Perched at the end of a ridge with a grand panorama of the entire Parekh Chu watershed including the Kanchenjunga massif, the hallowed monastery of Pemayangtse, 118km from Gangtok and a mere 2km from Pelling, is poised high above the River Rangit. It’s a 9km journey along the main road from Gyalshing; or you can take a steep, 4km short-cut through the woods past a line of chortens and the otherwise uninteresting remains of Sikkim’s second capital, Rabdantse, now made into a park.
Pemayangtse, the “Perfect Sublime Lotus”, founded in the seventeenth century by Lhatsun Chempo, one of the three lamas of Yoksum, and extended in 1705 by his reincarnation, is one of the most important gompas in Sikkim and belongs to the Nyingmapa sect. The views and the surrounding woods create an atmosphere of meditative solitude. Surrounded by outhouses featuring intricate woodwork on the beams, lattice windows and doors, the main gompa itself is plain in comparison. Built on three floors, it centres around a large hall which contains images of Guru Rinpoche and Lhatsun Chenpo (the latter was an enigmatic Tibetan lama who is the patron saint of Sikkim), and an exquisite display of thangkas and murals. On the top floor, a magnificent wooden sculpture carved and painted by Dungzin Rinpoche, a former abbot of Pemayangtse, depicts Sang Thok Palri, the celestial abode of Guru Rinpoche, rising above the realms of hell. The extraordinary detail includes demons, animals, birds, Buddhas and bodhisattvas, chortens and flying dragons, and took him just five years to complete. The two-day annual Guru Drogma chaam is held here during Losar, the New Year (Feb/March), and attracts visitors from all over Sikkim culminating with draping the monastery with a gigantic thangka.
In 1980, the Denjong Padma Choeling Academy was set up by the monastery to provide for destitute children and orphans; there are currently around three hudred children being housed, clothed, fed and educated here. Generous donations have enabled further building and projects including the yak and dri dairy project near Dzongri. Volunteer teachers are always welcome, for a minimum of two months, and have the opportunity to study meditation and Buddhism. For more information, contact Sonam Yongda at Pemayangste Gompa, West Sikkim 737 113 (t03595/250760 or t 250141) who also organizes occasional meditation courses.