Darjeeling has a large Tibetan community, and its Ghum Monastery is one of the city's most popular sights. With its traditional architecture and golden exterior detailing, the monastery itself is a sight to behold, but the monastery’s 15-foot-tall (4.6-meter-tall) Maitreya Buddha statue and the views of the surrounding hills are what bring many visitors here.
Situated on the outskirts of Darjeeling, at some 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) in elevation, the Ghum Monastery (also called the Yiga Choeling Monastery) is among the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in West Bengal. It was constructed in 1850 by Mongolian monk and astrologer Sokpo Sherab Gyatso, and today it's run by the Yellow Hat, or Gelugpa, sect. Sunrise tours to nearby Tiger Hill often include stops at the monastery.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Ghum Monastery is a must-see for those with an interest in architecture and spirituality.
- Bring a jacket—it can be chilly here, especially in the early morning.
- The monastery is not suitable for wheelchair users.
How to Get There
Ghum Monastery is located on the outskirts of Darjeeling in the town of Ghum, about 15 minutes by car from the sunrise observatory at Tiger Hill or 20 minutes south from the Darjeeling Clock Tower at the center of town. While there is a narrow-gauge railway to Darjeeling, many people fly to the nearest airport in Siliguri, about a three-hour drive away.
When to Get There
The monastery is open year-round from morning until evening, though many visitors come first thing in the day, often after watching the sunrise from nearby Tiger Hill. The monastery also offers a number of religious celebrations throughout the year, including Tibetan New Year (Losar), usually in February, and the birthday of the Dalai Lama, in July.
India’s Tibetan Community
India has many large Tibetan settlements and a huge population of Tibetan people, largely because the Dalai Lama fled there following the 1959 Tibetan Uprising. The largest settlement is the hamlet of McLeod Ganj, near Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama himself resides; the Tibetan Government in Exile is also located here.