Sprawling at he base of the Dhauladhar range of mountains in
Himachal Pradesh is the Kangra Valley. It is said that there are
some 600 temples tucked away in this tranquil valley which is also
home to Tibetan culture at Dharamsala.
North of Kangra, where
the Dhauladhar range delineates the valley, is the hill town of
Dharamsala. In 1849 the British posted a regiment here. It later
flourished into a small hill station and became the administrative
headquarters of Kangra district. Lord Elgin, Viceroy of British
India developed such a great liking for the pine clad forests of
Dharamsala that he wished to be buried in the graveyard of St. Johns
Church. Had he lived longer, Dharamsala might have become the summer
capital of British India. The upper reaches of Dharamsala is called
Mcleod Ganj named after Sir Allen Mcleod, the Governor of Punjab.
The place was favoured mostly by colonial residents. After
Independence in 1947, with the exodus of colonial rulers, the palce
His holiness Tenzin
Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fearing prosecution by the
invading Chinese army, left Lhasa in Tibet overnight in disguise and
sought political asylum in India in March 1959. Along with him came
80,000 Tibetan immigrants following their home. There was immediate
need for a suitable place to settle them.
In this context the name
Nowroojee, a Parsi gentlemen and entrepreneur comes to mind. An
establishment since 1860 named Nowrooee & Sons, mainly
catering to the needs of foreign residents in McLeod Ganj, was being
run by the fifth generation heir. Fearing complete loss of business
on the departure of colonial residents in 1947, he was striving for
survival. He was then unofficial custodian of the deserted estates
and properties left by Mcleod Ganjs departing residents.
Nowroojee, to save his
waning business and to restore the lost glory of the place, wrote to
Pt. Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, and offered vast estate
and properties under his charge. Rest is all history. The place was
liked by the Dalai Lama during his visit and he made Mcleod Ganj his
residence. The place is now more popularly know as Little Lhasa
in India or and is a major refugee settlement. Today there is a
sprawling hill patronized by foreign tourists and the Tibetan
Visitors are attracted to
its traditional aura, soft spoken, ever smiling, god-fearing Tibetan
people and, above all, the refreshing climate, the pines, deodars,
oaks and rhododendron clad mountains unspoiled as yet by
development. In the backdrop is the legendary Dhauladhar rising to
lofty heights. The towering peaks are snowcapped all year round
against the everchanging colour of the sky.
The most challenging and
spectacular trek from Mcleod Ganj is a 12 km climb to Triund. At
2,800 m. there is a level clearing and an icy pond. Above Triund the
mighty Dhauladhar rises in splendour. There are massive rocks
scattered around, exotic plants, cool crisp air and spititual charm.
It is here that one experiences the sounds of silence and clean
heavenly air. A little beyond, at 3,065 m. is a high altitude lake,
Kareri. This is for the more adventurous soul.
Around Mcleod Ganj are
numerous places for day long picnics and treks. To name a few there
is Dal Lake, Talnu fresh water springs near an ancient Bhagsu Nath
Temple, waterfalls at a distance of 3 km from the bifurcation on the
way to Triund. Dharamkot, at a distance of 2 km, offer fine views of
the valley and the Dhauladhar beyond Triund. In this tranquil
atmosphere, the Tushita Retreat Center and Vipasana Meditation Centre
are located side by side.
They offer seven to ten
days free residential courses on meditation and spiritual retreat on
the 2,500 year old principles and techniques of Buddha teachings.
Tushita also provides frequent foundation courses on Tibetan
Buddhism. Spiritual calm prevails at Dharamkot.
The, main hub of activity
is the bus station crossing where several roads branch off for main
Dharamsala, Triund, Bhagsu Nath, Dharamkot, Dal Lake and the Dalai
Lamas residence. Hotels and restaurants to suit every pocket
and palate are located here. Many upmarket hotels and resorts with
elegantly constructed towering facades are clustered a little way
down and at the end of the lane is the Himachal Tourism run hotel.
Nearby the bus stand on
the branching roads are a variety of restaurants. The aroma of
Tibetan cuisine lingers in the air. The whole atmosphere pulsates
with sights and sounds of Tibet. Pavement stalls offer traditional
areas and crafts, cheap and often fake imported goods and hosiery.
