His Holiness Dalai Lama Addresses the ATPD By premsood
India is home to the worlds largest mountain range – the Himalayas  I lived in Chennai and getting to Himalayas by train would mean a journey or over 3 and half days. But, I had decided that the time had come and I had to get there to have a glimpse of the snow capped mountains.  It was May 2003.

Me and my brother decided to go on a Summer trek organized by Youth hostel in the Himalayas.  Our 2 week leave got approved, and we were off.  To save time, and to get more of the Himalayas, we flew to Delhi.  The agenda was that, we would finish the 9 day trek and head to Dharamsala. I read travelogues of several foreign travelers in India -  Dharamsala was always there on the list.  The idea of getting there excited me.

Set against the backdrop of the Dhauladhar mountains, Dharamsala is perched on the high slopes in the upper reaches of Kangra Valley. It over looks the plains and is surrounded by dense pine trees and Deodar forests. A nearby snowline with numerous streams and cool healthy atmosphere makes the surroundings very attractive.  The town is divided into two distinct and widely separated sections, Upper and Lower Dharamsala, which differ almost a thousand metres in height. What has changed Dharamsala from a sleepy British hill station to a place of pilgrimage for thousands over the world is the electric presence of one man, a modest man at that. Today, Dharamsala has become the synonymous to the Tibetan government in exile and the home of Tibetan leader Tenzin Gyatso His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

The exalted His Holiness the 14th  Lama, fearing persecution by the invading Chinese army, left Lhasa in Tibet overnight, in disguise and sought political asylum in India in 1959. Pandit Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India settled them in this area. The place was liked by Dalai Lama and he made it his residence, and is now more popular as "Tibetan Kingdom in Exile” or "Little Lhasa in India". Facing destruction of their culture and religion (of the country’s 6,259 monasteries, nunneries and temples, all but eight have been completely destroyed since the Chinese occupation), over 80,000 Tibetans have fled the Chinese occupation of their country and followed their spiritual leader and mentor and made India their home. It has a traditional aura, soft-spoken, smiling Tibetans and a bracing climate. Against the backdrop of the splendid, snow-capped Dhauladhar heights are pine, deodar, oak and rhododendron.

We had finished our trekking expedition and reached the base camp Kullu at about 11 am in the morning.  The next bus to Dharamsala was in the night at 9 pm.  We took the bus at 9 pm, and according to me, we were to reach  at 7 am in the morning.  I was wrong.  We reached at 3 am. There were lot of foreigners in the bus, who also got down at Dharamsala. There were a lot of taxi’s and jeeps available at the bus stop.  We took one of them to get to Upper Dharamsala, which is called McLeodganj. The taxi charge was fixed at Rs. 100.  We did not have a hotel reservation, I just had a print out of the budget hotel accommodations available, which I took from Traveljini.com. I though that we will check the accommodations and check in.  But, it was not meant to be.

We went to every hotel that was there in the print out I carried along, every place was closed.   I was wondering what to do, and was thinking of sitting outside a hotel, till they opened in the morning.  The taxi driver was giving up on us, and wanted us to get off.  Then, we requested him to help us out.  The taxi driver was resourceful, and took us to India House.  It seems it is the only hotel that is open 24 hrs.  We checked in, and slept comfortably.  India House is a neat place, where you will get rooms for Rs. 800 upwards per day for 2 people.  Food is not included.  We woke up in the morning, had a hot water bath ( I was bathing after some 8 days of not bathing during the trek. )  I was ready to explore Dharamsala.

One of our trek friend has been to Dharamsala and had stayed at the Monastery for a month.  He told us exactly where we were to stay, where we would eat, what we would do, and where we would go.  The information was very helpful.  I had read up a lot on this place so it was easy for me.

The first thing we did was to check out of India House.  We checked into Hotel Tibet which was on Bhagsu Road.  We wanted to get to Tibet coz it was on the main market street of McLeodganj.  Tibet has 2 types of rooms. Rooms without carpet with windows facing the other buildings – they cost Rs. 500 per day.  Carpetted rooms with windows facing Bhagsu road & Kotwali Bazar – they cost Rs. 600 a day.  We chose the Rs. 600 room.  The window was huge, and if we stood there, we would see the main market area, with locals and tourists walking.  Most important Hotel Tibet gives you a news paper called Tibetan Review, it is interesting and covers news about the Tibetans struggle to free Tibet.  Tibet also has a restaurant.  

Dharamsala is a busy bazaar town and has established itself as the travellers base camp, who come to explore the nearby mountains. The Kotwali Bazaar provides the entire colour and characteristic of a small town, which is mixed with the simple life style.

