Norbulingka Institute Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh
Mc Leodganj is located in the upper Dharamshala in the north Kangra
valley of Himachal Pradesh. The place was earlier home to the Gaddi
tribals of the state. The town of Mc Leodganj was itself founded in
1860 and was meant to serve as the civil administrative point and
cantonment of the British. At that point of time, Mc Leodganj was just
a group of few country houses of British families. The name Mc
Leodganj derives from the name of the British governor of the
province, Sir Ian Mc Leod.
Post India's independence, on the insistence of Nauzer Nowrozee, a prominent personality of Mc Leodganj, the exiled Dalai Lama came over and settled here. Thereafter, the place progressed leaps and bounds. So much so that the place which had only one shop till now, looked like a modern cosmopolitan city. It was obviously the presence of the Dalai Lama that attracted a number of renowned national and international scholars to come here thereby enhancing the value of the place.
Today, McLeod Ganj is the place if you want to see and experience the Tibetan culture and lifestyle. Infact many travellers have found the place so attractive that they either end up settling here or atleast elongate their stay for a couple of days more.
The Residence of Dalai Lama
In the southern part of Mc Leodganj is the private residence of the Dalai Lama. It is a modest cottage where the spiritual leader lives without in the least disturbing the serenity of the atmosphere. The residence is in a walled compound along with government offices.
This is the two storeyed temple nearby the private residence of the
Dalai Lama. The unique thing about the temple is that it has been
built without cutting off any tree. Infact, the trunks of deodar which
form the columns of the temple are still growing. These are
safeguarded by the adjustable iron rings. The presiding deity of the
temple is a nine feet gilded image of Buddha that rises from a lotus
seat. Apart from this, there are also gilded images of Padmasambhava
and Avalokiteshvara. These are around 12 feet tall and face towards
Tibet. The latter image is believed to belong to the seventh century.
It was at that time installed by King Songtsen Gompa in the main
temple at Lhasa. However, because of Chinese invasion, the image was
damaged a lot. It later found its way to India.
Today, the temple is the beginning and end destination for Buddhist coming to Mc Leodganj. However, even standing quietly at any point in the temple is an experience for there are magnificent views of the mountain.
Standing right in the centre of the Mc Leodganj is the Namgyaima Stupa. It was built as a mark of respect for Tibetan soldiers who lost their lives fighting for a free Tibet. The stupa is constructed in a similar fashion as the ones built during the reigns of Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century. It has an image of Sakyamuni Buddha adorning a small chamber. In contrast to the Tsuglagkhang, Namgyaima Stupa is instantly charming. There are rows of prayer wheels that are turned continuously by the incoming devotees. The whole atmosphere is filled with peace and well being.
The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives
Not far off from the Dalai Lama's temple is Gangchen Kyishong, the administrative point of the Tibetan Government in exile. The place mainly has temporary refugee houses along with some offices apart from a library - Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. The library is a rich storehouse of the Tibetan history and other literary work. Not all sections are open for the usual visitors in the library, yet there are open stacks with reference books. You can sit and read these books, take some classes and even put up questions before the co-operative staff.
The Tibetan Institute for the Performing Arts (TIPA)
Foundation of TIPA indicates the extent to which the Dalai Lama was
keen to preserve Tibetan culture. At the time when the Dalai Lama,
along with 80,000 other Tibetans landed in India, not even few amongst
them thought about saving the traditional theatre of their lost
country. This was ofcourse barring the Dalai Lama. He insisted on
establishing TIPA so as to make sure that the traditional opera did
not loose its identity in the world. So within four months TIPA came
Today, TIPA is a prime attraction for tourists coming to Mc Leodganj. The ten day annual Shoton Festival is the highlight of this institute. Performances take place in an open courtyard and announcement regarding these are made on the bulletin boards. Even during the time of the year when there are no performances taking place, you can enjoy the rehearsals of the students (mostly Tibetans).
