Pilgrimage To The Four Sacred Holy Caves Of Sikkim
Sikkim has Four Great Holy Caves – ‘Phug Chen Zhi’, which are included in ‘gNas-chen-InGa’ (Paanch Dhaam) of Sikkim. These Caves are located at four cardinal directions of Tashiding (West Sikkim), namely –Sharchog Beyphug in the East, Lho Kando Sangphug in the South, Nub Dechenphug in the West and Jhang Lhari Nyingphug in the North. Tashiding, according to Holy text, is the Navel point of “Bayul Demajong”, and is considered as the 5th Dhaam of this Holy Land.
Guru Padmasambhava sanctified these Caves as the abodes of various Protective Divinities of the Esoteric Buddhism. Today, these Caves have become the most important pilgrim destination of the Buddhist followers of Sikkim, Darjeeling and for the devotees of Bhutan. For the Sikkimese Buddhist, these Caves are like ‘Char Dhaam’ of the Hindus. The ardent Buddhist devotees especially from Sikkim make pilgrimage to these caves at least once in their lifetime.
HOW AND FROM WHERE TO START THE PILGRIMAGE
There are many ways to get to the Four Holy Caves and although it is not mandatory to visit these holy caves all at once, it is strictly recommended that one follows the correct procedure to reap the full benefits of conducting this pilgrimage of visiting the Four Holy Caves. It is also recommended that one initiates this pilgrimage during the months of February and March or October and November, when the weather is relatively favourable and the conditions in these sites are suitable for visits.
The pilgrimage to the Four Holy Caves should be clockwise, circumambulating the Tashiding Hill, which means one has to start their pilgrimage from the Eastern Cave ‘Sharchog Beyphug’ then onward to Southern Cave ‘Khadro Sangphug’ thereafter to the Western Cave ‘Nub Dechen Phug’ and then to ‘Jhang Lhari Nyingphug’ and finally to Tashiding to wind up their pilgrimage.
Here is a day wise plan as to how one should conduct the pilgrimage if one wishes to;
One should first make provisions to get to Sangmo Village near Rabongla in South Sikkim, from where our pilgrimage begins early in the morning. Once at Sangmo Village, the pilgrims can visit the first cave, ‘Sharchog Beyphug’ and offer prayers and soak in the spectacle. After this visit, the pilgrims should head towards Gyalshing or Pelling, as it is from here that we move toward our third cave, early next morning. On the way to Gyalshing taking the Rabongla – Kewzing Road and on reaching Legship, one should take the diversion toward Jorethang Road and about 4 kms before reaching Reshi, the pilgrims can visit the second cave. ‘Khandro Sangphug’. In order to reach this cave, one has to dismount the vehicle and walk down towards the River Rangit which is just about 200 meters from the road. Pilgrims then need to cross the River Rangit where the second cave awaits. Here the pilgrims can also enjoy the natural hot spring which is believed to have medicinal and healing qualities. After this visit is over, the pilgrims should head back towards Legskhip and then towards Gyalshing /Pelling via the Legship –Gyalshing Road for the night halt.
Early next morning, the pilgrims can explore Pemayangste Monastery and the Rabdentse Ruins before heading toward the third cave. After the visit to these sites, pilgrims should head towards Darap via the Pelling-Darap Road and after reaching Darap one should head towards Rimbi Power Station, where there is a small village and it is only till here that motorable road exists. Pilgrims now need to take a hike towards Dechenthang which is a small village and acts like a base camp towards the third cave. The hike to Dechenthang is about an hour’s journey. Thereafter, from Dechenthang one must endure a 6 hour uphill trek through treacherous landscape in order to reach Dechenphug. So it is advisable to spend the night at Dechenthang and rejuvenate before continuing the trek.
Pilgrims can hire porters and a guide at Dechenthang and should start early in the morning if they wish to return to Dechenthang for the night. However, if one wishes to visit Kagye Lhakhang as well there is a small R.M.D.D Hut near the third cave ‘Dechenphug’ where the pilgrims can halt for the night after visiting the cave. The hut can accommodate up to 20 individuals. If the pilgrims wish to visit the Kagye Lhakhang, then one must start early next morning to visit this Lhakhang and head back towards Dechenthang, or if one does not wish to stay at this hut then one must skip the visit to Kagye Lhakhnag and can trek back to Dechenthang the same day after exploring the cave, and spend the night at Dechenthang.
The pilgrims must start early on the 4th Day as this entire day and the next would be spent on travelling. The pilgrims must hike back to the village near the Rimbi power station, and head toward Yuksam. One may visit the Khecheopalri Lake on their way to Yuksam and by the time the pilgrims reach Yuksam it would already have been late in the evening, so the pilgrims may spend the night there.
Early next morning one can visit all the holy places around Yuksam, such as the Holy Throne of the three lamas who crowned the first King of Sikkim, Dubdue Monastery, Phagmorong and Thakthungrong caves situated near this monastery and then head toward Sunon Monastery. To reach this monastery, the pilgrims need to take the Yuksam- Tashiding Route and take a diversion at Chongrang Village to reach Sunon Gonpa where the pilgrims can halt for the night.
Now, the pilgrims may start early from Sunon Gonpa by vehicle toward Gurung Goan at Labdang. Here one can find porters and guides for the trek toward the final cave, ‘Jhang Lhari Nyingphug’. The pilgrims now need to trek for a gruelling 8 hours before reaching a small R.M.D.D hut, where the pilgrims need to spend the night at this hut. It is advisable that the pilgrims carry provisions for cooking and bedding before embarking on this journey.
Early next morning the pilgrims must trek an additional 1 hour before reaching the fourth and final cave, ‘Jhang Lhari Nyingphug’. After an hour or so of worship and exploration one can head back to R.M.D.D hut, and take a break and then trek back to Gurung Goan where the pilgrims can mount their vehicle and travel towards Tashiding to wind up this pilgrimage. On reaching Tashiding, the pilgrims can halt at Sinek Bazaar at Tashiding.
Now the pilgrims can visit the Tashiding Monastery and explore the area chanting mantras and worshiping the stupas and other religious artefacts. After this, the pilgrims may return to their homes accordingly.
Immediately after a lapse of one week, the pilgrims has to perform a ‘Nay-shak’at their home by means of engaging a minimum of four lamas, which is an act of purifying oneself of unseen or unnoticed sins committed and unknowingly breaking the sacred vows during the course of this pilgrimage. Nayshak puja is s simple Tshog (Prasad) and Chime (Butter Lamp) offerings with prayers by the lamas.
With this the pilgrimage officially concludes and this however is the actual prescribed procedure of conducting the pilgrimage to the four great holy caves.