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Dharamshala: A piece of heaven

Posted by
on June 24, 2014 at 02:21 PM

The true spirit of Dharamshala and Mcleodganj lies in its many lanes and avenues, cutting through the town, soaking in the intricacies of town life. It's not a clockwork town, but a place of peace, and hard-earned solitude.

© Courtesy of the writer

The next time you think of travelling off to Switzerland, pause, and think. Your breathtaking getaway might actually be closer than you think. Take Dharamshala,  a picturesque hill station in Himachal Pradesh famed for its large Tibetan community centered around the activities of the Dalai Lama. Full of meandering roads, and tiny hamlet-style shops selling trinkets and curios, the town is a traveler’s delight, and yet it makes no claims about it. But then again, that’s Dharamshala for you - a no-frills-attached and delightfully simple town! 

Offering a breathtaking view of the Himalayas, Upper Dharamshala, also known as Mcleodganj, is not only a design destination for its local flavour of architecture (where the urban fabric is interspersed with Tibetan roots) but also home to the Tibetan community and the centre of tourist activity. The hill station is famous for two things - its eternally famous thukpa, a sort of Tibetan noodle soup, and its association with the Dalai Lama.

The Tsuglagkhang Complex  is the largest Tibetan temple outside Tibet, and it has a large meditation hall containing some beautiful statues and thangkas, as well as a Kalachakra temple with beautiful murals, which sadly does not allow photography of any kind. It is the monastery of the Dalai Lama (who gives occasional public sermons), and is located just in front of his residence,  providing a panoramic view of the Kangra valley below, containing lower Dharamshala, and all its ancillaries. The rest of Mcleodganj is a tourist hub of activity, facilitating the massive rush of tourists and travellers who come seeking solitude, with coffee shops and restaurants remarkably proficient in creating world cuisine. 

Lower Dharamshala, on the other hand is a quieter hub of local activity. Housing and government institutes sparsely dot this part of the Kangra Valley district. The sloping roof is a  common feature in all the houses in the area as is compact planning, within. Timber trusses are a common feature, highlighting the nuances of vernacular architecture. In many a places, the local nature of architecture has been marred by modernization. RCC abutments are common, rising garishly from the otherwise simple framed structures, common in the many resorts and hotels that have sprouted up in the valley over the past decade. These only serve as blind spots to the simple setup that helps Dharamshala build up its old world charm.

The part of Dharamshala that still retains its original roots (both, in the sense of architecture, and vision) however, is the Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan Culture. The institute is dedicated to handing down tradition and restoring standards by providing training, education and employment for Tibetans. Norbulingka produces high quality, traditionally crafted art objects, as well as clothing and home furnishings, in various artisan studios and workshops that create the design institute.

The institute also has the two-storied 'Seat of Happiness Temple', set amidst the Japanese inspired Norbulingka  terraced gardens. It is known for its 1,173 murals of Buddha, frescoes of all the Dalai Lamas. Around the temple are workshops of artisans and apprentices that produce various art objects ( these workshops can be visited by all), which are sold at the Norbulingka Shop, for the benefit of Tibetan refugees. The Norbulingka complex offers a day of respite from the otherwise tourist bustle of the city, creating an alcove of design  for the lone wanderer.

Dharamshala  has a lot more to offer than its Tibetan temples and monasteries, though. For the more tourist-aware, one can always go hiking down Bhagsu waterfalls, or spend a day by the effortlessly yellow Dal lake, picnic by the valley gardens of Palampur, or trek along Indrahar pass if you are feeling adventurous. But the true spirit of Dharamshala and Mcleodganj lies in its many lanes and avenues, cutting through the town, soaking in the intricacies of town life. Its true spirit lies in the very old world charm that attracts tourists by the flocks, and imprints you with memories that last forever.

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