A few weeks ago, Kuldip and I were invited to accompany some Chandigarh-based friends on a five-day road trip to the headquarters of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. We were riding high when we left, high into the Himalayas to Dharamshala and Mcleod Ganj, or “little Tibet”.
Located in the vast Kangra Valley, Dharamshala is the spiritual and cultural centre for Tibetan refugees in India including the current Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 during the Tibetan Uprising against Chinese rule.
The variety of food on offer at Mcleod Ganj is as varied and tasty as the Tibetan jewellery and handicrafts are tempting. I recommend breakfast at Moonpeak Espresso Gallery where the coffee is as delicious as their omelettes and honey-drizzled muesli with yoghurt. The Momo (Tibetan dumplings) at JJI Exile Brother’s Cafe are to die for; they were made-to-order and the best we’ve had anywhere in the Himalayas, including Shimla. The pizza and pasta served up at Jimmy’s and the Indian food at Carpe Diem are both also worth mentioning. One can also put on ten kilograms simply window-shopping along cake shop row!
Tsuglagkhang, the Dalai Lama’s temple, is the top sight to see in town. It’s got a great bookshop and the exhibit in the Tibetan Museum, also located in the temple complex, is as humbling and ardently moving as walking around the temple proper.
Preserving all things Tibetan is also propriety one in the main town, lower Dharamshala, where the Gyuto Karmapa Monastery, founded in 1474, takes care of the spiritual while the Norbulingka Institute preserves all things cultural.
While Dharamshala makes one feel as if they are in Tibet, the original paintings in an art gallery an hour’s drive away, through picturesque tea plantations, put India firmly back on one’s radar. It’s in a tiny village called Andretta, in Palampur; the former home of one of India’s most internationally acclaimed artists and sculptors.
Sobha Singh was prolific especially in portraiture. For example, he painted some of the most widely copied images of two Sikh leaders past. He also painted Christian and Hindu icons including Jesus Christ and Krishna and Lord Rama. The popularity of Singh’s images of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak and the 10th and last Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, will be constant reminders of his work. However, his portrayal of the Indian revolutionary, Bhagat Singh, who died at the hands of the British in 1931, leaves a lasting impression. In the painting, Bhagat Singh sits on a bed, writing. Behind him, the British Royal Crown falls away while a lion roars at the Indian flag across its back. It’s awesome, as is S. Sobha Sing’s self-portrait.
If you’re the outdoorsy type, unlike me, a trip to this part of India is a must. It’s a thrill-seekers paradise offering everything from horse riding to hiking, trekking, rock-climbing, wild camping and paragliding. When we were there, the Paragliding World Cup was on at nearby Bir Billing, so we went to watch the 135 pilots from 35 countries land after a day of competition. What a spectacle.
Ganj, in English, means treasure; a word-perfect description of the gem that is Dharamshala and the area that surrounds it.
Note: A permit is required to drive into Mcleod Ganj. If you self-drive, it’s only a short tuk-tuk ride to town from the public car park located outside the ‘city’ limits. Alternatively, you can stay at The Club House; the only hotel in town with customer parking.