A Home of Dalai Lama
McLeodganj is best known as the headquarters of the Tibetan Government in Exile and home of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. The Tibetan settlement here is a delightful example of their agreeable nature.
The community has taken over the hospitality business and provide cheap and clean hotels and small friendly restaurants.
All this makes McLeodganj is a colourful little town, a perennial den of tourists – a place you can chill out in and do your own thing. While you stop to wonder at a Tibetan trinket or a shawl, you’ll realize that your stomach is involuntarily responding to the lovely smell of wantons wafting from a nearby joint.
McLeodganj is steeped in Buddhist culture – you can find anything from Tibetan food, good luck charms and thangkas to Enlightenment. In fact, many disenchanted foreigners come here seeking solace, meditation or to champion the Tibetan cause.
Main Attractions of The Town
As for sightseeing, you’ll be quite agog with the sheer length of the itinerary. Begin with the quaint church of St John-in-the-Wilderness, and then going over to the host of Buddhist sites like the Tsuglag Khang, Namgyal Monastery, Dip Se Chok-Ling Gompa, Gangchen Kyishong with its Library & Archives andMedical Institute, TIPA, Mani Lakhang Stupa, Nechung Monastery, Norbulingka Institute, and the Chinmaya Tapovan. If you’re looking for some classes on the Tibetan language or Buddhism, there’re enough options for that. The walks around this place are just too good to be missed. Whether it’s Naddi or Dharamkot, Bhagsu or Triund, Dal Lake or Kareri Lake, you’ll be nothing less than spellbound.
Take Care While You are In Dharamsala
With heavy tourist traffic, Dharamsala is quite cosmopolitan in character. However, a certain decorum needs to be observed while visiting Buddhist shrines.
Walk clockwise around shrines and stupas and on the left-hand side inside monasteries.
Buddhist monasteries are open to all and you may even visit the resident lama. But be sure to be dressed modestly. An audience with the Dalai Lama can be arranged too but one cannot record the event – no cameras, video cameras or sound recorders allowed.
His Holiness - The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. The title does not belong to any person.
As soon as the Dalai Lama dies, his reincarnation is identified by traditional means and tests.
The Dalai Lama is believed to be a reincarnation of the Buddha. When he dies, his soul is thought to enter the body of a newborn boy, who is then declared the new Dalai Lama.
The first man to bear the title of Dalai Lama was Sonam Gyatso, Grand Lama of the Drepung monastery and leader of the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat sect. (Sonam Gyatso received it from the Mongol chief Altan Khan in 1578. ‘Yellow Hat’ sect was then applied retroactively to the previous leaders of the sect.)
In 1642 another Mongol chief, Gushri Khan, installed the fifth Dalai Lama as Tibet’s spiritual and temporal ruler. His successors governed Tibet first as representatives of the Mongols, but from 1720 to 1911 as vassals of the emperor of China.
Fairs & Festivals
Losar is the Tibetan New Year, the most popular festival of Dharamsala and Buddhist populated places like Lahaul. It’s celebrated with great gusto in late February-early March and its high point are the ritual dances. Homes and kitchens are cleaned vigorously to appease Thalpa the god of home and hearth.
The Losar Celebrations
A grand feast and ritual dance are held two days before Losar. The dance, signifying destruction of evil spirits, is accompanied by drums and radong (long trumpets).
Originally it used to be performed at the courtyard of the Potala Palace, the main temple in Lhasa. The chhaam dance on the eve of Losar is a spectacular event with dancers wearing elaborate costumes and masks. Symbolizing good over evil, the dance marks the killing of a cruel Tibetan ruler – Langdarma (9th century).
The 15th day of the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar is believed to be a very auspicious and significant day. It was on this day that Sakyamuni (Buddha) was conceived by his mother Queen Mayadevi; on this very day 35 years later, Buddha attained complete Enlightenment; and to top it all off, he passed into parinirvana, the ultimate state of peace, on the same day.
In fact the whole month is said to possess such potency that anything you do, good or bad, is said to be multiplied a hundred thousand times!
Consequently, people refrain from eating non-vegetarian food, so much so that they even buy animals and set them free. Prayer wheels are set into motion with rare devotion during this month.
Held near the Dal Lake (1,700m) every August-September, this fair is especially favoured by Girths and Gurkhas (hill tribes). There are the usual festivities of feasting and dancing.