Dharamshala is all about colourful Tibetan flags, rolling prayer wheels and the collective sounds of ringing bells, chanting and chirping birds. A visit to Dharamshala is also all about rejuvenation amidst serene nature, the sublime peace in the monasteries of McLeodganj and a mountain adventure.
Tucked in the Kangra Valley in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala is also known as the Land of Llamas. Surrounded by cedar forests on the edge of the Himalayas, this nearby hillside town is home to the Dalai Lama and where most of the exiled Tibetans live.
The valley of dense pine and deodar forests with a horizon dominated by the snowcapped peaks of the Dhauladhar range has for many years offered refuge to the Tibetans through their tumultuous history with China. The cool bracing air, a winding uphill road punctuated by gurgling brooks and the higgledy-piggledy town perched precariously on the mountainside is set against a backdrop of fluttering Tibetan flags proclaiming its individuality and determination.
Life in McLeodganj revolves around the Buddhist temple complex, linked to the off-limits private residence of the Dalai Lama. The complex is a good example of Buddhism’s spiritual and artistic traditions and comprises of Namgyal Monastery and Tsuglakhang Temple. In the outside courtyard you will often witness monks debating or meditatively preparing colourful sand mandalas.
The beautiful Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan Culture is built in a traditional Tibetan style. The institute is set in a lovely garden of meandering paths, ponds, flowing streams and bridges. The serenity here is a refreshing respite from the bustle of city life. The café serves delicious Tibetan food.
One of the most famous monasteries in Tibet, the Gyuto Monastery is known for its study of Tantric meditation, Tantric ritual arts and Buddhist philosophy. It was founded in Tibet in 1474 by the main disciple of the first Dalai Lama. After the communist Chinese invasion in 1959, the monastery was re-established in India. The monks here practice the major Tantric texts and have passed these lineages on to the younger generation of monks for more than 500 years.
The main chamber of the monastery has a majestic statue of the Buddha and with the backdrop of the snow-clad mountains, this is an extremely serene and peaceful place to spend an afternoon. I was lucky enough to be invited to dine with the monks and share a delicious vegetarian lunch.
Another of Dharamshala claim to fame is the famous cricket ground. Nestled in the lap of the majestic Himalayan mountain range lies a quaint little cricket stadium. Located at the height of 1,457 meters above sea level, it is one of the highest sports grounds in the world – for all cricket tragics this is a must visit spot!