Dharamsala - literally, a place for shelter, is surely a name that was meant to be
. Home to the Dalai Lama and the Headquarters of his Government-in-Exile, this tiny dot on India's vast landscape is steeped in history and today, boasts a cosmopolitan populace.
Overlooking the stunningly beautiful Kangra valley and interspersed with the magnificent Deodar, the imprint of Buddhist culture comes alive through its temples, monasteries and the orange robes of Buddhist monks. The aura of the Buddhist spiritual culture, its pervading serenity, the patient preparedness of the Tibetans towards returning to their homeland-fill the land with a silent grace that leaves a visitor with a feeling that he has, indeed, visited a 'chosen land'. Founded by the British in 1846, this hill station seems blessed by Avalokitesvara - the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who is an close to being the patron deity of Tibet.
The author invites you to visit Dharamsala, to breathe its pristine air, to enjoy a trek amongst its lush, green surroundings. He introduces you to a 'piece of paradise on earth', a refuge away from the madding crowd
a memory that lingers long after it has disappeared from sight.
Jeremy Russell was born and educated in England. He has lived for the last twenty years with his family in Dharamsala, north India, the headquarters of the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan Government-in-Exile. He studied for nine years at the library of Tibetan Works and Archives, where he also contributed to the Research and Translation Bureau. In 1990 he moved to work on publications for the Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile and when the Department established the Norbulingka Institute, he moved there. He is Editor of the English section of the Norbulingka Institute and contributes to the work of the Office of the Dalai Lama.
He is author of Eight Places of Buddhist Pilgrimage, co-translator and editor of Opening the Mind and Generating a Good Heart by HH the Dalai Lama and Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun by Namkha Pel. He has been overall editor of Cho-Yang (the voice of Tibetan Religion and Culture) published by the Norbulingka Institute since its inception. Jeremy Russell has also contributed original articles to every edition. He has been contributing Editor to the books by the Dalai Lama published in the Library of Tibet: The Way of Freedom, Awakening the Mind, Lightening the Heart and The Joy of Living and Dying in Peace, which have achieved wide international distribution and translation.
Dharamsala denotes a place of shelter for pilgrims, usually a hostel attached to one of the myriad temples that dot the Indian landscape. It is an apt name for the small hill town that is the headquarters of Kangra District in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh - for Dharamsala has functioned as a shelter of sorts right from the start and continues to do so today.
Following the British seizure of the Kangra fort and the annexation of Kangra district, Dharamsala was established as a hill station. It was host to sick soldiers and administrative officers and British wives and children escaping the heat of the plains in summer.
In 1947, many people left Dharamsala and moved to the newly created Pakistan, a relatively short journey away. At the same time, many traveled in the opposite direction, leaving their homes in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Peshawar, and arrived in Dharamsala. Many of them settled there and rebuilt their lives.
Barely thirteen years later, in 1960, His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet was invited to take up temporary redence in Dharamsala, after his dramatic flight from his country following the Chinese communist takeover. He was accompanied by his family, his teachers and close advisors; eventually, a substantial lay and monastic Tibetan community followed him. He set up an administration of this new refugee community in Dharamsala that is, in effect, a government-in-exile.
At the begninning of the twenty-first century, Dharamsala is busy and thriving once more. Its population has expanded tremendously since the sleepy days before the Tibetans came, and building, both planned and unplanned has proceeded apace. Besides becoming one of the most important towns of Himachal Pradesh, Dhramsala has become a major tourist destination. People flock not only from all over India, but from every corner of the globe to this quiet refuge. And yet, true to its historically cosmopolitan character, remarkable telecommunication facilities and a proliferation of Internet cafes, this shelter in the hills is no longer remote but in constant touch with the world at large.
Dharamsala has been my home for the greater part of my adult life since I left Tibet in 1959. I still remember well my first arrival here in the spring of 1960. We drove up by road from Pathankot station, through beautiful countryside, the lush green fields filled with trees and colorful flowers. After about an hour we caught our first glimpse of the gleaming white mountains of the Dhauladhar range towering in the distance. These peaks were also the first sight to greet my eyes when I awoke for the first time in my new home the following morning, and of course their presence remains the dominating feature of the landscape.
Dharamsala was where I was finally able to settle down after several years pressure trying to deal with the Chinese occupation of my homeland, followed by the turmoil of my escape to India. Those early days were marked by a new kind of freedom, for although there was a lot of work to do ensuring the welfare of our ever-increasing community of refugees, I finally had time and leisure to give more attention to my studies and my spiritual practice. In addition, I was physically freer and enjoyed walking and trekking into the nearby woods and hills. Dharamsala then was very much an abandoned British hill station, a quiet and sleepy backwater of the Punjab, not the bustling Himachali town that it is today. My mother shared those early years with me and it was here that she happily spent her final days.
During our stay here, we Tibetans have been able to construct several institutions that have served not only to enable us to preserve our identity and traditions, but also to share them with others. I believe that our schools and religious establishments, our government offices, the Institute for Performing Arts, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute, the Norbulingka Institute and so forth vividly display Tibetans resourcefulness and the richness and value of our ancient culture. This is one of the paradoxical benefits of our time in exile, for when Tibet was free few people from the outside world had access to it and our way of life was often shrouded in mystery and misunderstood.
One of the great personal pleasures of moving to my present residence in 1968 was that it gave me the opportunity to work in my garden, where I am able to plant trees and tend flowers with my own hands. However, this pleasure is also related to one of my few disappointments with life here. For much of the year, the summer and autumn especially, we enjoy a comfortable, pleasant climate, but this all changes in the humidity of monsoon. Dharamsala suffers from over-abundant rainfall, which, besides creating havoc in the garden, is causing increasingly severe damage to the local hillsides and the environment in general. It is then in particular that I miss the drier weather of Tibet.
Apart from this small reservation, I look back on my years so far in Dharamsala as happy ones. Having made me and my people warmly welcome since our first arrival, the people of Dharamsala have continued to show us remarkable kindness and affection over the years. Whatever the future may hold, and whenever our dreams of returning freely to our homeland are fulfilled, we will never forget our time in this delightful place that has served us as true refuge.-by Dalai Lama
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