The Tolung Monastery was first built in the reign of ChogyalChakdorNamgyal in the early part of the eighteenth century. It contains rare and valuable scriptures and artifacts of other monasteries that were brought here for safety during the invasion of Sikkim by the Nepalis during the late seventeenth century and the early nineteenth century. A brass chorten within the monastery contains the ashes of one of the incarnates of Lama LatsunChembo, the patron saint of Sikkim. All the relics are kept sealed in thirteen boxes under the supervision of the Government of Sikkim. Once every three years in the month of April the relics are shown to the public in the monastery complex. The last display of the relics was held in May 97. The old monastery has been demolished because its structure had become weak and a new one has been built in its place.
Tolung at an altitude of 2488 m(8160 ft) ft lies in the sparsely Lepcha populated Dzongu area of North Sikkim and a permit is required from the District Collectorate at Mangan to visit it. To reach Tolung monastery, one has to travel by road uptoLinzey. There is a daily bus service from Gangtok to a place slightly short of Linzey. From Linzey to Tolung is a 20 kilometres walk and takes approximately five hours along the thundering Tolungriver, which is a boiling torrent at many places, through thick forests and cardamom fields. The track itself is easy but is surrounded by precipitous cliffs from which plummet down waterfalls in white plumes hundreds of feet into the narrow gorges to the valley floor. Birds tweet louder to make themselves heard over the sound of the waterfalls and the rivers. Perched precariously on these cliffs here and there are the huts of the hardy Lepchas. As one walks towards Tolung, the surrounding mountains on the top of which ice clings tenaciously even during the summer seem to close in. On reaching Tolung one can understand why the Sikkimese chose this place to keep the relics here out of the reach of the invading Nepalis. It is so secluded and perhaps because of its high altitude was easy to guard.
At Tolung there is a Pilgrims Hut. A further walk of about an hour along the Tolungriver takes one to a religious spot called DevtaPani.
During my trek to TolungGompa, I found that I had forgotten to wear my watch and so I asked a Lepcha whom I met on the trail what the time was. He told me that he had never learnt to read a watch. I then realised that time was a meaningless concept here – there were no deadlines to be met and no tasks to be done that required hurrying. Time here itself moves at a different pace.
I passed an old cemetery and thought of the deceased who led a life that lacked in opportunities because of the circumstances that prevail in a rural environment. Because of this many were not able to bring out their dormant capabilities. Perhaps if given a different upbringing, many would have become celebrities in some field or the other.
A stanza, from Thomas Gray’s Elegy written in a Country Churchyard, which seemed so apt here, echoed in my ears
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of the ocean bear,
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.