Precious and semi-precious stones and silver jewellery are some
irresistible buys. In the main narrow market is Namgyalma Stupa
erected as a memorial to those who laid down their lives for the
cause of freedom for Tibet. Passersby continue to turn prayer wheel
while chanting silent prayers. A statue of Sakyamuni Buddha is
enshrined in the stupas main chamber.
A fifteen minutes walk to
lower Dharamsala and there is the quaint little neo-Gotthic stone
church in the thick forest of pine and deodar a reminder of it
colonial past. The St. Johns Church in the Wilderness
was commissioned in 1852 by the British army and civilians. The
exquisite stained glass windows from Belgium are well preserved and
is the main attraction. On one side of the church is a befitting
memorial to Lord Elgin, Viceroy and Governor of India who passed away
in 1867. The Church cemetery gravestones read like a whos who
of the days of the British Raj.
Tibetan religious and
cultural influence is evident in the form of landmarks: painted rocks
and stones, chortens, prayer wheels and sign boards in Tibetan script
of various establishments. The offices of Central Tibet
Administration (CTA) was established in 1960 with the formation of
the government in exile and comprises various departments, councils,
commissions, assemblies and organizations. The Cultural life of
Mcleod Ganj is colourful and rich in tradition. Fairs and festivals
are occasions for joyful songs and dances and merge well with Indian
culture. Losar festival, Tibetan New Year, Buddha Jayanti and the
birthday of the Dalai Lama are observed with much fervour and gaiety
by residents and tourists alike.
The main Buddha temple
(Central Cathedral) Tsuglagkhang, directly opposite the residence of
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is just a small walk through the main
market and is the centre of all religious activity. Buddhism is the
main religion of Tibet and no aspect of life escapes its influence.
Tsuglagkhang and its adjoining Namgyal Monastery performs spiritual
duties, religious ceremonies and prayers for the Dalai Lama and his
The Central Cathedral
houses three idols of Buddha Sakyamuni, Padamas-ambhava and
Avalokiteshvara. The hall serves for public prayers, sermons,
festivities and monastic dances. Complete teachings of Buddha in 100
volumes and its later commentaries and religious texts in 225 volumes
by scholars are preserved in the cathedral. The outer walls are
fitted with prayer wheels which are in constant motion by
There are several other
monasteries and a nunnery in Mcleod Ganj and Dharamsala which serves
as the centre for traditional education, meditation, prayers, reading
of scriptures and performances of ceremonies and training of young
monks and nuns.
Monasterys head lamas job is to make and stop rain,
stop hail storms and control weather through Tantric practice.
He trains young Tantric practitioners. Based on the mind and bodys
interaction and relationship, the Tibetan system of medical practice
has perfected the science which claims to be very effective in curing
sinus related diseases, hepatitis and other chronic disorders.
Tibetan doctors base their diagnosis on examination of urine and
pulse. The system involves use of herbal ingredients, animal
products, precious stones and metals which are de-toxified through
intricate secret processes. The medical centre mass produces
medicines for distribution in India and Nepal through their branch
is an extraordinary place. The untiring struggle of the Dalai Lama
through peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual
respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of
the people led to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Dharamsala is a major
circuit for tourists and pilgrims. There are temples scattered
throughout the Kangra Valley. Palampur, Kangra, Dharamsala Chamba
and Dalhousie are amongst the few major hill stations and centres of
attraction. In addition there are several treks to the peaks and
lakes situated in the lofty mountains of Dhauladhar.
The world famous Kangra
and Basohli miniature paintings, Pahari paintings in museums in
Chamba, the art gallery in Andretta and in monasteries and forts of
Nagrota, Kangra, Taragarh and palaces also invite equal attention.
Recently hang gliding has
also taken off at the finest launch sites in India at Billing just 25
km from Kangra.
The foremost reason for
the popularity of the above tourist centres, temples and shrines is
that they are within a radius of about 100 km from Pathankot, a major
rail point, and are connected by all weather roads the year round.
The terrain and climate make them year round destinations.