Babai and the place too. We reached Gangtok yesterday.

We decided today to visit Bankjhakri waterfalls with him due to its proximity to the city of Gangtok.

It’s around 4 km from Gangtok. The falls is set amidst dense greenery and the theme park itself is littered with ethnic sculptures and figurines of the Jhakri culture.

The waterfall roars down from a height of say 70 feet. Enough facilities have been provided for the tourists to go closer to the waterfall.

The word ‘Banjhakri’ means a forest shaman. A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing.

These shamanistic practices are depicted via the figurines in this theme park. Some of these depict rituals, some healing ceremonies and others the initiation process in the life of a shaman.

Sikkimese style bridges have been built over the water streams and that lead to small view points from where one can get great shots of the waterfall.

Baba couldn’t walk up the stairs to reach the waterfall area, so he sat near the stairs leading to the waterfall and was watching some local boys catching fish in the stream.

It even hosts some decent momo stalls.

Nothing beats a hot plate of momo, aloo dum and a steaming hot cup of tea on a afternoon here. The items were nicely cooked that we repeated the orders.  Then we returned to our hotel in Gangtok via Hanumantok, Ganeshtok and MG Road.

It’s a nice place and worth a visit. It should be on every Gangtok visitor’s itinerary.

Heavy rush today at Baghdad airport

Today I am going to India by 12:30 pm Etihad flight from Baghdad via Abu Dhabi. I asked for the car to arrive at 9:30 am. The car arrived at 9:15 am and so I started earlier. Thank God, I started earlier as there was huge rush at the airport checkpoint. The drives used to get in flashing their badge. That system is not working today causing such a huge traffic snarl near the check point. The dog sniffing was also done at the end of the traffic jam.

There’s one good change that they have replaced the system of opening the luggage for physical checking. They have put X-ray scanners and also metal detectors for the people. It saved the time and the trouble of opening the bags and then again locking them.

I ultimately arrived at the airport gate at 11:00 am. Again there was a long queue for second dog sniffing. Thank God there wasn’t any rush at Etihad counter. When I entered the departure hall after clearing passport control, it was 11:45 am. I just walked into the First Class lounge at the airport to have a small sandwich and a cup of coffee.

A corner of First Class lounge at Baghdad International Airport

As I finished it, the boarding for the flight was announced. This time there wasn’t a single moment at the airport to talk to people before undertaking the journey.

Had dolma in office today

Today, our colleague Ms. Khalida brought dolmas for the Back Office. It was so nice of her to cook and bring the dolmas to the office in good quantity for all of us. The dolmas were very nicely cooked and tasted very good.

Dolma is originally a Turkish food that has many varieties generally stuffed with ground meat. Dolma word has derived from “dolmak”, which is a Turkish word that means “to be filled, be full”. The use of grape leaves to wrap food is believed to date back to the days of Alexander, the Great.

In Bangladesh and Indian state of West Bengal, pointed gourd (patol) is used for stuffing fish, meat, or vegetables and goes by the name of dolma or the local variant – dorma. A mixture of poppy seeds, grated coconut, raisins and/or shrimp is commonly used for stuffing. During the times of the Nawabs of Bengal, this dish came to the region with its Turkish name, with the only noticeable change being the vegetable used for stuffing.

Thanks to Ms. Khalida for cooking and bringing dolmas for us.

Dinner at Akhtar’s house

Yesterday, Akhtar called me on phone. He arrived Baghdad last Sunday. He invited me for dinner at his home. He also invited Mr. DV Singh, HOC, Indian Embassy, Baghdad.

I went to his home around 7.30 p.m. walking as he stays very nearby. He stays just opposite to our old house. Mr. Singh also reached his house as I reached there along with Himangshu Pant, PA to Ambassador and Tarun Tyagi.

Akhtar served us drinks. The embassy people preferred coke while Akhtar and I had whisky. It was followed by huge dinner arranged by Akhtar. He served fish fry, aloo dum, paneer curry and chicken curry along with rice and qubooz. After that he served us fruit ice cream. It was a nice, heavy dinner. All the items were well cooked.

Mr Singh informed us that the new Ambassador is expected to join by the end of this month. He is coming from Indian embassy in Tehran, Iran.

They left after 10:00 p.m. I also then walked back to my house. I enjoyed the evening and the dinner. Thanks, Akhtar.

Bring Back Our Girls

Almost a month has passed since the mass abduction of about 276 young schoolgirls on April 14 in Nigeria. They were just aged 12-15 years! The militant Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. In a video message, a leader of the group threatened to sell the schoolgirls and force them to marry.

Boko Haram means ‘Western Education is a Sin’. But is this not a sin? Which religion on this earth sanctions kidnapping of young girls and forcing them into slavery? By any definition, this is a sheer act of cowardice. These militants are terrorising the society by snatching away their innocent daughters  and children, whose only mistake is that they want to be educated to lead a good life. Every child in this world has the right to education and the girls have an inalienable right to be girls.

The world is slowly getting united under the campaign that began with a hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter to put a pressure on the Nigerian government and world leaders to rescue those innocent young schoolgirls from the clutches of Boko Haram.

When so many cradles of mothers are empty and their eyes are missing their lovely daughters, it cannot be a “Happy Mother’s Day” today. I support #BringBackOurGirls! I am waiting for the day when these girls are rescued. May the God be with them!

Image courtesy: Hindustan Times

Words of Ratan Tata

Yesterday, I read these words of Ratan Tata, the world-famous Indian industrialist. I liked them so much that I am putting them on my blog. These are so nice and true.

“If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together.”

How strange it is:

We wish to wear high brands, but we feel comfortable in our pyjamas. We wish to sit in Taj or Marriott with elite people, but we enjoy roadside tea with friends and with people we love. We wish to own big cars and go on long drives, yet we talk our heart out while walking down a long road. We have 64GB iPods filled with songs but sometimes a song on the radio brings a smile that can’t be compared.