I was staying in Delhi then and had still not moved back to my hometown, Kolkata. There were two months that I used to wait for every year. May & October, the time to go out for our holidays. May, the longer one & October, the short and sweet one.
This particular year it was becoming a little difficult for me to take a long off, as there were too many engagements in my consulting assignment. But then I was not the one to spend the entire summer without a holiday and missing out on the mountains. And so was planned this short trip with a day of work punched in.
Coming along? 🤔 Don’t wonder. Come let’s take off for another awesome hilly experience. We are off to Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh 🛫
The planning was done in a hurry. But to our delightful surprise the Air Tickets were available at a very reasonable price. We decided to stay in Mcleod Ganj, a little higher up in the hills and for a change I wished to try out a Homestay accommodation if I could find one, instead of a hotel. My search revealed a solitary result, the rates were reasonable and most reviews talked highly. So the deal was sealed, payments made and we were all set to take off.
The landing was smooth and Kangra Airport was impressive, sporting a fresh new look. Naren, our driver for the next few days was the childhood friend of Mukesh, my driver in Delhi and his wide grin welcoming us showed he was eagerly looking forward to meet us. Pleasantries over, we were on our way.
Dharamshala is a city in the upper reaches of the Kangra Valley in the state of Himachal Pradesh in India and is surrounded by dense coniferous forest consisting mainly of Deodar cedar trees. Until the British era, Dharamshala and its surrounding area was ruled by the Katoch Dynasty of Kangra, a royal family that ruled the region for two millennia. The royal family still keeps a residence in Dharamsala, known as ‘Clouds End Villa’. The suburbs include McLeod Ganj, Bhagsunath, Dharamkot, Naddi, Forsyth Ganj and and Sidhbari (where the Karmapa is based). This place is also famous for its cricket stadium.
McLeod Ganj, lying in the upper reaches, is known worldwide for the presence of the Dalai Lama. On 29 April 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) established the Tibetan exile administration in the north Indian hill station of Mussoorie. In May 1960, the Central Tibetan Administration was moved to Dharamshala and is now the centre of the Tibetan exile world in India. Following the 1959 Tibetan uprising there was an influx of Tibetan refugees who followed the 14th Dalai Lama. His presence and the Tibetan population have made Dharamshala a popular destination for Indian and foreign tourists, including students studying Tibet.
Dharamshala also has beautiful tea gardens and its tea, known as Dharamsala or Kangra tea, is very popular across India and the rest of the world. Traditionally known for Kangra green tea, Dharamshala now produces all teas including black tea, green tea, oolong tea and white teas, in addition to the popular Kashmiri Kahwa and Masala Chai.
We were in for a flowery welcome at McleodGanj Homestay. A nice small place with a lots of flowers and green around. The rooms were small but neatly done up and our room was one, facing the main road. They delivered what they promised and I felt happy. The food was nothing extraordinary, but quite good. The owners were great people to talk to, especially one of the sons, Sahil who was in charge of handling guests, running the place including cooking and serving of food. The home touch is what we felt, in abundance.
We checked in and after a cup of some great coffee at the Garden Cafe, we were out for a stroll. The homestay is strategically located near the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, less than ten minutes walk from the center of McLeod Ganj and only one mile from the Dalai Lama’s Temple area.
The Kalachakra temple is located inside the Thekchen Chöling temple complex in Mcleodganj. The temple complex also houses the Namgyal monastery, the private chambers of his Holiness the Dalai Lama and the famous Tsuglag Khang temple.
The Tibet Museum, is adjacent to the Dalai Lama temple (Tsuglag Khang). Established in 1998 and inaugurated by the 14th Dalai Lama on 20 April 2000, it has a collection of Tibetan artifacts and photographs showing Tibetans’ struggle to preserve their way of life against oppressive forces. It is the official museum of the Central Tibetan Administration Department of Information and International Relations. The museum aims to spread awareness about the history of the occupation of Tibet and the exodus that Tibetan resistance against Chinese oppression ultimately led to. The museum displays over 30,000 photographs. Visitors can also watch a documentary showing the journey of Tibetan refugees into exile across the Himalayas.
Kalachakra temple is a symbol of the concept in Buddhist religion known popularly as ‘The wheel of time’. Kalachakra is a combination of two Sanskrit words Kāla (meaning: time) and Chakra (meaning: wheel). Kalachakra is a notion that Buddhist philosophies and even the Hindu religion strongly believe in. According to this notion, time is considered to be a cyclical concept whereby the timeline of the world is divided into certain ages or epochs and they repeat after one another in a circular pattern.
In the Buddhist tradition, there are important rituals associated with Kalachakra. At the temple, monks perform Kalachakra empowerment procedures that they believe would enhance the spirituality of the environment and further the cause of peace and harmony among human beings. Apart from being the site for Buddhist rites and rituals, the Kalachakra temple is also a regular venue for public meetings and discourses conducted by his holiness the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama is one of the most beloved and inspirational figures of the last century. As the political and spiritual leader of the Chinese province of Tibet, the Dalai Lama’s tireless and decades-long work as a seeker of peace and campaigner for Tibetan independence has elevated him into one of the world’s great moral leaders, with countless supporters and admirers around the world.
