The visit to the Tea Garden and Factory was a big enlightenment for a tea lover like me and I decided to spend the rest of the day roaming around the Mall and a visiting the Mahakal Temple. The hill that rises on the North of the Chowrasta Mall is called the Observatory Hill. One of the most beautiful hotels in Darjeeling, the Windemere is located on this hall and a glimpse of the hotel can be taken from the Mall itself. Another important feature of this hill, of course, is the Mahakal Temple. The temple belongs to Hindu god ‘Shiva’ however the place is sacred for both Hindus and Buddhists and naturally, a lot of myths are associated with this place.
Till 1879, for over a century, there was a Buddhist Monastery in the place of the temple. The monastery was built by Lama Dorje Rinzing in the year 1765. The first myth says the name of the place – ‘Dorje-ling’ or ‘Darjeeling’ came from the name of the Lama, who was also one of the first permanent inhabitants of the place. Though the most common belief is that the name originated from the Tibetan word – ‘Dorje’ which means thunder. The monastery was destroyed during the Gorkha invasion of 1815 and was rebuilt in 1861. This was shifted to a lower altitude – at Bhutia Busti in the year 1879. This was again destroyed during an earthquake in 1934.
This is one side of the legend. There is another legend that in the years 1782, almost a decade after the monastery of Dorje Rinzing was built, three shiva-lingas representing Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva appeared in the site and the Mahakal Temple was built. This again associated itself with the name of the place. It is believed that these lingas were unbreakable and thus called – Durjay-Lingas from which the name Darjeeling originated.
I started walking through the Mahakal Market – a makeshift market which sells mostly woollens and handicrafts. Soon, I found the staircase on the left which leads to the temple. The stair starts and only after a few flights end abruptly. After that, a narrow steep road continues to the top. It does not take more than 15 minutes to climb the hill but the steepness of the path becomes a problem for the elder. The administration has, appropriately, kept a few seating benches for the elders to take rest. I could see an old couple, most probably from Bihar as their dialect suggests, taking some breadth. They were, in fact, descending. I could make that out from the large tilaks on their forehead. Keeping the white cottages of Windemere on my left, I kept on climbing and after a short while, the summit was in front of me. The Siddhi Sai Baba Temple and the Hanuman Temple were the first ones to come across. Both the temples are small in size and do not look attractive by any means. these are more like the roadside temples I could see all over Kolkata. A priest, seating in front of the Sai Baba Temple was staring at me with an eagerness that I would visit the temple. On my way, I could not find a single Hindu sign. The entire path was surrounded by the colourful prayer flags of Buddhists. Though the monastery has found a new place, the hilltop is still a very sacred place among the Buddhists. A group of Buddhist lamas were also seen seated on one side of the temple complex.
A couple on their honeymoon – the red & White set of Bangles on the hand of the lady suggest that – started their puja by walking around the temple. I also started to have a walk around that path. On a clear day – a superb view of the Mount Kunchenjungha can be seen from here. The land of Sikkim is also visible from the hilltop. The surrounding path has many seats which were almost fully occupied by the devotees. The temple complex is entered with a gate with hanging bells and two guarding lions on both sides of it. The first temple is seen on the right of the entrance gate is that of the goddess Kali. Walking a few meters on the path took me to the main Mahakal temple.
A small white Chorten was also there. It is a memorial of the Dorje Lama, who used to be a caretaker of the erstwhile monastery. Small shrines of Durga, Krishna, Ganesha were also seen around the main temple. The temple itself is small and does not follow any particular style of architecture. The entrance gate is guarded by two bulls on both sides while another- the Nandi – facing the temple. The top beam of the gate has figures of deer on both sides while the centre having a Buddhist symbol. I was surprised to enter the temple seeing idols of Buddha alongside the three Shiva-Lingas. I was aware that the place is sacred for both Hindus and Buddhists but I simply had no idea that the main temple complex has idols of both Hindu deities and Buddha. Two priests – one Hindu and another Buddhist were seated on two sides of the idols and were performing the rituals at the same time. That was surely the best picture of religious harmony I could think of.
Remember: The entire place is full of monkeys who don’t bother you unless you do the same to them. Don’t carry foods in hand and don’t eat anything in front of them.
I spent a few time on the benches looking the devotees come and leave. It was a peaceful environment just ideal for relaxing. The chant of the Buddhist prayer and the Hindu mantra with time to time ringing of the prayer bells make it a heavenly place. As the sunlight was starting to dim, I started my descent. I had plans to continue my tea experience by giving a visit to the Nathmull’s in the evening.