Dip Tse-Chok Ling Gompa
This one is a small gompa perched on a steep hillside overlooking the valley. An impressive statue of Shakyamuni adorns the small and cosy main prayer hall. The monks dwelling in this gompa receive the visitors with a humbleness that is admirable. These monks have also made two big drums which are covered in goatskin and painted around the rim. There is also a guesthouse for visitors. From here a trail via woods reaches the Dalai Lama Temple complex.
The Tibetan Children's Village
The Tibetan Children's Village provides shelter to all those children who leave their home and parents in Tibet to reach here every year. These children stay along with other Tibetan children who have parents residing in India itself. Education in form of Tibetan language, literature, history, science, math, english and the performing and visual arts are imparted to these children. Those putting up in Mc Leodganj for a long time can also volunteer to teach, otherwise you can spend time observing the children and their work. The village is located near the Dal Lake.
Stitches of Tibet
Stitches of Tibet is a vocational training programme run by the Tibetan Women's Association. The programmes aims at teaching sewing and weaving to the girls and women who have recently come in from Tibet. You can explore the carpet weaving workshop on Jogibara Road and the tailor shop across the street. There is also a showroom from where you can pick up traditional Tibetan clothing and rugs. The profit generated from here, quiet obviously, goes to the various programmes of the Tibetan Women's Association.
The Norbulingka Institute was developed by the Dalai Lama in order
to preserve and develop the Tibetan art and craft. The institute is
around 15 km from Mc Leodganj and can be reached by a bus or a taxi.
Norbulingka derives its name from the summer residence of the Dalai
Lama in Lhasa. It spreads over an area of seven acres. The building,
consisting of a library, temple, college, design studio, workshop,
guesthouse and a cafe, was constructed without chopping of a single
tree or its branch. The ponds, bridges and gardens lend a unique charm
to the entire area.
The Thangka Painting department has a master training his students in this art form according to the ancient Tibetan manuscript. In a showroom of the institute, you can place an order for these thangkas. Price can range anywhere between 5000 to 20,000. There is also a woodwork section where the art of casting traditional Tibetan images are taught. This crafts department is open daily from 8 in the morning to 5 in the evening.
The highlight of the Norbulingka Institute is the Losel Doll Museum. The museum displays a collection of 160 dolls made over a period of 15 years. These pretty dolls showcase the costumes and activities of the people in each of the regions of Tibet. The museum is open from 9 in the morning to 6 in the evening.
St. John's Church in the Wilderness
The Church of St John in the Wilderness stands under giant deodar pines outside Mc Leodganj on the way to the Lower Dharamshala. The church has stained glass windows showing John the Baptist with Jesus. Also, to be found is the cemetery of one of the viceroys of India, Lord Elgin, who died in an accident here. His cemetery is protected by the ASI. The church was amongst the first structures constructed by the British in this area in 1853.
Shopping items in Mc Leodganj consist mainly of the Tibetan art and
craft. Pick up Tibetan carpet, thangkas, ponchos, jackets, chubas,
masks, votive objects, silver and stone jewellery and trinkets, lamps,
statuettes, sleeping bags, fruit preserves, bottled produce, tahini
and muesli. Apart from these, other items that can be purchased
include Tibetan cheese, tea, prayer wheels and flags.
The best place to shop in Mc Leodganj is the street where a number of vendors set up their stalls daily.
The nearest airport from Mc Leodganj is at Gaggal which is 21 km away. Taxis are available to bring you to Mc Leodganj.
Closest railhead is Chakki Bank, around 76 km away. Trains from here connect to other parts of Himachal Pradesh as well as Delhi and Kolkata.
Mc Leodganj is easily accessible by road from Delhi. The route passes through Kiratpur, Chandigarh, Una, NehranPukar and Kangra to finally reach Mc Leodganj. An overnight bus from Delhi to Dharamshala is also run by the Himachal tourism government.