“In common Hindi usage, the word dharamshala refers to a shelter or rest house for spiritual pilgrims. Traditionally, such dharamshalas (pilgrims’ rest houses) were commonly constructed near pilgrimage destinations (often in remote areas) to give visitors a place to sleep for the night. When the first permanent settlement was created in the place now called Dharamshala, there was one such pilgrims’ rest house on the site, and the settlement took its name from that dharamshala”. (Wikipedia).
It may seem not a case, then, that the Dalai Lama established here the headquarters of the Central Tibetan Administration, better known as “the Tibetan government in exile”, since 1960. His Holiness also settled down in the upper suburb of McLeod Ganj. The name of this village caught my attention, and I found out that it was so named after Sir Donald F. McLeod, a Lieutenant Governor of Punjab.
Apparently, after its annexation in 1850, the British found this place quite chill, especially compared to the hot lowland of the surrounding States of India. So do I.
Dharamsala is a picturesque blend of Hindu and Tibetan cultures. As usually happens, these two worlds, rather than clash, seem to coexist peacefully, giving the pilgrim a sight on a kaleidoscopic corner of India. The upper villages of McLeod Ganj, Bhagsunath and Dharamkot host mostly the exiled Tibetans, and everything turns around the presence of the Dalai Lama; but every corner speaks loudly you are still in India.
I spent the first two days with a local must-do: the trek on Triund Hill. Then, I wandered from the Baghsu waterfall to the foothills of Sidhpur, where I enjoyed the peaceful garden of the Norbulingka Tibetan institute, and a sunset with guitar in the countryside.
The vibrant colors of the Dalai Lama Temple sound even louder in a solemn atmosphere.