Mcleodganj is a small hill station in Himachal Pradesh. It is the largest Tibetan refugee settlement in India. Little Lhasa, as Tibetans fondly call it, is also the home to Tenzing Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibetans. Though it’s a temporary refuge, every inch of it blooms with the aroma of the rich Tibetan cultural heritage.
It derives its name from Sir Donald Friell Mcleod, a lieutenant Governor of Punjab and also one of the founders of Punjab University. “Ganj” is Hindi for “neighbourhood”. After the second Anglo-Sikh war in 1849, a subsidiary cantonment of the British Army was stationed at Dharamshala. By 1855, two major civilian settlements emerged, namely Mcleoganj and Forsythganj. However, a massive earthquake in 1905 destroyed these twin towns, killing approximately 19,000. It was only after fifty years, that the town regained its importance with the setting up of Tibetan government-in-exile.
Here are some of the tourist attractions,
- Tsuglag Khang or the Dalai Lama Temple – It is the most important site in Mcleodganj. The Tibetan monks and ordinary people come here to pay their respects to Dalai Lama and to pray. Many tourists come here to understand Tibetan Buddhism and seek solitude.
- St. John in the wilderness – The word “wilderness” has been very aptly associated with this place. Set in the lush green valley of Forsythganj and facing the snow-capped mountains of the Dhauladhar mountain range, this Anglican Church is known for its neo-Gothic stone buildings and Belgian stained glass windows, donated by Lady Elgin. While taking a stroll in the serene and green campus, you are momentarily transported away from the hustle bustle of cities.
- Dal Lake – Every year an annual fair is held here and hundreds come to take a dip in this holy lake.
- Tibetan Monastery – Enter through its gates and you will find yourself surrounded with trees, water rushing along the lanes, ponds with pretty orange fish and Tibetan children running around the place. The campus houses a temple, school and a shop. The food at its café is mouth-watering. Its specialties are Chilly Paneer and fried potatoes with basil. The café provides the ideal situation to revel in the calm atmosphere and enjoy the delicious food, accompanied with a good book, if you’re fond of reading.
- Bazaar – If you begin to crave for shopping after all the Dharamshala Darshan, head to this market. Old women setting up their jewellery stalls, young boys playing Tibetan romantic music at their shops and momos stalls are a common sight. Here you can find Tibetan dresses, junk jewellery, bags, footwear, all at very affordable prices. It also boasts of cafes like the Rogpa Café, a charitable trust that offers brownies and coffee and other such eateries. Hotel Curry Leaf is another place to tickle your taste buds. Their spring rolls are quite popular as well.
As a traveler, you often wonder how difficult it is to stay in an alien land, knowing that your own people are back in their homeland fighting for freedom. How does it feel to not know whether they will live to see the day Tibet gains freedom? How does it feel to create a new Tibet? How does it feel to struggle to establish your identity in another country?
“Yes, it’s difficult. But our Dalai Lama is here. And wherever he is, our centre, our hearts lie.”, says an old lady at the shop, erasing all my doubts.