Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj

When I was invited to a conference in Amritsar, India, I asked Daniela whether she would join me. "Only if we go to Dharamsala", she said. Well, Daniela did join me and we did go to Dharamsala. Here is the rest.

Consulting the map  we saw that going to Dharamsala means only  200-300 kilometers long detour on our way from New Delhi (the airport) to Amritsar. We decided to go to Dharamsala first and then to Amritsar. At that time we knew nothing about Indian transportation and so everything looked easy. Our travel from Delhi Airport to Dharamsala is described by Daniela in more detail here.  So far it's only in Czech language, it will be translated to English later. To give you a hint: while we planned for this 600km trip to last about 10-12 hours (based on the bus schedule), our rented car with a hired driver needed 24 hours. We finished the final three kilometers on foot,  in complete darkness at 3 am. Despite all the problems on the way there, Dharamsala was a highlight of our trip and definitely worth the trouble.

"Surrounded by forests of chir pine, rhododendron and Himalayan Oak, it is set against a backdrop of high peaks on three sides, with superb views over the Kangra Valley..."  So says our guide book. Dharamsala is a little town at the foothills of Himalayas, in Himachal Pradesh in Northern India. It has two parts: Lower Daramsala in the altitude of 1300 m and Upper Daramsala, also called McLeod Ganj, 600 m higher. In the times of British rule Upper Daramsala  was a "hill station", a place where wives and daughters of  British officers and government officials spent hot Indian summers. In the first years of Indian independence, the place quickly lost its importance. In 1959 after the Chinese invasion to Tibet, the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet to India and was offered  the former hill station, now known as McLeod Ganj, as a  place of residence of the Tibetan exile government.

Nowadays, Dharamsala (the former "lower town") is almost entirely Indian, while McLeod Ganj is mostly Tibetan. Since the Chinese occupation there has been a continuous flow of  refugees from Tibet. Many of them have found a new home in McLeod Ganj. Actually, a mixture of  people live here: the Kashmiris (also sort of refugees from their beautiful, from war suffering home), European and American volunteers and tourists, beggars from the whole subcontinent (not too many), and, of course, Buddhist monks from all parts of the world. The white peaks of Himalays on the horizon guard the place and remind everybody of  lost Tibet. There are other reminders ever present: smiling faces of  the Tibetans, Buddhist cloisters, shrines, prayer flags and wheels, mantras carved in stone, Buddhist monks in red robes (not orange or saffron as it is often stated), Tibetan music, singing bowls and all attributes of Tibetan Buddhism in shops etc. Above all, HH Dalai Lama´s residence and the Kalachakra Tempel.

The place has a very special atmosphere. Wonderful nature - air crystal clear, golden eagles circling the high peaks,  scented forrests, quiet of the evening hours, distant bell ... Cannot be described, must be felt. And yet, it is not a fancy paradise, Shangri La. It is a part of our reality, together with the rest of  India, together with the rest of the world.

All prayers and practises are dedicated to the happiness of all living beings. Every turn of a wheel, every breath of wind to the  flags activates the prayers.

 McLeod Ganj, Mantras in Stone  McLeod Ganj, Dalai Lama's Residence behind the

Trees  McLeod Ganj, Om Mani Padme Hum  In the Forrest above McLeod Ganj  McLeod Ganj, Buddhist Shrine
 McLeod Ganj, Prayer Wheel in Action  McLeod Ganj, Prayer Wheel & Daniela
Symbols of Buddha Dharma.
 McLeod Ganj, Buddhist Shrine  McLeod Ganj, Shrine and Mountains  McLeod Ganj, Stupa  McLeod Ganj, Details of Buddhist Shrine  McLeod Ganj, Details of Buddhist Shrine
Buddhist monks on the path to the Temple. The tree-friendly wall of the Dalai Lama´s home. Next is the gate to his residence. The view from the terrace of the Kalachakra Temple. Buddhist dialectics institute.
 McLeod Ganj, Buddist Monk  McLeod Ganj, Monks & Dalai Lama's Wall  McLeod Ganj, Gate of Dalai Lama's Residence  McLeod Ganj, View from Kalachakra Temple  McLeod Ganj, Institute of Buddhist

Most houses in McLeod Ganj have a breath-taking setting and view. The method of their construction is also worth noticing.
 McLeod Ganj, Open Air Bathroom  McLeod Ganj, Panoramatic View  Village above McLeod Ganj  McLeod Ganj, Construction Site  McLeod Ganj, Building Construction  McLeod Ganj, Construction Site
The best asset of  India is her people. We loved to meet them and were honored by their friendship. Hope it doesn´t sound like a cliché. It´s not.
 On the Way to Dharamsala  On the Way to Dharamsala  McLeod Ganj, Daniela in a Shop
 McLeod Ganj, On the Way Home  McLeod Ganj, Chance Meeting 2  McLeod Ganj, Tibetan Children
Lovely, lovely nature and tough living. Note tiny fields on the slopes at about 2400 m altitude.
 McLeod Ganj, Mountains  Mountains above McLeod Ganj  Mountains above McLeod Ganj  Golden Eagle  Mountains above McLeod Ganj, Mountain Path
 McLeod Ganj, Mountain View  Mountains above McLeod Ganj, View down to

Dharamsala  Above McLeod Ganj, Working Day  Above McLeod Ganj, Working Day  McLeod Ganj, Hard Work

Titbits: Beware of monkeys -  cute but nosy and messy. Richard Gere´s gift. Ecology. Ingenious solution.

 Monkey  McLeod Ganj, Gift of (Richard) Gere

Foundation  McLeod Ganj, Enviromental Education  `Magic View' Cafe, above McLeod Ganj

Three days we spent in Dharamsala. We lived very intensively and it felt much longer. Still, far from long enough. It was hard to say goodbye and yet, saying goodbye belonged to this experience. On the way down to the Kangra Valley we watched the white mountains grow taller and taller. For a time they stood unshakable on the horizon. Then they were gone.

 McLeod Ganj, Bye, bye Mountains

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April 21, 2001 Copyright 2001 Daniela and Michal Kocvara