BABA MANDIR, East Sikkim
Baba Mandir is a distinguished sightseeing place of Sikkim. This “mandir” or shrine is dedicated to “Baba” Harbhajan Singh, who was a soldier of the Indian Army. He died near the Nathula Pass in eastern Sikkim, India. Two shrines have been built to show reverence to Baba Harbhajan Singh. The old one has been built at the site of the bunker, where Baba Harbhajan was posted during his tenure in the Indian Army. The new one has been built at close proximity from Changu Lake.
Old Baba Mandir
At a distance of 60 km from the majestic Gangtok city towards the legendary Nathula, you will find a road leading towards the Kupup valley up to Tukla. A bifurcated road from Tukla would connect to the Old Baba Mandir (Bunker). At this place; the samadhi of Baba Harbhajan, famously known, as Old Baba Mandir has been built.
Harbhajan Singh was born in the Sadrana village of Gujranwala district (Presently in Pakistan) into a Sikh family on August 30, 1946. On 9th February 1966 he got enrolled into the Punjab Regiment of Indian army as a sepoy. The year 1968 brought havoc misfortune for the states of Sikkim and North Bengal, as they were under the fury of natural disaster. Floods, landslides and heavy rainfall claimed thousands of lives in the two states. Sepoy Harbhajan Singh made an immense contribution during this time in helping the sufferers to sustain. On October 4, 1968, while he was escorting a mule column from Tuku La, his battalion headquarters to Donguchui La, Harbhajan Singh suddenly slipped and fell into a fast flowing nullah and unfortunately drowned. Strong water current carried his body for about 2 kms from the site of the accident. He was searched with all efforts, but his body went missing. On the fifth day of his missing, his fellow Pritam Singh had a dream, where Harbhajan Singh himself informed him of his tragic death and he also mentioned that his body is lying underneath the heap of snows. Harbhajan Singh also expressed the strong desire to have a samadhi made after him. However, Pritam Singh did not pay much importance to his dream. But later, when Harbhajan Singh’s body was discovered at the very place, which he had mentioned in the dream, all were taken aback. And, to honor his wish, a samadhi was built near Chhokya Chho at an elevation of around 4,000 meters, which gained popularity as the Old Baba Mandir. This samadhi is less visited by tourists. Visitors need to climb 50 stairs to reach the bunker, the site where the samadhi has been built. This was the place where Baba was posted during his service period in Indian army.
New Baba Mandir
However, for the tourists’ convenience, the samadhi of Baba Harbhajan Singh has been reconstructed at the junction of Kupup Gnathang road and the trail leading to Menmecho Lake, on November 11, 1982. And this shrine is popularly recognized by tourists as New Baba Mandir.
Hoards of devotees visit the shrine of Harbhajan Singh every year. The shrine features three room structures. There is a large portrait of Baba in the central room, which has been placed with other Sikh Gurus and Hindu deity. At the right of the central room, there is the personal room of Baba. The room houses all essential household belongings, needed for daily livelihood, starting from clothes, slippers, shoes to a clean sleeping camp bed. Neatly ironed uniform and polished boots are also kept. The bedsheets are reportedly found crumbled each morning and the boots become muddy by evening. There is another small room, which is used as office cum storeroom. The room is filled with unused slippers, water bottles, toothbrushes and other items that are offered to Baba. The salary of Major Harbhajan Singh has not been stopped and he is also granted his annual leave.
There is a strong belief that water kept in the shrine of Baba gains healing property and turns into sacred water that can cure all possible ailments. This blessed water is needed to be consumed within 21 day and in this period, no family members of the ailing person is supposed to have non-vegetarian food. It is also believed that the slippers kept in the temple, help to cure gout and other foot problems. Followers, who cannot reach to Baba’s temple, are allowed to send letters to Baba, which are opened by Baba’s associates.
It is believed that Baba Harbhajan Singh guards the international boundary between India and China, over the last three decades and he is accomplishing this task alone. Even the Chinese army also confirms that they have noticed a human figure, guarding the border at night, riding on a horse. It is also said that Baba Harbhajan Singh foretells any dangerous activity on the border through the dreams of the fellow army men and safeguards the force.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
If you are looking for snow then January to March ( Temp: 8°C / -20°C ) is the best time to visit these places. During this time Changu lake that falls on the way and the surrounding hills will be covered in snow. However, if you are looking for beautiful views of Rhododendrons & Orchids in the hills then April to May ( Temp: 18°C / -17°C ) is the best time to visit. During October to December ( Temp: 26°C / -10°C ) of the year weather is clear and you’d get to see the best views of the surrounding hills. So plan your visit accordingly.
HOW TO GET THERE
Airways: The nearest airport is in Bagdogra, West Bengal about 5 hrs drive from Gangtok. Sikkim also has got its first commercial airport at Pakyong, East Sikkim but weather hampers the operation of this airport most of the time. If you are lucky enough you can get a flight directly to Pakyong.
Railways: The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri (NJP) in West Bengal which is about 118 km from Gangtok. You can hire a taxi to reach Gangtok which takes about 3-4 hours.
Roadways: Gangtok is connected to the rest of India via NH10, which links Gangtok to Siliguri. You need to halt at Gangtok and book a taxi and leave early morning to visit Baba Mandir and adjoining areas.