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Dharamshala – A Tibet in exile by Stéphanie

Moine kora Dharamshala

23 June 2015

Dharamsala is situated in the foothills of the Himalayan Dhauladhar Range, in Himachal Pradesh, northern India. The area is a global, cultural and religious meeting point, where first- and second-generation Tibetan monks and refugees rub shoulders with local Gaddi villagers, Kashmiri businesspeople and travellers from all over the world. It offers a huge diversity of sights, activities and attractions. Dharamsala is divided into four main areas – McLeodganj, Bhagsunag, Lower Dharamsala and Naddi. McLeodganj was named after David McLeod, the British Empire’s Lieutenant Governor of Punjab. It is now the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. During high season, the town throngs with tourists and spiritual pilgrims. McLeodganj’s major landmark is the Thekchen Choling, which houses the Dalai Lama’s residence and the Tsuglagkang (main temple). Of simple design, and built from concrete, the complex provides Tibetan refugees with a gathering place for prayer. Its plainness reflects the Dalai Lama’s decision not to build in lavish Tibetan style, but rather to respect the refugee community’s limited means. Radiating from the main square, McLeodganj’s narrow streets are lined with hotels, internet cafes, shops and stalls, selling everything from Kashmiri shawls to goat-blood sausages, turquoise and coral jewellery, musical instruments and Tibetan hand-made paper. The town’s restaurants range from Tibetan to Punjabi, Italian, French, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Israeli. Adjacent to the main temple are the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics and Namgyal Monastery, from amongst whose monks the Dalai Lama’s personal attendants are chosen. The Mani Path, behind the palace, leads to a home for retired members of the Tibetan administration. A five-minute taxi ride down the steep jeep road towards Dharamsala lies the Gangchen Kyishong, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Here, the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies oversees the running of all government departments, including religion, culture, education, health and finance, as well as contributing to the struggle for a free Tibet. The government complex also houses the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives which, built in 1971, contains statues, paintings and books, many of which were salvaged from Tibetan monasteries and temples by escaping refugees. Two minutes’ further walk takes you to the Men Tse Kang Tibetan Medical and Astrological Centre. The medical centre contains the largest Tibetan pharmacy outside of Tibet, to which staff bring medicinal plants gathered from around Himachal Pradesh for processing. Lower Dharamsala was founded as a military cantonment by the British in […]

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