The residence to one of the most popular spiritual leaders in the world, Dalai Lama, McLeodganj has emerged as the center of Tibetan Buddhism and also as capital of the Tibetan Government –in – exile. Dharamsala provides the relaxing and resting space for the Hindu and the Buddhist spiritual seekers.
Photo from Flickr
McLeodganj serves the dual purpose of being a pretty imposing and enthralling tourist destination along with being the renowned seat of the holy leader Dalai Lama and an enriching learning center of Tibetan culture and Buddhist rituals. About 31 Km from Kangra town in western Himachal Pradesh, McLeodganj is at a height of 6,830 feet. The place is a blend of a range of cultures which can be noticed during a stroll through these upper reaches of Kangra valley; McLeodganj curio shops of Tibetan and Kashmiri artifacts, dimly lit restaurants serving momos and bright dhabas serving tandoori, a mish mash of hippies and American monks, the melodious sound of prayer gongs and boisterous Hindi film songs, and all of this is dominated by Lhasa- a palace, temple, monasteries and all symbolism of religion.
The town in this upper Kangra valley is vaguely demarcated into upper McLeodganj; residence of a large Tibetan community is separated from the lower Dharamsala through rows of Deodar and Pines. Dharamsala is situated 9 Km down the road. McLeodganj is flanked by brightly lit hotels with Lhasa like rooftops and Tibetan curio bazaars.
The places to visit and must have experiences in the hilly center of Tibetan culture and lifestyle are:
Tsug-lha-khang Temple complex
Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhist Gelugpa sect and a Nobel peace
prize winner has his private office and residence in McLeodganj. This temple complex forms the nerve center of hill town and is an integral part of the landscape.
The temple boasts of an elegant two storied building and the palace, a modest cottage with an ensemble of flowers. The cottage rests on unusual columns made of trunks of Deodar trees which are still growing. The temple has a gilded Buddha image, 9 feet in height rising from a lotus seat. There are 12 foot images of Padmasambhava and Avalokiteshwara symbolically facing in the direction of Tibet. The temple also has a wooden pulpit from where Dalai Lama delivers his sermons.
Kalachakra temple and Namgyal monastery are also a part of the temple complex and well worth a visit to learn about Tibetan artistic and spiritual traditions. The murals and mandalas of the temple are exquisite and the temple complex gives breathtaking views of the mountains.
Flaunting a hybrid Indo-Tibetan architectural style, Namgyajma Stupa has rows of colorful and loud prayer wheels. It has been built as a beautiful memorial for the Tibetan warriors who sacrificed their lives fighting in their homeland.
Church of St John
In the outskirts of little Lhasa, descending towards lower Dharamsala –in – the-wilderness, this stone church can be spotted. It has exquisite stained glass windows depicting John the Baptist with Jesus Christ. The church was built in 1852 by the British and stands tall under giant Deodar trees as the lone surviving monument of that period.
Tibetan Institute of performing arts
Set up by the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, TIPA is the major center of this town’s social life. An annual 10-day Shoton festival is held in March-April which is well worth attending for an unforgettable experience of traditional opera.
Lastly, the icing on the cake is the fact that McLeodganj is a shopper’s paradise. In the main bazaars you can get Tibetan carpets, thangkas, ponchos, jackets, chubas, masks, votive objects, jewellery trinkets, lamps, statuettes, bottled products (Fruit preserves, tahini, muesli, Tibetan cheese) etcetera. A variety of brocade made at Norbulingka Institute can be bought from Norling designs. Take back souvenirs of wall hangings, rugs, jewellery and metal ware from the Tibetan children handicrafts center.