In April 2015, during our trip to Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, we met the Dalai Lama. Oh yes, just saying that takes me right back to that moment when he asked me “You came all the way from Bangalore to meet me? Thank you!” And squeezed my hand. And leaned into my hug. And tickled my son’s beard. I still feel the warm cozy pressure of his hand.
Okay, so, I actually meant to write something nice and soothing for N. I pondered a number of ideas and wrote up drafts (yay! Me). I literally sweated over them. I wished myself in a cool place. That’s where the Dalai Lama angle comes in. I thought, why not take another trip to one of the beautiful places we visited, and take you along with me?
We’re visiting the Norbulingka Institute today, a peaceful and picturesque world all its own.
That morning, we first visited the War Memorial, followed by the Tapovan, and then headed out to Norbulingka Institute, Sidhpur, which is a 30-minute drive from Mcleod Ganj. The weather was gorgeous, gently sunny with the promise of April showers. Nature did not disappoint.
Norbulingka Institute was founded in 1988 by Kelsang and Kim Yeshi, with the aim of preserving Tibetan heritage and culture in its literary and artistic forms, as a haven for artists to work on their crafts. Today, visitors from all over the world flock here to explore live workshops and see traditional art at work. As soon as one enters the gates, it is a different world with gurgling streams, charming Zen-style gardens, bird song, and green green greenery. Nature loves it here! The architecture is reminiscent of an old Tibet.
Norbulingka means “Jewel garden” and the Institute is a fabulous example of community living, while nurturing a self-sustaining living heritage.
The ground plan for Norbulingka Institute follows the proportions of the deity of compassion, Avalokitesvara.
While the workshops and offices were constructed in the shape of his thousand arms, the temple is his head, and in the middle is the water spring, representing his heart, emanating kindness to all living beings.
Most of the artists were employed for the actual construction of the institute, which was designed in traditional Tibetan architectural style.
Woodcarvers and carpenters helped to erect the buildings, while thangka painters worked tirelessly to complete the frescoes on the walls of the temple.
Norbulingka Institute was officially inaugurated in 1995 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Today, Norbulingka has nine workshops including thangka painting, statue making, thangka applique, woodcarving, applique, wood painting, tailoring, weaving, and screen printing.
There are customized workshops where visitors can enrol as individuals or in groups and get acquainted with thangka sketching, wood carving, wood painting, and appliqué. A master artist will supervise each participant, who, at the end of the workshop, will proudly take home a beautiful work of art created by her.
There are over three hundred people at the Norbulingka institute, including masters, their apprentices, scholars, students, the admin and hospitality staff.
The fields around Norbulingka have now transformed into a thriving and I felt, stylish, Tibetan community with plenty of cafes, restaurants, shops, and homes.
Let’s go inside now!
There is a guesthouse, a café, a temple, a museum and a shop. We learned that the ideal time to visit is March to May and Oct to Dec. July to September is when monsoons strike and it can be very wet.
By the time we reached Norbulingka, a gentle shower had started. We paid a nominal entry fee of Rs.40.00 and entered the gates.
Just outside the gate, was a lady offering interesting ware.
Apparently there’s a guided tour available, but we preferred to wander around on our own and explore. Of course, we were fascinated by everything we saw. The ambiance was so soothing and…Zen!
As I twirled the prayer drums, I was definitely dreaming of meeting the Dalai Lama the next day!
After walking around the grounds for a while, noticing the little streams and shrines, we entered the main area to look at the Tibetan artisans and their apprentices at work.
There are sections on various ancient Buddhist art forms including statue-making, thangka painting, thangka applique, woodcarving, wood painting, tailoring and weaving. The doll museum was exquisite.
What really stood out for me was the perpetual smile on everyone’s faces. Ever friendly and happy to spend the time of day with anyone who stopped to talk.
Our next stop was at the gorgeous temple, Deden Tsuklagkhang (say that five times – that is your homework today!)
The Tibetan religious architecture and art done by Norbulingka’s artists makes it a serene place, where one can pray or just sit and reflect.
The walls are rich with thangka frescoes portraying Buddha’s life work, the fourteen Dalai Lamas and other Buddhist greats.
An applique thangka, almost two stories high hangs from the ceiling, and is stunning to look at.
It portrays the Buddha and the 16 arhats—I can only imagine how many artists, and how many thousands of hours must have gone into it.
Right in the center of the temple and visible from outside, is a 14-foot-high gilded statue of the Buddha Shakyamuni, the largest of its kind outside Tibet. This is also made by Norbulingka artists from hand-hammered copper sheets.
The expression on his face is … sweet!
My son couldn’t wait to get into the Losel Doll Museum on the premises, where a collection of more than 150 dolls dressed resplendently in traditional garb from various regions in Tibet are on display.
These garments are made from the original materials and give an insight into traditional life in Tibet.
The Losel Dolls were created by a group of artist monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery. There’s a small entry fee to see the museum.
Next, we wandered into the Norbulingka shop, which offers the entire range of products created in their own workshops—thangkas, handmade furniture, clothing and accessories and plenty more. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the shop. While everything was slightly on the expensive side, it was a treat to window shop.
Our final stop was the Hummingbird Café, thanks to our growling tummies. We contemplated driving back to the city to eat, but figured we may as well enjoy the experience of the Café, whose menu covered vegetarian international cuisine, ranging from Tibetan Thukpa to cheese pizza to hummus to freshly baked pita bread to the ever present momos.
They also had juices and smoothies and ahem! Specialty coffee drinks. Dessert is homemade cakes. We learned that there is a conference hall that can take up to 200 people. Beautiful place!
Replete with a pleasant lunch, we reluctantly left Norbulingka Institute. However, once we got into our car and headed back to Dharamsala, we were excited at the thought of visiting the fabulous cricket stadium set against the backdrop of the snowcapped Dhauladhar mountain range. Sigh.
Did I say everything about our trip was superb? The weather, the company, the people…everything! I took close to 1500 pictures and I am supremely grateful to my bully BFF, who insisted I share them all with her via Google Drive.
Did you enjoy the trip?
Have you been here before?