Exploring Tibetan Culture

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While in Dharamshala/ Mcleodganj recently on a holiday to celebrate togetherness and life, this May, 2019 we kept one day to explore Tibetan culture.

Mcleodganj and it’s Tibetan Connection:

It was in March 1959, when Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959 in Tibet against the Communist Party of China. The Indian Government offered him refuge in Dharamshala, where he set up the Government of Tibet in exile in 1960. Thus McLeod Ganj became his official residence and also home to several Buddhist monasteries and thousands of Tibetan refugees. Over the years, the Tibetans and local population have intermixed and one can see a peaceful co-existence.

The most important Buddhist site in the town is the Dalai Lama’s temple.  Other Buddhist and Tibetan sites in McLeod Ganj include the Namgyal Monastery, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts,Gompa Dip Tse-Chok Ling (a small monastery), the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Gangchen Kyishong (called Gangkyi for short by Tibetans and is the premises of the Tibetan government-in-exile), Mani Lhakhang Stupa, Nechung Monastery, and Norbulingka Institute, which is 8 kilometres away. The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, lives near Dharamshala, in Gyuto monastery in Sidhbari.

Out of these, we shortlisted Dalai Lama temple, Norbulingka Institute and Gyuto Monastery to visit.

19th May, 2019 was the day of our Tibetan exploration in Dharamshala and Mcleodganj. Our first stop was the Dalai Lama Temple. It was at the end of the local market in Mcleodganj. There was a small parking for vehicles. Our cab driver parked his vehicle little away from the temple which gave us the opportunity to walk down and be part of the locals.

The monks in their maroon and yellow robes were all around in the temple and provides a mystic touch to the surroundings for the visitors like us. The place appears to be full of activities. Like all Buddhist monasteries around the world, this one is also full of intricate art work in bright colours with yellow or golden as main colour. The followers were going around their ritual of meditation. One of the main halls had sitting arrangement which appears like a class for monks. Since it was early morning , student monks were gathering together for class.

The temple has been opened for public and without any restrictions.Photography was allowed. Shoes are not allowed inside the main sanctum of the temple. The only request was to keep silence. But most of the tourists were not at all considerate, thus abusing the serene atmosphere of the temple. Responsible tourists are the need of the hour.

You can meditate, rotate prayer wheels, visit museum and library in the temple. Museums are my favourite. They tell us so much about history without being emotional. 🙂 This museum holds rare photographs of Dalai Lama, Tibetan culture, martyrs and others. This museum is found near the entry gate. There are also pictures of how Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet. A short video about the tibetan culture is played in the museum. ( Pls check timings.)

We spent around an hour here and enjoyed the serene and peaceful environment, rotated the prayer wheel while circumferencing the temple and captured some memories in our camera. We walked down to our cab, which was not parked in the temple’s parking. We got some time to walk down and be part of the locals.

Our next stop was Norbulingka Institute.

The Entry to Norbulingka Institute

Norbulingka is a community with a sustainable business model and a strong social mission to keep the Tibetan culture alive by training people for the future. All proceeds from their business sections go directly back into running the institute. In Norbulingka Institute workshops  and processes are held by providing apprenticeships in traditional Tibetan art forms and making Tibetan experience accessible and relevant to the contemporary lifestyle and young Tibetans.  Norbulingka focuses on design, meaning, and quality of their products. Every product has a story to tell through its materials, processes, and themes. These ventures take pressure off of the artists to produce in mass quantity, who can then focus on maintaining the authenticity of their artistic lineages. It also provides additional jobs with stable income and training in service and administration to many in the Tibetan community. All income generated by Norbulingka then goes back into the institute, through which they support social programs such as health and child care for the staff, as well as apprenticeships in traditional arts, and the patronage of various scholastic projects. They also have rooms to stay and can be booked on the website. One can register for the workshops on their official website. Wanna bring some authentic Tibetan culture back with you from Dharamshala, you can buy from the shop at the institute. For all these details, pls check their website – https://www.norbulingka.org/

This sign board about a “Doll’s Museum” in Norbulingka caught my eye. A doll’s museum here? The doll’s museum of New Delhi flashed before my eyes. It was a deja vu moment for my visit to doll Museum in Delhi decades ago, with my young children.

The Losel Doll Museum at Norbulingka.

This museum gives an insight into Tibetan past, their struggle, art and culture through dolls. I loved every minute, I spent there. What an innovative and interesting way to introduce the old culture to visitors! I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the Tibetan history .

After spending good time in the museum and monastery, we started for the Gyuto Tantric Institute. It was established for the preservation and promotion of the tradition of tantric teachings of the great teacher Tsongkhapa, the crown among the learned and accomplished masters of Tibet, who had been taught the teachings of the Buddha, through Nagarjuna and other learned Indian Buddhist scholars of Nalanda University, great Tibetan translators and accomplished masters.

The Gyuto Institute in Dharamshala has a very beautiful premises. A bright combination of red and yellow adorn the whole premises which stands out and is very eye catching. Below are some photos from outside and inside the monastery. 

The most common sight in the twin cities of Dharamshala and Mcleodganj is of Tibetan monks in their maroon and orange robs. Many tourists ask them to have a photograph with them and they happily oblige. Why do they ask- just wondering? May be it makes a better composition 😊. Most of the Tibetans in the city are monks. They are studying about their past, history and culture in these monasteries but what do they do for a living? My local guide shared that the monasteries are heavily funded with aids coming from European countries and US. He also shared that the most of the high ranking hotels are owned by these monks. One can see them using most of the latest and high end gadgets thus pointing to financial strength. They have made this place their home almost half a century ago and one can see the ease with which they have amalgamated with the locals. The hills are rich green and at peace with this synthesis. Amen !💐

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