Buddhist monks and nuns walk down the streets seemingly oblivious to the trappings of a material world, and the government-in-exile tries hard to wake the rest of the world from its indifference. The colourful temple and Gompas, which reflect the culture of Tibet, add attraction for the visitor. The Kangra museum gives an overview of the rich past of the region and on the other hand there are institutes that have been established to preserve the Tibetan art, cultures and traditions.  Even today, the Tibetan community dominates the town, still it has retained the colonial lifestyle and British fervour

 

The pace of life  is laid back.  The tourists here come  as D’sala / McLeodganj is a  inexpensive hill station destination in India, and there is something special about this place.  There are Bhuddhist monasteries, yoga schools, meditations schools and centers – all that India is about, and all that they know about India.   The place has nothing luxurious. All the restaurants are family run, with very humble interiors.  It is this simplicity that makes people come here again and again.  I met a couple of tourists who were in D’sala for the 2nd of 3rd time.  The pace here is so addictive, it is close to Nirvana.

There is a circle close to the Union Taxi Stand / Bus Stand, and there are 6 streets that diverse from the circle like the fingers on a hand.  The one on the extreme left goes to Lower Dharamsala and is your way out of the place.  The road on the extreme right, leads to the Tsug-Lag-Khang Monastery.  The rest of the roads are full of restaurants, antique shops, handicraft shops, tea shops, pizzerias, cinema theatres, banks, forex centers, travel agents, tourist offices, adventure planners…shoe shiners, etc etc.

The cinema theatres are single rooms, with benches.  The film is projected on a white wall or on a screen from behind with a projector.  All the latest movies are screened for Rs. 10 per ticket.  The names of the movies to be screened are provided on a black board outside the theatre along with the show timings.  In case you wish to watch the movie, you just have to be present yourself at the right time.

According to me the best apple pies, pastas, macaronis, augratins, cennelonis, momos are made at Dharamsala.  These local people have become experts in catering to the tastes of the tourists.  There are several Tibetan, Mexican  and Israeli restaurants also.  Israeli momos are extremely tasty and come with variety of fillings.   Most of these restaurants have photos of Richard Gere and Goldie Hawn as these celebrities are regulars here.

I must make a special mention of this restaurant called Sunrise Café.  It is diagonally in front of Tibet Hotel on Bhagsu Road.  Sunrise cafe is open for almost 18 hrs a day.  Suresh, a young 20 something, is the  owner, runs the place all by himself, leads a chilled out life, and serves breakfast, lunch, dinner along with a variety of exotic teas.  Breakfast options available with him are cornflakes of over 6 varieties, breads, buns, flavoured potridge, egg omelettes of over 10 varieties, chais of over 15 varieties.  Every meal costs about INR 20.  It is that economical.  His restaurant is just  4 X 7 feet long.  With a bench in the middle, and benches on all the 3 sides close to the wall, Sunrise Café is very down to earth place.  He has a collage on the walls on all the sides.  Visitors here can leave their snaps and trinkets.  He also had a rag book.  People can write their experiences in this book.  He has some 4 to 5 book in all.  You can read others writings as well and you will find that many tourists found their Nirvana in Manali, Dharamsala or at Ladakh and have left their notes.  I had all my meals at Sunrise café as it is very close to Hotel Tibet.  The fact is that no place in McLeodganj is far away.  All places are walkable.

There are lots of places in and around Dharamsala / McLeodganj.

Tsug-Lag-Khang (Central Cathedral) - Though a plain and utilitarian substitute for its far more splendid namesake in Lhasa, also known as the Jokhang, the Tsug-Lag-Khang is nevertheless fascinating and peaceful. Situated opposite the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tsug-Lag-Khang is known to the local Indians as the Main Temple.

It  is the most important Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet, and one of the first structures built when His Holiness arrived in India, and today it is a place that is often bustling with prayerful activity. Named after a 7th century temple in Lhasa, Tsuglag Khang is simple in comparison, yet still fascinating and extremely peaceful. The temple enshrines three main images: a three meter high gilded bronze statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha; one of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion of whom the Dalai Lama is considered an incarnation; and Padmasambhava, the 8th century Indian who introduced Buddhism to Tibet. Both Avalokitesvara and Padmasambhava are facing Tibet. The image of Avalokitesvara has a fascinating history. During the period when the Chinese destroyed Buddhist temples, the original Avalokitesvara image, which was in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, was thrown away. A wrathful and a peaceful face images of the Avalokitesvara were salvaged, and in 1970, after passing through many hands, these faces were encased in the new Avalokitesvara which stands at Tsuglag Khang. It is silver crafted and has eleven faces, one thousand arms and one thousand eyes. Also at Tsuglag Khang is a collection of sacred texts known as the Khagyur and the Tengyur. The Khagyur are the direct teachings of Buddha, whereas the Tengyur are commentaries on the Khagyur by Indian and Tibetan scholars. The Namgyalma Stupa erected as a memorial to those who laid down their lives for the cause of the freedom of Tibet.  The places mentioned below are a must see.  But well, its up to you.

