Jalandhar, , India
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There are few leaders of men who have captured the imagination as emphatically as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet. He is also one of the most-recognized people on earth because of the intense publicity that surrounds him owing to his strange circumstances--he has lived in exile in India for fifty years after escaping the rampaging communist Chinese who invaded his homeland. It says a lot about the man that in spite of the violence he has escaped from, he is a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The home of the Tibetan Government In Exile and His Holiness is McLeodganj, a small town in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India. Also called Upper Dharamsala Lower Dharamsala being the main commercial area, it is located in the foothills of the Himalayas, with a clear view of the snow-clad mountains of Tibet nearby. As one would expect, the scenery is breathtaking and the climate excellent, so McLeodganj is a popular tourist destination which many Indians and non-Indians visit year-round. If you have the inclination, this is an excellent place to experience authentic Tibetan culture among the Tibetan exiles who have set up several cultural centers and important monasteries in the area. When to go The best time to visit Dharamsala/McLeodganj depends on your preferences--for me, the monsoon season from July to September is magical, especially in Dharamsala which is one of the rainiest places on earth It is cool and very comfortable between October and December and you will need a light sweater or jacket in the evenings and at night. The mornings can be very chilly but the daytimes are warm and sunny. January and February is snowtime in Dharamsala/McLeodganj and this is also the time for Losar, the Tibetan New Year Festival. For two weeks, the town erupts in song and dance--an ideal opportunity to observe and photograph Little Tibet. The summer months between March and June are hot although cooler than the scorching plains below. What to see McLeodganj is called Litte Tibet for good reason--it not only is home to a large population of ordinary Tibetans but also to the largest population of Tibetan monks outside of Tibet. They live, learn and pray in the several monasteries scattered around the hills nearby. It is a treat to visit these and a couple of the best bets are the Namgyal Monastery situated in the Center For Tibetan Studies. It is the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the first destination for most visitors, certainly all Buddhists. If you are lucky and the timing is right, you may get to see His Holiness. Across from the Namgyal Monastery is the Tsuglagkhang, a statue of the Buddha. Another monastery worth visiting is Dip Thekchen Choeling which is a center of Buddhist learning and contains ancient manuscripts and scrolls in its library. It has an impressive golden roof that is visible from miles away. If your interest is in Tibetan culture and art, the place to go is the Norbulingka Institue which is recognized as one of the leading institutes in the world. You may also have wondered about the name McLeodganj--it is named after Sir David McLeod, a Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab during the days of the British Raj. This also explains the very English feel of this hill town, one quaint sign of which is the Church of Saint John in the Wilderness nestles in the hills among the deodhar and pine trees. To explore its gravestones is to be carried back in history. Where to stay Dharamsala and McLeodganj has many hotels that serve pilgrims and tourists alike. As a tourist, you may want to try one of the old British buildings that have been turned into quotHeritage Hotelsquot like the Cloud End Villa. There are no 5-star hotels yet but several good quality 3-star and budget hotels like the Glenmoor, Jukaso Palace and Him Queen. How to go The very interesting and picturesque Kangra Valley Railway made up of narrow-guage quottoyquot trains go through Kangra which is about 20 miles from Dharamsala and this is an excellent way to visit from Pathankot. The road network is very well developed and there are many good buses and taxis that run up from Delhi. A nearby airport called Gaggal is about 20 miles away and has a few flights a week.
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