A government in exile deals with Tibetan affairs from McCleod Ganj. One principal aim of the government there is preservation of Tibetan culture. Refugee children are taught in their native language. A library preserves important works of literature, religion and history. Institutes train young people in traditional arts and crafts: an important one is Norbulingka, located a few miles south of Dharamsala.
A large compound there houses workshops, a temple, gardens, a tea shop and a gift store. A residence, Chonor House, offers overnight accommodations for $40-$70.
The architecture is what you might find in old Lhasa. Buildings look antique, but the institute was built in 1988.
Peaceful gardens separate buildings within the complex. Prayer flags spread good will and compassion to all living beings with each breeze.
A small stupa anchors the center of the gardens. It houses Buddhist relics, among them paintings of deities. Also present are flat rocks bearing painted carvings of prayers. The rocks are called manis—jewels.
Fine details abound. Elephant motifs enliven roof drains—canales to those of us who live in colonial Mexico. Ours seem prosaic by comparison.
A museum offers hundreds of dolls dressed in traditional Tibetan costumes. Admission: 5 Rupees for locals, 20 Rs for foreigners—50¢.
Above, a doll dressed like a holy man receives homage from a spiritual seeker and from a number of woodland creatures as well. He appears to have meditated in his cave for many years.
The museum host, a young Tibetan woman, asked if I knew about California. Then she wanted to know if I had been in Santa Barbara. I explained that my daughter lives there. She tasked me with contacting a realtor the next time I visited there, a man who had sponsored her sister during her flight from Tibet. I am to tell him tashi delek (hello) from her.
A Buddhist temple heads the garden; the gilded roof draws the eye. Wide stone steps flank a stepped cascade fed by snowmelt flowing out of the Himalayas. On a clear day, those great mountains frame the temple roof.
Mindful of being respectful, I put away my camera before removing my shoes and entering the temple. I came upon an Indian family posing on the altar for souvenir photos. Others visitors wandered about photographing the temple's treasures, flashes going off everywhere. Everyone wanted pictures of the 15-foot high gilded Buddha, handcrafted in Norbulingka's own shops.
So much for reverent silence. I pulled out my camera and shot a single flash-free image of the father as he photographed his brood, feeling absolved of any blasphemy. I mean, it's not like the place is the Sistine Chapel or anything.
Buddhists are so easygoing.
Note: For more information, you can visit www.norbulingka.org. The website is exquisite and informative, if a little flash heavy.