On the small slope that ranges from the tiny village of Kabi to the terrace-farming town of Phodong, remains the Phensang Monastery. One of the six biggest gompas in Sikkim, this religious structure belongs to the Nyingma Order of Buddhism. Nyingma translates to ‘ancient’ and its teachings are founded on the original 8th-century interpretations of the Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures into old Tibetan. The pivot of the oldest school of Buddhism revolves around Dzongchen or ‘great perfection’, to learn and maintain the primordial state of existence.
Among other preliminary practices, Novice monks at Phensang are taught to cultivate ‘bodhicitta’, teaching empathy and compassion for all living beings.
What to see
Just like the slopes that govern the terrain of Sikkim, Phensang has had its share of ups and downs. Founded in 1721, by the 3rd Lhatsun Tragthung Jigmed Pawo, the monastery was expanded in 1850 to make room for the growing number of monks. In 1947, a fire ravaged the gompa and though it was reconstructed swiftly the following year, the torrential rains of 1983 caused irreparable damage. Since 1985, the Lamas, aided by the government, managed to restore the structure by 1996. Today, Phensang houses the most number of monks than any monastery in Sikkim and its location is one of the most scenic landscapes in the state.
When to reach
The outstanding views from around the monastery are best experienced in the summer and spring. Beautiful sceneries facing the mountains in the distance, pristine blue skies, and religious significance make this a favorite tourist spot between March and June.
If you’re visiting in December, Phensang Monastery hosts an annual festival that falls on the 28th and 29th day of the 10th month according to the Tibetan calendar. If you’d like to witness the mountain-scape covered in snow, the first-hand experience of a Buddhist festival, and Sikkimese culture, plan your trip around this time. This festival usually takes place a couple of days before the Tibetan New Year and the monks perform sacred dances as part of the festival.
Phensang Monastery opens its gates at 8 a.m. If you’d like to escape the hustle and bustle of tourist traffic try and make it here between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m.
How to reach
Located off the north Sikkim highway, Phensang Monastery is around 40 km from Gangtok. If you’re boarding a jeep from MG Marg, the route will take you past the popular Tashi View Point ridge till you reach Phodong. From here, a path curves uphill for around 6 km till you are at the entrance of Phensang Monastery.