Sitting at the base of the Himalayas in northern India, far from the crowded streets of New Delhi and the border ballet in Wagah, is the city of Dharamsala. Home to a fluctuating population of approximately 19,000, Dharamsala is often the first stop for Tibetan refugees escaping Chinese occupation. Numbers are unclear but by some estimates, up to 1,000 Tibetans annually make the dangerous 6-12 month trek through rugged Himalayan terrain.
The lucky who survive the elements and Chinese troop patrols make their way to McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala, looking for assistance from the Central Tibetan Administration. The CTA helps relocate Tibetan refugees to other parts of India and the various nations around the world that accept a quota of Tibetans per year. Despite the chaos and uncertainty that inevitably hangs around the political and personal situations of many people in Dharamsala, it is absolutely one of the most peaceful, relaxing places I have ever visited.
Dharamsala’s most famous resident however is undoubtedly the Tenzin Gyatso, better known as the 14th Dalai Lama. Living in McLeod Ganj since 1959, the Dalai Lama is only here for about 4 months each year due to his nearly continuous travel schedule.
The presence of Tibetan Buddhism is felt everywhere in McLeod Ganj from its epicenter – the small temple in front of the Dalai Lama’s gated home. These prayer wheels are filled with sacred scrolls which are believed to be amplified when spun.
Prayers in Dharamsala come in many forms…
and hope, as it should, in child-sizes.
Contrasting India’s typical tongue charring chilies, Tibetan cuisine is shy on spice, not on noodle. Not that I would ever argue with Gakyi’s recipe, whose owner treats every dish like a favorite child.
The kind of winter comfort food you can feel giving you an insulating belly of love as you sip in its heat. For the right amount of black pepper to break into a cold sweat, I recommend Norling.
To bring the flavors back home with you, the secret is somewhere in these bags.
Secrets you can uncover with a 1 hour cooking lesson at Recommended Lhamo’s Kitchen, which is literally, his kitchen. You’ll learn to turn this:
Aside from traditional cuisine, efforts are made to retain many aspects of Tibetan culture.
At the Norbulingka Institute, a 20 minute car ride from McLeod Ganj, various crafts are taught and cultivated to slow the dilution of Tibetan traditions.
These prayer flags are strung up throughout the mountain paths of Dharamsala to bless those who walk them – especially in a strong wind.
The sound of Tibetan monks chanting and the tourists watching them chatting.
Whether in groups or alone however, none of the worshipers seemed to notice.
Dharamsala is almost as refreshing as the cool mountain winds that chill bones and beers perfectly in the evening hours – especially for travelers needing a break from India’s crowded festivals and cities. In a deceptive way, Dharamsala can also make you think Tibetans in McLeod Ganj are content without Tibet or within their current predicament. Until the shops close down for a few days in honor of several more who’ve died of self-immolation to protest occupation, it feels as though peace that was never lost, has been achieved.
You can see all of my pictures from Dharamsala in my gallery here.
Love your photos. I have not been to Dharamsala…did you think it was too touristy?
I didn’t, despite the large number of tourists there, they tend to blend in somehow.
Beautiful! I have spent a long time travelling India before, but never made it to the north-west. Going to get there someday soon.
Dharamsala has a completely different feeling to it from most other parts of India, you’ll be surprised when you get there!
Dlharamsala seems a very interesting place and with all the Tibetan traditions still going strong it is no doubt quite the cultural experience. I’m sure many of the monks have fascinating accounts of their perilous trip from China.
Many Tibetans there do, not just the monks. I recall meeting a guy who escaped as a child maybe 25-30 years ago and is now living in Colorado, though still visits Dharamsala when he can. It was the first place he arrived after crossing the border. Very interesting stories all around and fascinating to hear them in person.
Love your pics! 🙂 Food looking fab as usual!
Thank you! I did my best to eat as much as possible so there would be plenty to photograph on the tables 😀
Great photos of Dharamshala.
I was there a couple of years ago and you perfectly captured the vibes of the place in your shots: the colors, the tranquility (of some particular areas) and THE FOOD!
A great, great place to visit, no matter how “touristy” people might think it is.
Thank you Zara and I agree. It’s certainly a place to be visited in India for many reasons. And those reasons are why so many go – some places are touristy for good reasons!
Amazing pictures…have been there once and want to go there again for the peace of mind that you can actually get there and nowhere else!
I know the feeling, Dharamsala certainly has a pull on my even now months after visiting.
Thanks for the tips – heading there soon and looking forward to find calm amid chaos… 🙂