One highlight of our trip to Sikkim and Darjeeling was the Buddhist Monasteries we explored. While the essentials - the prayer rooms, the prayer wheels, the drums, the chants, the temple - remain the same, each monastery still retains its own individual charm and personality. The Dali Monastery, also known as Druk Thupten Sangag Choeling Monastery, rises above the surrounding buildings and its yellow rooftops are visible from quite a distance.
May be it was because we reached this place at 4:00 pm, while the monasteries main temple opens at 5pm, the place was practically devoid of any tourist activities. And by this time, we were already tired of trying to avoid stepping on people's feet at the tourist places. So we didn't really mind the temple being closed, instead we decided to cherish the blessing in disguise.
The Monastery itself is a towering building, with a huge, wide courtyard in the front, that overlooks the road below and the valley beyond. We spent quite some time there listening to bird calls, watching the flags flutter, and observing the city going about its business. We were almost in a trance reflecting upon our day so far when the sound of little feet running and children laughing brought us back to the present. We turned around and were amazed to see tiny children dressed in monk robes running towards us.
We had seen little monks in the past, but had never had an opportunity to observe them at such close quarters. They were playing with a puppy and talking in a language we could not understand. Some of them were about 5-6 years old and the oldest among them 10, maybe. We wondered about their lives. I had read in the past that monks have to conform to tough schedules and follow a very disciplined regime. Observing the little monks, it was, however, clear that children were allowed at least some time in a day to be children.
After roaming around the courtyard for some time, we noticed a sign pointing to a Cafe called the Kunga Paljor Coffee Shop. We hadn't had lunch and as before this we had never had food in any monastery, this presented itself as a unique opportunity. With great anticipation, we entered the building. It was definitely much more than a cafe. It had a small shop which sold mementos and items of daily needs. There were soaps, toothpastes, detergents, biscuits, maggi etc on sale here.
At one corner of the cafe, there was a tiny internet Kiosk where a couple of teenage monks were working on the computer. While we were still taking in the surroundings, a distinguished looking monk came in and took a seat at the billing desk. We were a little hesitant initially, but then he smiled at us. Encouraged, we asked if we could order two cups of coffee and a plate of choley poori. He said sure and conveyed our order to the kitchen. After about 10 minutes, a monk came an placed our food at the kitchen counter. The thought of being served at our table by the monks sounded a little uncomfortable, so even before the monk who had taken the order could get up from his chair, we jumped out of ours and raced to get the food.
The food itself was quite delicious. As we were constantly aware of the possibility that it had been prepared by the monks, it felt pious too. Once we were done with it, we ordered another serving of chhole and poori. It was that tasty! And Pious! All in all, it was a good experience, if slightly overwhelming. Eating at the Konga Paljor Cafe is strongly recommended.
We spent about 1 hour at the monastery and the place helped us relax and take a break from all the walking and trekking we had done since the morning. Refreshed and satiated, we went on towards our next adventure.