Solophok Chardham in Sikkim is attracting a large number of pilgrims and tourists who are able to see the major features of the 12 Jyotirlingas across India in one place
WORDS: N. B. RAO
ONE still remembers that winter week – more than 40 years ago and less than two years after Sikkim became part of India in 1975 – one travelled across the hilly state, riding in a tottering old bus from Darjeeling and entering what was then a virgin state (both in terms of economic growth and tourism).
Gangtok, the capital, was a sleepy little town and hardly any tourists (foreigners were not allowed those days, and only Indians could travel to the state) were visible. This writer had long, shoulder-length hair and many suspicious security-men would stop him and check his bags and documents before letting the bus proceed.
Of course, today Sikkim is a vibrant tourism hub, especially with disturbance continuing to rage in neighbouring Darjeeling, located less than a hundred kms away in the state of West Bengal.
And one of the most attractive destinations for Indian tourists here is the Solophok Chardham near the town of Namchi, which is a nearly a two-hour drive from Darjeeling.
Eco-friendly, religious tourism
The Sikkim Government, headed by Chief Minister Pawan Chamling (who has been in power since 1994), is now promoting ‘Rural village, eco-friendly and religious tourism’ in the state. And the construction of the pilgrimage-cum-cultural centre at Solophok is part of the drive to promote this tourism.
Solophok Chardham is a unique pilgrim centre for all visitors. The 108-ft high main temple features an 87-ft statue of Lord Shiva in a sitting posture on the Solophok hill.
Importantly, the pilgrim centre also features 12 Jyotirlingas, offering a unique single platform for Shiva devotees in the country.
The original dozen Jyotirlingas in India include the ones at Somnath and Nageshwar (both in Gujarat), Trimbakeshwar, Bhimashankar and Ghirishneshwar (all in Maharashtra), Mallikarjuna (Andhra Pradesh), Mahakaleshwar and Omkareshwar (both in Madhya Pradesh), Vaidyanath (Jharkhand), Rameshwar (Tamil Nadu), Kashi Vishwanath (Uttar Pradesh) and Kedarnath (Uttarakhand).
In Sikkim, it is believed that Shiva incarnated as Kirateshwar in Indrakeel (the present-day Sikkim) and he is worshipped in the state as Lord Kirateshwar. A 16.1/2 ft statue of Kirateshwar is installed in the complex.
Replicas of four ‘dhams’
Similarly, replicas of the four ‘dhams’ (abodes, or ‘chardhams’) – Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Rameswaram – which enables pilgrims to achieve ‘moksha’, have also been built at the centre.
Solophok Chardham is located about 5 kms from Namchi town on a nearly 30-ha piece of land. The complex includes the Shiva statue, the 12 Jyotirlingas, the four dhams, a Sai Baba temple, the Kirateshwar statue and a Nandi bull. It also features a guest house, a Yatri Niwas, auditorium, cafeteria, viewing pavilion, water bodies and a musical fountain as other attractions.
According to Sikkim Tourism, the pilgrimage centre “has been dedicated and designed to place Sikkim in the very conscience, heart and minds of the citizens of India and beyond.”
Besides providing a unique religious and cultural ambience, the Government also expects the pilgrimage-cum-cultural centre to be a tourist attraction both nationally and internationally.
Thanks to the emerging popularity of Solophok Chardham, Namchi is also a vibrant centre today, catering to the needs of pilgrims and other tourists.