A trip to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh is not complete unless one visits the many beautiful monasteries in this region. The Dalai Lama, who is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan community, has made his residence here. Due to his presence, the areas surrounding Dharamshala have large Tibetan settlements and monasteries.
At half an hour’s drive from Dharamshala, lies a quaint hamlet called Sidhpur which is home to the Norbulingka institute. The monastery could well be mistaken for a health resort given its pristine location and architecture. Nestled in a deep forest of tall pines and surrounded by pristine snow peaks all around, the sight of it is a health elixir in itself.
A rich bouquet of colors has been used to paint geometric motifs on the building edges and borders. This is typical of the Tibetan style of architecture and one can see the stepped Pagodas too. Only the curling edges are missing from them and they are more boxy in shape. The use of natural stone to dress up the facade, helps it to resonate with its surroundings. Exquisite detailing of some Tibetan style hand paintings on the wooden columns and arches which strive to transport one back to Tibet.
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Silence and peace envelopes you, as soon as you enter the premises. Beautifully laid green spaces, modelled on the Japanese garden style greet you. Sounds of gurgling streams, Himalayan birds flitting around and the bushes of vividly colored blossoms earmark the central space. A stepped pathway marked through a serene water body makes for a very pretty picture indeed.
The verandahs are lined with hand painted wooden arches and columns, interspersed with rows of prayer bells. I couldnt stop myself from running my hand through them to make them turn. It’s such a therapeutic thing to do.
The Norbulingka Institute has been founded to work towards developing and nurturing Tibetan arts and crafts. This is a self-sustaining community and their mission is to not just make art for the Tibetan people, but for everyone to enjoy it. One can choose to take a guided tour or just meander on their own. There is a fee of 100/- charged from visitors.
The Institute has a dedicated workshop where they craft out items, teach students the arts and run a shop to sell these items. The idea behind crafting every product is the story it will tell you; whether it’s through the design or the materials used or the technique employed. Their primary focus is storytelling of their traditions and heritage through them. It’s a powerful idea and is executed brilliantly in every item I saw there.
The people employed there are all masters and their apprentices and everyone is of Tibetan origin. The aim is to provide crafting skills to help them sustain themselves and preserve their culture as well. All the proceeds go towards maintaining the institute.
One can find beautifully worked silver jewelry, hand painted boxes, frames, embroidered Thankas, Buddha statues, hand carved furniture, etc in this shop. Believe me when I tell you that they are treasures worth taking back home.
The institute offers courses for individuals wanting to learn this art. One gets to work with a master craftsman who will assign a project to you and supervise the teaching. And yes you go home with your creation.
The temple – Deden Tsuklagkhang is a beautiful dedication by the craftsmen to Buddha and its evident in the stunning embellishment on the walls and the statues. Brilliant colors, patterns and artistry is the impression that you take away with you. The 14 feet high gilded statue of Shakyamuni Buddha has been lovingly crafted by the Norbulingka artisans.
Losel Doll Museum
Dont miss out on visiting the Losel Doll Museum in the institute. It houses 150 dolls and each one is dressed in typical Tibetan textiles, cut into their traditional garments. The bright colors and vivid patterns give a great insight into their rich traditions.
A tiny open air cafe called The Hummingbird cafe is there to serve Tibetan delicacies and I would recommend you sit here a while. End your tour here and soak in the clean mountain air while you slurp your Thupka or dig into those juicy momos 😉
Staying at Norbulingka
There are some gorgeously done up rooms at the Institute which one can book for a stay. There are workshops and experiences which can also be booked via their website
Pathankot is the nearest rail head which is about two hours away from Dharamshala.
Though Gaggal is the closest airport to Norbulingka, one would have better luck at finding flights via Jammu or Amritsar airports which are four hours by road from here.
Cheapest option would be to travel by road but might take more time.
When you plan a holiday in Dharamshala, I recommend a visit to this place just to see the beautiful crafts of the Tibetan people and soak in the serene atmosphere of this gorgeous institute.
Do check out the Kangra Fort for the gorgeous views it offers of the entire valley, besides the architecture it showcases.
I first wrote about Nobulingka as a guest post for Shilpa Garg and you could visit that too please.