Darjeeling Monasteries, Temples & Churches
Hinduism is the predominant religion in Darjeeling and you will see lot many temples of Hindu gods and goddesses here. Most of the Bengalis and Nepalese here are Hindus. Buddhism is the next most widely practiced religion here.
There have been a lot of influx of Tibetan refugees into Darjeeling over the years who are mostly Buddhists. Several wonderful monasteries have come up in Darjeeling over time, some date back to 1800s. Christians are a minority group and mostly have their roots to British colonial time. They too have several lovely churches, some of which were built during the British Raj days.
Some monasteries like the Samten Choling and Old Ghum Monasteries are part of local sightseeing tours. And you can yourself walk up to some temples and shrines like the Mahakal Temple and St Andrews church from the Mall area.
Great Monasteries in Darjeeling
Within the Buddhists there are several sects like the Yellow Hat, Red Hat, Kargyupa and others. And each monastery belongs to a specific sect. There has been a lot of influence of Buddhism that has come to this part of the world from Tibet. Many of the monasteries in Darjeeling are built in traditional Tibetan style.
During mid-February to mid-March the monks at the Buddhist Monasteries fly the prayer flags in typical Tibetan tradition, hold folk dances and other religious activities to welcome the Tibetan New Year which is known as the Losar.
In Tibetan Buddhism, a monastery or the community chapel is often known as the Gompa. Other than a statue of Buddha, you will also find a separate place or a suit inside the Gompa that is reserved for His Holiness Dalai Lama along with his picture.
Here are some of the great monasteries in Darjeeling that are our favorites.
The Monastery which is located at some 1.5 km walking distance from the Mall, was earlier located at the Observatory Hill. It was originally built in 1761, but went through repeated ill fates finally causing the monastery to be relocated to its present location. Considering its original foundation, this is the oldest Buddhist Monastery in Darjeeling. I had the opportunity of spending long personal time with the Head Monk who helped me to get deep insight into the monastery, its background and how it evolved over time. Here is a recollection.
Yiga Choeling Monastery is the original or the old Ghum Monastery. It was created in 1850 and is one of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the Darjeeling area. The main attractions here includes a huge statue of Maitreya or Future Buddha that was created with clay brought from Tibet. The view around is breathtaking.
Belonging to the well known Kargyupa sect of Buddhists, Dali Monastery is located some 5kms away from the main Darjeeling town center. While the chants and drumming during the prayer time creates a serene spiritual ambience, the monastery also offers a huge open terrace where you can relax and watch the monks and other religious activities in a quiet environment.
Located in Ghum and about 7km from the Darjeeling town, Samten Choling is also another prominent Buddhist monastery in the Darjeeling area. Sometimes the locals refer to this one also as the Ghum monastery.
Located in a place called Aloobari some 3kms away from Darjeeling town, the original name of this monastery is Mak Dhog Monastery. It was dedicated to world peace because its time of construction coincided with that of the time of World War-1. It has several statues including that of Buddha and the sage Padmasambhava who transmitted Buddhism in Tibet and Bhutan.
Top Temples in Darjeeling
Mahakal temple is located on top of the Observatory Hill above the Chowrasta Mall and has a sweeping view of the mountains. Mahakal is a Hindu temple that is believed to have self manifested itself in the 1700s. Other than the main temple of Lord Siva, there are also images of Kali, Durga, Ganesha etc in the temple premises. This is the same place where the original Darjeeling Monastery was located that was later shifted to the Bhutia Busti below. It is a great experience to see how still both Hindu priests and Buddhist monks still sit next to each other and chant their respective prayers.
There is a nice two storied Japanese temple at a short distance from the town center. The prayer room is at the upper floor. You can join the prayers that take place once in the morning and again in the afternoon. Next to the temple is the peace pagoda where you will see large idols of Buddha. It's a great place to get lovely views.
This is a beautiful Hindu temple of Lord Shiva located close to the Darjeeling railway station. It was built in 1939 with the inspiration from the architecture of Pasupatinath temple complex of Katmandu, Nepal.
Great Churches in Darjeeling
An old Anglican Church, St. Andrew's is located on the Mall Road. It has brass plaques that memorialize many well known old settlers of Darjeeling who came here in the 1800s. The church was built in the year 1843. Regular Sunday morning services are held at the church.
Agnieszka Ludew (November 2015)
Dear Raj, I am looking for opportunity to stay in the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Darjeeling. Do you have any information if this is accessible for a foreigners? Thank you for this webside and your work. Kind regards
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) November 2015
Hi, Some monasteries can accommodate guests/outsiders temporarily but mostly based on assigned work. Dali monastery is one such place where I have seen foreigners staying while teaching at the school run by the monastery. This needs to be however pre-arranged.