The Dalai Lama represents peace and tranquility to millions throughout the world, and Dharamshala is his home in exile from Tibet. Tibetan buddhists believe he is the incarnation of the Buddha of compassion, who has long been considered to be the patron deity of Tibet.
Dharamshala sits within view of the Himalayan mountains and covers the side of a very large foothill. The upper area of the town is called McLeod Ganj and is where the Dalai lama lives. Our hotel was in the town proper at the foot of the mountain. The drive from bottom to top is about half an hour up a well-paved switchback road which, ironically, mostly weaves in and out of an active military installation. At every corner, we had commandos sitting behind sandbag walls with very large guns pointed at us. Peace and tranquility indeed!
The several blocks of a town which make up McLeod Ganj are beautiful and scattered with street vendors, a few temples and a a bunch of Tibetan monks. There is also a KFC and a Pizza Hut, so don’t fret. There was no sign of Hinduism here and most people looked more Asian than Indian. It really was like being in another country.
For me, the main attraction here was to see the palace of the Dalai Lama. We were not allowed to take cameras, phones or any sort of electronic device into the palace but you can see many beautiful photos on Google. The approach to the palace is very humble; rough roads, reminders of stark poverty and unkempt street animals ranging from dogs to cows. Before you arrive to the palace, there is a checkpoint after which phones and cameras must be deposited. At the palace entrance, you meet airport-style security and through pat-downs.
Once inside the palace I was free to roam around. I took my time with people watching and taking in the scenic views from the palace terraces. Many people were praying and in such a fashion that I had not seen before. The inner rooms were adorned with beautiful paintings and tapestries of Buddhist figures. Exterior walls were lined with prayer wheels. Unfortunately, on this day the Dalai Lama was not in-residence, he was in Alabama speaking at the University of Birmingham.
Though Hampi was my favorite place to visit in India, this was the most impactful. If you ever get a chance to visit here, do it. It’s a bit off the beaten path, a 15 hour drive from New Delhi, but there is an airport nearby that you can fly in to for a price. If the Dalai Lama is in residence, you can catch one of his many public teachings. Check the Dalai Lama’s schedule to see if he will be home while you are around.
Also, if you go there, I have a fantastic contact for buying the best jewels, rugs, carpets, Indian handicrafts and Tibetan paintings, and at fantastic prices.
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