Dharamshala is a picturesque hill station in Himachal Pradesh
bordering Tibet. It is a
tourist spot not only for the internal tourism but also for the foreign
tourists because of two important considerations. One, it is a nature’s gift of
breathtaking scenic beauty with cool temperatures in summer and snow bound
hills in winter. Second, McLeodganj, an old military base of British times
about 10 kms. from Dharamshala, is the seat of the ‘Government in Exile’ of the
Dalai Lama of Tibet. The Dalai Lama lives in McLeodganj along with his Tibetan
followers. That is why it is called “Little Lhasa”. McLeodganj, therefore, is not only famous for
its natural assets but also has become an important spiritual centre of
Buddhism and Tibetan way of living.
|With Naresh at McLoedganj|
During my diplomatic service, I travelled around quite a bit in foreign lands, not for sightseeing but mostly in the call of my duties. I have had no opportunity to travel around in India. I touched Mumbai, Calcutta, Chennai and Amritsar by air and that too in transit. I could see the Taj Mahal twice, in the course of my work, accompanying the Polish and Turkish VVIPs. Sometimes, I feel bad that, being a Punjabi from Jalandhar, I have not even seen the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) in Amritsar as yet. I thought of visiting some of the places in India like Amritsar, Dharamshala, Agra, Benaras/Kashi, Goa, in my retired life. But still, I feel ashamed while admitting that, I could not do so. The reasons are many but frivolous viz. health, wealth and will. Above all company, my wife Vidya is not a good support in these matters. May be we both are the same, longing for peace at home and to be contented.
My son Naresh and daughter-in-law Anju along with our two grand children in their teens, Pallavi, a vivacious but simple young lady and Arvind, an upcoming young lad with healthy and child like simplicity, are with us in Jalandhar on a family visit from Sweden. It is their first visit to India in the hot and humid summer months. Naresh made a family programme to visit Dharamshala for solace and change. I was not against the idea as I longed to visit Dharamshala and Mcleodganj because of the Dalai Lama connection but my wife Vidya was still reluctant. Naresh persuaded her to join the trip along with my second son Rupesh, our daughter in law Sulekha and two small angels Suhani and Rupal. Naresh invited my daughter Vaishali and her family to join the trip from Faridabad, to make it a complete family union, but due to the busy schedule of my son-in-law JP, they could not make it.
We started from Jalandhar in a hired taxi on the morning of July 3
Naresh and Anju had a long standing invitation from the parents of one of their
family friends in Stockholm, Samy Sood and Vasudha to visit their resort at the
picturesque Ravi River near Madhopur barrage. It was an enjoyable journey
particularly for the children. We reached Coral River Resort, a breathtaking
and hospitable place around lunch time. Our hosts Dinesh Mahajan Sahib and his
gracious wife received us with open arms. The rooms were pre-arranged for a
short break and rest. We fully availed of the time by walking around and taking
photos. The Mahajans are gracious and hospitable people. They treated us on a sumptuous
lunch at the appointed and well run restaurant at the Resort. It was marvelous.
They even offered us to stay over-night
with them at the Resort and proceed to
Dharamshala next morning. But we had to decline the offer politely as our
programme at Dharamshala was already confirmed. After lunch, we started for
Dharamshala bye-passing the military area and litchi gardens of Pathankot and
reached our destination and place of stay at Kunga Guest House in down-town
Mcleodganj late in the evening. It was my first experience to stay in a guest
house. The rooms were good and spacious but the approach from the main road was
rather cumbersome and not so good. The redeeming feature was that Kunga Guest
House has its own restaurant, Nick’s Kitchen, which is famous for its Tibetan
and Italian food. It is run by the son of a retired security officer of the
Dalai Lama. The next day we walked down to the famous temple of the Dalai Lama,
situated near the Mortimer House, the official residence of the
Dalai Lama. It was an educative experience for the family. We intended to meet the Dalai Lama as also
desired by Naresh and Anju but could not do so as he was out of the country in
connection with his birthday celebrations. I have had the opportunity to meet
and lunch with the Dalai Lama twice during the course of my diplomatic duties.
Naresh and Anju were interested in Tibetan art and culture for their business
interests and roamed around in the second half of the day. Fully tired, before
our dinner at the Nick’s Kitchen, which was totally vegetarian, we opened a
bottle of local Himachali fruit wine to unwind ourselves. The wine was not bad
at a price of around Rs.300/ per bottle. The next day, we walked up the famous
Shiva Temple-Bhagsunag and Bhagsu waterfalls. The waterfall is a scenic marvel.
I did not join the family for the waterfalls and waited at a
café at the base
with my not unfamiliar companion, M.V. Kamath’s “Close Encounter” and enjoyed
reading. On our way back, Naresh purchased some Tibetan original paintings for
their work purposes and a woolen Himachali cap for me.
|Rupesh & Sulekha at Coral River Resort|
|Pallavi at McLoedganj|
|Pallavi, Naresh, Anju & Arvind at Tsuglah Khang|
|At the base of Bhagsu waterfalls|
We fully enjoyed our stay at Mcleodganj, more than 6800 feet above the sea level, situated at the Dhauladhar Range of mountains, in spite of minor irritations of cleanliness and civic amenities and also traffic chaos. My children from Sweden were not very comfortable with some small insects in their rooms at the Guest House but the management was co-operative in spraying the rooms. It is a matter of pity and concern that in spite of the fact that McLeodganj is a recognized tourist and pilgrimage destination, the authorities have not done much to develop and maintain the basic facilities for the tourists as it should be.
On July 5, after breakfast, we came down to Dharamshala and had
a quick touristic
drive on the way to our destination – Norbulingka Institute – The Heart of
Tibetan Culture. It has a beautifully developed and maintained garden in the
heart of Dharamshala. As described in their brochure “Norbulingka Institute is
built in traditional Tibetan architectural style and follows a ground plan
based on the proportions of the deity of compassion and patron Bodhisattva of
Tibet, thousand armed Avalokiteshvara.” Though it was raining off and on yet we
enjoyed the visit. We drove down to Jalandhar via Hosiharpur. It was a
difficult journey as the road
conditions were not as good as they should be, particularly,
as I could see, places of spiritual importance like Chamunda Devi Temple fall
on the route and the authorities shall pay attention to these requirements. I
thank Naresh and Anju for motivating us, me and Vidya, for our first outing in
India as tourists.
|At Norbulingka Institute|
|Anju & Naresh at Norbulingka Institute|