Tushita Meditation Center : Tushita aims to provide a friendly and conducive environment for people to contact, learn and put into practice the teachings of the Buddha. It is  centre for the study and practice of Buddhism from the Tibetan Mahayana tradition.

Dall Lake - Surrounded by high and green Deodar trees is the lake, which fills a mountain bowl. Situated 11-kms away from the town, this lake is easily approachable by road and makes an enchanting and serene picnic spot. St. John’S Church In Wilderness - 7-km upward from Dharamsala, between Forsyth Ganj ( Forsyth Ganj is the area at the base of Dharamsala mountain ) and Mcleod Ganj lies the charming St. John’s Church. It was built in 1852 and is dressed in grey stone with some fine Belgian stained glass windows donated by Lady Elgin. The church is popularly known as the church of St. John in Wilderness.

Dharmkot - Just 11-km away from Dharamsala, located on the crest of a hill lie this attractive picnic spot, which presents a panoramic view of the Kangra valley and Dauladhar ranges

Lord Elgin’s Memorial - After the honors of 1857, India’s First War of independence, Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India. Her Prime Minister, Lord Canning made the proclamation and the Governor General’s title was raised to that of Viceroy of India.

Namgyal Monastery - In 1575 Sonam Gyatso, the Third Dalai Lama, officially founded a monastery, which later came to be known as Namgyal Dratsang (Victorious Monastery). Since its inception, the monastery has assisted the Dalai Lamas in their public religious activities for the welfare of Tibet.

The Shrine of Bhagsunath - Just 11-km from the town center of Dharamsala is the ancient temple of Bhagsunath. There are many fresh water springs close to the temple, which are considered sacred by the Hindus.  The Bhagsu Road leads to Bhagsunath Shrine and water fall.

Triund - Triund is a popular picnic spot at an height of 2827 m. The area is on the foothills of Dhauladhar range and is 17-kms from Dharamsala. The snow line starts at Ilaqua, which is five kms from Triund. The breathtaking views of the mountains and the valleys makes Triund an ideal picnic spot and trekking spot.

Potala Painters Village - The traditional Buddhist paintings are called Potala Paintings.  Artists draw images of the Bhuddha and his incarnations in various forms.  The paintings are made of vegetable dyes and are later decorated with Gold and Silver paint.  The painting is done on a silk cloth.  These paints take a very long time to complete and are later mounted on Silk plaques.  These paintings are extremely expensive and are available at prices INR 3000 and upwards. There are very few artisans of Potala painting left today.  In McLeodganj there is a place, where one can go to the Potala paintings center and can see the artisans at work, and can pick up paintings at a good rate.

There are several other places in Dharamsala that we could not go to if you are staying for about 5 to 7 days .  They are

Chinmaya Tapovan  - Just 10-km from the town is the tranquil ashram complex set up by the great exponent of the Gita--Swami Chinmayananda. Situated on the banks of Bindu Saras, the ashram includes a 9m high image of Hanuman, a Ram temple, a meditation hall, a school and a health & recreation center.

Kareri – The Kareri lake is about 22 kms from Dharamsala, located in the cool depths of a pine grove. It is surrounded by green meadows and forests of tall oak & pine and is at a altitude of 3250 m.

Tatwani & Machhrial - There are hot springs situated at Tatwani, 25-km from Dharamsala but on the way, at Machhrial, is a waterfall twice as big as the one near the Bhagsunath temple.

Trilokpur - On the way from Pathankot, 41-km from Dharamsala are the unique cave temples with a stalactite and stalagmites dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Chamunda Devi Temple - Not far from Dharamsala is the famous temple of Chamunda Devi. It is in a tiny village called Dadh, 15 kms away from Dharamsala, on the Palampur road.  It is in a enchanting spot with glorious views of the mountains, the Baner Khud, Pathiar and Lahla forests.