Born in 1935 to a peasant family in northeastern Tibet, the boy born Lhamo Thondup was anointed the 14th Dalai Lama at age 2, following Tibetan Buddhist traditions. He began his religious education at age 6, and at age 16 assumed full power as the political leader of Tibet. The young Dalai Lama’s activism for a free and democratic Tibet sparked a Chinese military occupation of the province in 1959, which forced the leader’s government and supporters into exile in India, where he has lived ever since. And the first thought that comes to my mind when I think of this selfless man is one of his quotes, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions”.
As we walked back, it was difficult not to stop at the local market with the roadside Tibetan stalls selling keepsakes, casual clothes including fancy jackets and of course the mouth watering freshly steamed momos and other delicacies like soup, noodles, fried wanton and more. After the feast and a few souvenir purchases it was a refreshing walk back to our nest for the night.
The next morning was work 😐. We set out early as the session was at 12 Noon. A talk on “The prospect of Retail Sector in India” for the class IX – XII students of Government Senior Secondary School, Jwalamukhi. We reached there well before time after a two hour drive and were greeted in a typical Himachal style with garlands, snacks, tea, sweets, numerous cold drink options and more more and more. I was itching to start the session but they were in no hurry. And finally it did start, just about in time. It was such an enriching experience truly. Cute little kids focussed on their future.
Lunch was offered and about to be ordered when I convinced the school authorities that we were too full. Actually the reason was that we wished to have our lunch in a local eatery to get a feel of the traditional Himachal food. We chose one which looked the most decorated and clean. And we loved the simple vegetarian food. Our next destination, Jwalamukhi Temple.
Jwalamukhi is a famous temple of Goddess Jwalamukhi, the deity of flaming face. The building is modern with a gilt dome and pinnacles, and possesses a beautiful folding door of silver plates. Under the gaze of the Dhauladhar mountain range this temple has it’s own brilliance.
No idol is located in the temple and the deity is worshipped in the form of flames which come out from the crevices of the rocks. There is a small platform in front of the temple and a big mandap where a huge brass bell presented by the King of Nepal is hung. Usually milk and water are offered as obligations to the sacred flames in the pit, situated in the centre of the temple in between the floor pillars supporting the roof.
The deity is offered Bhog of Rabri or thickened milk, Misri or candy, seasonal fruits and milk. There is a mystic Yantra or diagram of the goddess, which is covered with shawls, ornaments and mantras are recited. The puja has different ‘phases’ and goes on practically the whole day. Aarti is performed five times in the day, havan is performed once daily and portions of Durga Saptasati are recited. It is also one of the most renowned temples of Goddess Durga and is identified as one among the 51 Shakti Peethas. Shakti Peethas are shrines of Devi, the primordial Mother Goddess.It is believed that Sati Devi’s tongue fell here.
We were now heading back towards Mcleod Ganj while we enjoyed the beauty of the entire stretch of Kangra and the fresh cool air. The evening was spent relaxing on the terrace of our homestay, with plants all around. The owners maintain a nursery and organic vegetables are also grown and used in preparing the vegetarian dishes for guests.
The next day was action packed and so we got up very early to check out the sunrise and go for a short walk before freshening up and having our breakfast. Naren had arrived and so we quickly got into the car and headed towards Dharamshala. Let me take you now on this wonderful journey with us. A journey that should stay with you for a long long time.
Dal Lake in Dharamsala is located on Dal Lake-McLeod Ganj Road. Known for its altitude, it is surrounded by canopies of deodar trees that add to the charm of this small lake. There is a small spring and a sacred Shiva temple here that is quite popular among the local people for its mythological importance. Above Dal lake is Naddi village, from where one can see the wider view of Dhauladhar range and the beautiful sunset. There are many cafes there to relax and enjoy the sunset.
Kangra Fort, located on the outskirts of Kangra town, is a fort built by the Rajput family of Kangra as part of the Katoch Dynasty. The builders of this fort trace their history back to the Mahabharata making this fort the oldest recorded fort in India.
It’s also the largest fort in the Himalayas. The fort is well known for its importance in medieval Indian history as it was a much sought after fort by the Mughals and succeeded in resisting a lot of Mughal sieges. The outer wall of the fort has a circumference of 4 kms and the inner chambers have a lot of artifacts from various periods, most notably the Mughal and British occupied India eras. There are temples and royal chambers inside that make for a very fun and eventful trip.
After spending some real quality time it was time to move towards some more peace destinations.
St. John in the Wilderness Church – An Anglican church located in the forest near Forsyth Ganj. The neo-Gothic stone building was constructed in 1852. The site also has an old graveyard and a memorial to the British Viceroy Lord Elgin. The church is also noted for its Belgian stained-glass windows, donated by Lady Elgin.
Bhagsu Falls, a waterfall about 20 meters tall, is about two kilometers from McLeod Ganj. There is a cafeteria next to the falls and the area serves as a picnic spot for tourists. The Shiva Cafe can be reached by crossing these falls and climbing further. Nearby is Bhagsunath Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, also an attraction for tourists and Hindu pilgrims.
Our last stop for the day was Naddi village to get a close up view of the Dhauladhar Mountain range. And what a pretty sight it was.
As we moved back, our happiness could be seen on our faces. The trip was short, very sweet and thoroughly enjoyable. And the end of another journey towards endless learning.
Dharamshala. A rich mix of history, religion, culture & nature.
Come to Dharamshala. Experience Himachal. Experience India Beautiful 🇮🇳