Hotels in India »  Pilgrimage Tours India » Dharamsala The Tibetan Kingdom in Exile

Dharamsala The Tibetan Kingdom in Exile

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. John’s 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 became deserted.

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 Ganj’s 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 settlement.

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 Lama’s 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 stupa’s 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. John’s 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 who’s 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 government.

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 circumambulating devotees.

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.

Zilnon Kagyeling Monastery’s head lama’s 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 body’s 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 clinics.

“Little Lhasa” 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.

¤ Ajmer Sharif ¤ Amarkantak ¤ Amritsar
¤ Bodhgaya ¤ Chidambaram ¤ Chitrakoot
¤ Dargahkaliyarsharif ¤ Dharamsala ¤ Dilwaratemples
¤ Dwarka ¤ Gangasagarmela ¤ Garhwal
¤ Goa ¤ Guruvayur ¤ Hardwar
¤ Jageshwar ¤ Jambukeswaram ¤ Jambukeswaram
¤ Kailashmansarovar ¤ Kamakhya ¤ Maheshwaromkareshwar
¤ Mathura ¤ Parashuramkund ¤ Pilgrimagecenters
¤ Pilgrimagesofsikhs ¤ Rameshwaram ¤ Rishikesh
¤ Sabarimala ¤ Shatrunjayahill ¤ Shivapur
¤ Tawangmonastery ¤ Thirukalikundrum ¤ Tirupati
¤ Travelofgods ¤ Trichur ¤ Tripureshwari
¤ Tungnath ¤ Vaishnodevi ¤ Varanasi
¤ Vrindavan ¤ Yamnotri