Life at Arunachal Pradesh’s Golden Pagoda: Photo Story

Golden Pagoda during night
Image courtesy: ©Shoma Abhyankar

The sun rises over the Patkai Hills in Arunachal Pradesh, aptly conferred with the sobriquet ‘the land of dawn lit mountains’, as early as 4:30 in the morning. And so does Milanta, the thirteen year old nun who stays at monastery with other young nuns. The men’s quarters also stir with activity. Onseng and Kautong the twelve year old monks go about helping the older monks. These young bhikkus are at Golden Pagoda at Tengapani, Namsai, Arunachal Pradesh.

Also known as Kongmu Kham in Tai Khamti language, the Golden Pagoda opened in 2010 and is the centre of Theravada Buddhism, the oldest Pali canon of Buddha’s preaching. Inspired by Burmese style of temple architecture, it has a 17.6 meter high spire that is surrounded by 12 sub domes.

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A Buddha idol outside the Pagoda
A Buddha idol outside the Pagoda
Image courtesy: ©Shoma Abhyankar

Sitting atop a plateau overlooking the Eastern Himalayas, this shimmering edifice is home to a large bronze meditating Buddha’s idol gifted by chief monk of Wat Aranjikavas of Thailand.

A pair of mythical lions guard the four entrances to the Pagoda
A pair of mythical lions guard the four entrances to the Pagoda
Image courtesy: ©Shoma Abhyankar

A pair of mythical lions sits guarding each of the four entrances of Pagoda. While one of the corners has a tall pillar with four statues surrounding it, the other corners have various statues of Nang Vasundari, a goddess who oversees the offerings made by humans in temples, Chowsang Siwili and a bell post.

Buddha seated on coiled dragon in a pond
Buddha seated on coiled dragon in a pond
Image courtesy: ©Shoma Abhyankar

Across the pagoda in a small pond sits a smaller statue of Buddha on the coiled dragon.

Smaller shrine inside the Pagoda complex
Smaller shrine inside the Pagoda complex
Image courtesy: ©Shoma Abhyankar

A smaller shrine, dispensary, meditation hall, library, monastery and an Ashoka Pillar complete the expansive pagoda complex.

The pagoda as seen from the pond
The pagoda as seen from the pond
Image courtesy: ©Shoma Abhyankar

Set to become the first international Tripitaka centre in India, the shrine is frequently visited by monks from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar especially during prominent festivals like Sangken or water festival and Kathina festival that are observed with much enthusiasm by locals. Young students make it their home to understand the ancient discipline.

Young monks gather for early morning breakfast with their alm bowls
Young monks gather for early morning breakfast with their alm bowls
Image courtesy: ©Shoma Abhyankar

Each day, the young nuns and monks need to finish their ablutions and help the older members of monastery with cleaning the premises and cooking meals for everyone before their schooling begins. Dressed in orange robes all of the hundred bhikkus, the young and older monks along with the head monk assemble at the dining hall with their only worldly possession a pata or alms bowl for a prayer and breakfast.

Young nuns greeting the head monk before leaving for school
Young nuns greeting the head monk before leaving for school
Image courtesy: ©Shoma Abhyankar

While older monks get busy with managing the premise and other duties, the young nuns and monks attend classes. Schooling includes not only the scriptures in ancient Pali language and discourse on Dhamma or a monk’s discipline but also the regular modern curriculum in English and Hindi like any other kid in other conventional schools.

Their evenings are dedicated to quiet meditation and prayers. With the darkness descending on the evening as sun sets around five in the evening, the monks and nuns retire early to practice teachings of Buddha in confines of monastery. The calm and quiet atmosphere at the Pagoda is enhanced as the evening progresses. As the night closes in, all activities at Pagoda cease.

Image courtesy: ©Shoma Abhyankar

How to reach:

The nearest airports are at Tezu and Mohanbari at Dibrugarh. The closest railway station is at Tinsukiya in Assam. Taxi services from these places will be the best mode of transport. New bridges across the rivers have reduced and eased the travel time.

Where to stay:

1. Golden Pagoda Eco Resort with cottages catering to big and small families is just across the Pagoda at Tengapani, Namsai. A common dining area serves simple food.

2. Abor Country River Camp at Pasighat is tented accommodation that arranges for customised local tours.

3. Itanagar hotels are other options.