Dharamshala, a Tibetan haven in India

Dharamshala On 17th March 1959, Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama fled Tibet following the Chinese invasion and took refuge in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, where he established the Tibetan government in exile. McLeod Ganj or ‘Upper Dharamshala’ located 10km above Dharamshala became the official residence of the Dalai Lama and the haven of thousands of Tibetans. Over the years, McLeod Ganj turned into one of the most attractive mountain resorts in India not only for its Buddhist culture but also for its relaxed ambience and the beauty of its mountainous landscapes.

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Long before becoming a refuge for Tibetan people and up to the British Empire, the region (Kangra) was ruled by the Rajput Katochs sovereigns, one of the oldest royal dynasties in the world. With the arrival of the British Raj emerging victorious from the second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-1849), the royal family of Katoch is reduced to a fief; Mcleod Ganj becomes the British summer capital, and the Kangra region one of the Punjab provinces run by the governors of Lahore.

After the massive earthquake of 1905, which killed thousands of people and almost destroyed Dharamshala, the British summer capital was moved to Shimla.

McLeod Ganj

McLeod Ganj derives its name from the lieutenant-governor of Punjab, Sir Donald Friell McLeod. The city perched on a ridge at an altitude of 2082 meters is also sometimes known as “small Lhasa”, after the Tibetan capital.
Mcleod Ganj has roughly two main streets lined with hotels, handicraft shops, souvenir stalls and restaurants offering various cuisines.

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During the peak season (from May to November), McLeod is a crowded and very (too) touristy city, but the Indian youth and hippie foreigners are particularly fond of it. To find a bit of tranquility, start your day early in the morning and follow the Buddhist pilgrims on the Temple Road who walk to the Dalai Lama’s residence while chanting their rosaries.

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Dalai Lama Temple Complex

McLeod Ganj has no ancient monuments, the main attraction there is the residence of the Dalai Lama called ‘Tsug La Khang’, that consists of a monastery (Namgyal Monastery), several temples and a museum.
While entering the complex, echoes of voices arouse our curiosity: it is the famous verbal jousting of the tibetan monks debating about Buddhist philosophy ; it is punctuated by hand-claps marking the rhythm of the discussion and the determination of the debaters. Even if we can’t understand the argumentation, these debates are always very interesting to observe. The main temple, where the Dalai Lama gives speeches several times in the year, contains a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha above his seat as well as the effigy of Chenresig.

Tibetan cuisine

While in MacLeod Ganj, why not tasting Tibetan cuisine? Avoid at all costs the insipid momos sold in the streets and, instead, go to the restaurant ‘Tibet Kitchen’ on Jogiwara Road ; There are always several Tibetan monks sitting at the tables, that’s a good sign. Tingmo (steamed bread), thenthuk noodle soup, curry momos, chexo yogurt rice and chhurpi cheese will delight your taste buds.

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The ‘Nick’s Italian Kitchen’ in Bhagsunag Road also serves good Tibetan dishes, but especially a whole range of Italian pastas, fresh fruit juices and delightful pastries with or without eggs for people on a vegetarian diet.

Around MacLeod Ganj

Going down towards Dharamsala, between Mcleod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj, you come across the Anglican Church of ‘St. John in the Wilderness’ dedicated to John the Baptist. Built in 1852, in the midst of cedar forest, it displays Neo-Gothic architecture and lovely Belgian stained-glass windows, which were offered by Mary Louisa Lambton, Countess of Elgin and Kincardine (U.K).

Naddi village

The village of Naddi, about 3 km from McLeod Ganj, offers a beautiful panorama on the Dhauladhar mountain range and it is the starting point for many trekkings (Dharamkot, Triund, Kareri Lake …).

Dal lake

Surrounded by a thick cedar forest, Dal Lake is considered a sacred place as a small Shiva temple is set on its banks. The lake is at the peak of its affluence in September of each year when a fair in honor of Lord Shiva is held to which the Gaddi tribe attend to.

Gaddi community

The Gaddis is one of the many tribes of Himachal along with the Kinnauris, Lahaulis, Spitis and Gujjaris. They reside mainly in the region of Kangra, Mandi, Bilaspur and Chamba. It would seem that these people were driven out of the Indian plains during the Mughal invasions and took refuge in the mountainous parts. Originally, the Gaddis were nomad shepherds; They have now added strings to their bow: agriculture, weaving and making iron utensils.

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Gaddi women are recognizable to their very colorful traditional clothing, often red and green. A light shawl covers their heads and heavy necklace and tikka (head jewelry) in silver and an enormous golden nose ring complete the outfit.

The Gaddis are predominantly Hindus and related to the cult of Shiva but some of them are of Muslim faith.