Maharana Pratap Sagar - Named in honour of the great patriot ’Maharana Pratap’ (1572 - 97 AD), the Maharana Pratap Sagar was once known as the ’Pong Dam Reservoir’. Over the river Beas, the "Pong Dam" was completed in 1976. Its reservoir has an area of about 45,0000 hectares at maximum possible flooding.  In 1983, the Sagar was declared a wildlife sanctuary and over 2,20 species of bird belonging to 54 families have been sighted over the waters and the fringing mud-banks-these include black - headed gulls, plovers, terns, ducks, water-fowl and egrets. The first sighting in the region of the red-necked grebe, was made at the Sagar. The wetland’s location at the head of the Indian plains has made it a suitable habitat and stopover for migratory birds that enter India from Central Asia. The land portion of the sanctuary has barking deer, sambar, wild borars, nilgai, leopards and claw-less others. Twenty-seven species and sub-species of fish belonging to six families have been recorded in the Sagar’s waters.

Norbulinka Institute - Just 4-kms from Dharamsala is Norbulinka. This place has heavy Japanese influence. The Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan Culture was founded by the Department of Religion and Culture to preserve and promote Tibetan art and culture in exile.  The traditional dance form of Tibet ‘Ihamo’ is taught here.

Nurpur Fort - Orginally known as Dhameri, 66-km from Dharamsala and 24-km from Pathankot, Nurpur Fort was renamed by the Emperor Jehangir, son of the Great Moghul Jalal-Ud-Din Mohammad Akbar. The fort is now in its ruins, but still has some finely carved reliefs.

Andretta - Situated just 13-kms away from Palampur, lies this dwelling place of artist S.Sobha Singh. It houses a gallery of some of his major works and a pottery center.

Kunal Pathri - These are the rock temples from which the place derives its name. Kunal pathri is a 3 kms flat walk from Kotwali Bazaar.

Tibetan Medical & Astronomical Institute trains students in Tibetan medicine and astronomical sciences.  Tibetan children handicrafts and vocational center  instructs Tibetan refugees in the arts of thanka painting, carpet weaving and even marketing. The Tibetan Children’s Village School runs with the active support of the HH 14th Lama. Library of Tibetan works and archives has the collection of largest number of Tibetan Manuscrips.  Classes on Dhamma are conducted here, where the Monks translate the Dhammas and teach the students.

After spending 3 days at Dharamsala / McLeodganj it was time for us to leave.  We felt like we had cleansed our body, soul and the mind in one shot.  I had bought some stuff from the local bazaar, the things I always wanted to pick up – some Tibetan antique jewelry, t-shirts with Tibetan symbols on it, prayer wheels, photo graphs of HH 14th Lama and some books of Buddhism.  We packed our bags and boarded our bus to [URL=http://www.indiamike.com/india/article.php?a=41][COLOR=Navy]Delhi[/COLOR][/URL] in the night.  We are now at Chennai, even 1 yr later, the memories of McLeodganj, are still fresh in the mind.  I can’t wait to go back there and indulge in the Apple pies, apple teas and the stuffed momos.

Getting there :  

By Road : Bus service is available from Manali to this place. One can drive from Delhi via Chandigarh, Kiratpur, Bilaspur and it’s an 8-hours journey. From Delhi and Shimla, luxury buses ply to Dharamsala. Nearest railway station : Pathankot is 85-km and is the nearest railhead for Dharamsala. Trains from all over the country make a stop over at Pathankot and from here it is a three-hour journey to Dharamsala.  The nearest stations on the picturesque mountain railway (narrow gauge) are at Kangra and Nagrota (about 20 km south of Dharamsala).

Nearest airports : Dharamsala can be approached by air from Delhi and the nearest Airport is at Gaggla, just 13-km away from the town.

Local Transport : You can walk it within Dharamsala.  You can also take a  taxi from the Taxi Union Stand at the Circle. There are buses between Upper and Lower Dharamsala.

Best time : Summer is  best – july august time.  Winters can get bitterly cold, and the entire place can get covered with snow. Trip duration :  3 days Where to stay :  These are the list of budget accommodations that I recommend.

Chonor House Hotel : 01892 21006, Glenmore Cottages : 01892 21010, Hotel Bhagsu : 01892 21091, Hotel Himalayam Queen : 01892 21184, Hotel India House : 01892 21457, Hotel Tibet : 01892 21587, Hotel Natraj : 01892 21574, Hotel Surya : 01892 21418 / 21419

Dharamsala’s accommodation options include HPTDC’s hotels, guest houses, PWD and Forest rest houses also, which are located in and around the place and are available at resonable prices.