Google tells me that ‘Dalai Lama’ means the Ocean of Compassion, literally the ‘Ocean Monk.’ The only person I believe to be a true living saint, the opportunity to visit his seat could not be passed up. In my mind, Dharamshala is totally equated with the Dalai Lama, so when the wife booked tickets and hotel in McLeodganj, I rebelled and pretty loudly so – until the wife patiently explained that the Dalai Lama’s temple and monastery are not in Dharamshala but in McLeodganj, a few odd kilometres up the mountain from Dharamshala.
The Tibet Museum at the monastery is a small affair, but eloquently tells us of the sufferings of the Tibetan people after its “Anschluss” by China. The systematic attempt at destruction of a people, their culture, their religion and their habits and lifestyle is graphically described in the various photographs and mementos preserved in the museum.
The monastery temple is a true ocean of piece. Nearly a hundred Tibetan men and women were sitting in prayer in front of the altar. The seat that the Dalai Lama occupies when in town was respectfully covered with a silk cloth. It was quiet, with the murmuring of a hundred voices sending up their prayers to the Buddha. When I got a little confused about which door to take, an old lady came up from her prayers and guided me on my way. I felt that I could spend hours sitting in the courtyard, staring at the mountains and letting the peace of Buddha fill me up.
The view from our hotel room was fantastic. At dawn and dusk, the mountains looked to be just a few hundred metres away.
A few miles out of McLeodganj lies its twin town of Forsythganj, famous for its small and very pretty old church – the Church of St John in the Wilderness – which houses the grave of Lord Elgin, the second Viceroy of India, and of the Elgin Marbles fame. The grounds of the church are really quiet and pretty; Gray’s Elegy might have been written in this little place rather than at St. Giles’ parish church in Stoke Poges, England.
A short drive from McLeodganj took us to Naddi and Dal Lake. The view of the mountains from Naddi was stupendous, and it helped that we had a reasonably clear day and a bit of cloud covering the peaks. The Dal Lake with its brown water surrounded by deodar (cedar) trees was a study of contrast in colours.
Dharamshala per se was none too interesting – the usual market town in the foothills, without much character. The cricket stadium was an exception – a small little living room carpet sized ground, with a very colourful pretty little pavilion, perched on a little plateau at one end of town – a really cute little thing, like a ten year-old girl decked out for her birthday party.