Visible from Gangtok, and a popular 24km day-trip southwest of the capital, Rumtek is one of Sikkim’s largest and most impressive gompas and the main seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage – also known as the Black Hat sect – founded during the twelfth century by the first Gyalwa Karmapa, Dusun Khyenpa (1110–93). The main temple, with its ornate facade covered in intricate, brightly painted wooden latticework, overlooks the expansive courtyard. Large red columns support the high roof of the prayer hall, where the walls are decorated with murals and thangkas. Visitors may attend daily rituals here, when lines of monks sit chanting.
The Karma Shri Nalanda Institute of Buddhist Studies, behind the main temple, built in 1984 in traditional Tibetan style, is the most ornate of all the buildings of Rumtek. Monks spend a minimum of nine years studying here, followed by an optional three-year period of isolated meditation. The ashes of the sixteenth Karmapa are contained in a gilded 4m-high chorten or stupa, studded with turquoise and coral, which sits in the Golden Stupa hall opposite the Institute.