Our hotel was a couple of kilometers from the ruins of the Rabdentse Palace. I’d read that the forest around it was good for sighting birds. The Family talked to a local birding enthusiast who also recommended it. I was thinking of walking there in the afternoon and doing some late afternoon birding after seeing the ruins. When I said this to The Family, she pointed out that it had rained every afternoon till then. We decided to go there in the morning. When we left the hotel, bird activity was peaking. We saw a woodpecker as we left. But the forest around Rabdentse turned out to be dense and full of high trees without any opening. We could hear warblers everywhere around us, but the foliage was too dense to get a good view of even a single bird. The kilometer long road to the ruins jiggled through the cool forest.
The Archaeological Survey of India restored and now maintains the ruins. There were signboards 250 meters, 100 meters, 50 meters and 20 meters from the entrance to the complex of ruins. We passed the stones which marked the throne of justice, Namphongang, and came to the Taphap chorten, which used to mark the entrance to the palace. Here the ASI has boards which explain the history and the layout of the place. The photo alongside shows the Taphap chorten from the inner side of the complex. The Namphongang cannot be seen from this point.
The second Chogyal of Sikkim, Tensung Namgyal, succeeded to the throne in 1670 CE and moved his capital from Yuksom to Rabdentse. Tensung’s reign was peaceful, but immediately after this, the kingdom of Sikkim became embroiled in wars with Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal. During the reign of the fifth Chogyal, Sikkim lost much territory to Nepal and Bhutan. The sixth Chogyal, Tenzing Namgyal, came to the throne in 1780 CE. During his reign Sikkim was conquered by Nepal and Rabdentse palace was overrun. The Chogyal had to take refuge in Lhasa. His son, the seventh Chogyal, Tshudphud Namgyal, managed to recover his territory, but did not re-establish the capital in Rabdentse.
The ruins of the living quarters has tremendously thick walls (above). We wandered through several connected rooms in this block and then walked over the next block which seems to be the place where religious rites took place.One can see some decorative patterns etched into a bit of a standing wall. This is too faint to be seen clearly. Propped against it is a stone tablet with the Buddha’s image carved into it (photo alongside). He is shown sitting in padmasana in the dhyana mudra. This is a characteristic position of the Sakyamuni. I didn’t see this representation too often in Sikkim.
The image of the ruins of the Rabdentse palace which seems to be universally recognised in Sikkim is the image of the three chortens (above). These were part of the royal temple. Our hotel had created a copy outside one of its restaurants. I was momentarily taken aback at what seemed to be a clothes line strung between them, before I realized that the white flags hanging from them were khata.
We took a little over an hour in the forest and the ruins. The place was nearly empty. One couple and a single tourist from Pune walked through while we were there. The ASI maintains a neat lawn and a small garden around the ruins, and provides a clean washroom and drinking water. We could see the Pemyangtse monastery from the palace, and decided to go there next.ce