PHENSANG MONASTERY GUIDE
Why Should I Go
On the slight gradient that stretches from the tiny hamlet of Kabi to the terrace-farming town of Phodong, sits the Phensang Monastery. One of the six biggest gompas in Sikkim, this religious structure belongs to the Nyingma Order of Buddhism.
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 that any monastery in Sikkim and its location is one of the most picturesque landscapes in the state.
How Do I Get There
Located off the north Sikkim highway, Phensang Monastery is around 40kms 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 veers uphill for around 6kms till you are at the entrance of Phensang Monastery.
When Should I Land Up
The outstanding views from around the monastery are best experienced in the summer and spring. Beautiful panoramas overlooking the mountains in the distance, pristine blue skies and the religious significance make this a popular 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 blanketed in snow, 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 9a.m. and 12 p.m.
The Finer Details
The monks at Phensang Monastery come under the Nyingma Order. Nyingma translates to ‘ancient’ and its teachings are founded on the original 8th century translations of the Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures into old Tibetan. The pivot of the oldest school of Buddhism revolves around Dzongchen or ‘great perfection’- to unearth and sustain the primordial state of existence.
Among other preliminary practices, Novice monks at Phensang are taught to cultivate ‘bodhicitta’- inculcating empathy and compassion for all living beings.
Maintain the sanctity of the Phensang Monastery by not making loud noises or using mobile phones while exploring the inner sanctum.
While walking around the monastery make sure you do so in a clockwise manner in keeping with the religious tradition.
Do not touch idols, statues, paintings and other religious artefacts in the monastery.
The Phensang Sangag Chodding Monastery has braved natural calamities and is a symbol of the restorative power of faith in the region. If you’re visiting Sikkim for its gompas, make sure this one is at the top of your list.