A trip to Sikkim is not complete without a live history lesson at the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology (NIT). As a traveler, a visit here will help you gain a better understanding of Buddhism and Tibetan socio-religious norms. Besides being home to a vast array of Tibetan/Buddhist artifacts, this institute is also one of the largest repositories for Tibetan literature outside Tibet. This makes NIT a must-visit for the traveler interested in religious art and iconography. The main building is the perfect embodiment of the aesthetics of Sikkimese architecture.
The foundation stone at Namgyal Institute of Tibetology was laid by the present Dalai Lama in 1957, and the museum was officially opened the following year by Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister of India.
NIT gets its name from the 11th Chogyal (king) of Sikkim, Tashi Namgyal, who donated the land on which the institute was constructed.
What to see
One of the first artifacts that catch your eyes is the massive silver Manjushri image that was brought from Tibet. Manjushri is the ‘Gentle-Glory’ Bodhisattva associated with knowledge and insight.
The glass cases contain ancient thangkas (traditional Buddhist scroll paintings), coins, trumpets fashioned out of human bones, ritual objects, coins, amulets, and idols. Also on display is an 11th-century palm leaf manuscript and a 12th century Chinese manuscript from South Korea. Kasyapagotra and Madhyama were two ancient Buddhist missionaries from the time of Asoka and their relics are contained in intricately-designed caskets at NIT.
While contemporary art objects are constantly added to the museum, don’t forget to check out the five sandalwood images of the first king of Sikkim, Padmasambhava, and the three founders (lamas) of Sikkim. The bronze statue of Namgyalama is another stand-out art piece at the museum. Namgyalama is one of the Long-Life Deities usually represented with eight arms and three faces.
Once you’re done exploring the museum on the ground floor of the institute, walk up to the first floor that houses the Tibetan Library. There are more than 60,000 canonical and non-canonical Tibetan translations of sacred Buddhist literature present here. Tantric texts about all four sects of Buddhism are stored in neat rows.
There is a general library to the right of the main building and is the perfect reference point for those looking to delve deeper into the history, social-political norms of Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Ladakh. You can even photocopy certain interesting pages from a limited number of books. For those who love books, this can be a great place to spend some time and get to know more about Buddhism.
When to reach
The museum and the library are open from Monday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The entry fee is just Rs. 10. Keep in mind the institute is closed on public holidays.
How to reach
NIT is a little more than 2 km from Gangtok town and you can board a taxi that will drop you right at the entrance. If you’re staying in central Gangtok, tell the driver to take you towards Deorali in the south.
The Do-Drul Chorten Stupa is walking distance from here and you can take a stroll to this popular structure located on a hillock.