November 23rd 2017
The next day dawned cloudy but not completely so we got the desk to arrange a taxi to take us to the Bathu bridge, one of the more popular photo locations on the line, to photograph the two morning trains that are scheduled to meet at Jwalamukhi Road station just west of the bridge. We had the taxi drop us off and figured we would take one of the plentiful buses back. Amazingly the sun stayed out for both trains and in somewhat improved spirits I was ready for our cultural tour of the day.
After flagging down the next bus we arrived in Kangra and then found another bus to the famous Buddhist settlement of Dharamshala. This was my first experience with the Indian public bus system, I had always discounted them as with no publically available schedules they were hard to work into my tightly woven plans on other trips. Once you get over the lack of timetables they are actually quite a good way to travel in areas with poor rail service, they are not particularly fast or comfortable but dirt cheap and stop practically anywhere to pick up or drop off passengers.
Dharamshala is world famous for being home of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Buddhist religion. In addition, the Dalai Lama has always been a symbol and in former times the true leader of the Tibetan state. However the current 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso was forced to flee from his homeland as the Chinese government moved to take control of Tibet in the 1950’s. After fleeing over the Himalaya’s the Dalai Lama and many of his followers settled in the former British hill station of Dharamshala with the permission of the Indian government. Since then many other Tibetans have fled the repressive Chinese regime and the Dalai Lama heads up the Tibetan government in exile here.
We reached Dharamshala and none of us being cultural experts had any idea where to go. It turns out the bus station was several kilometres downhill from the famous temple and residence of the Dharamshala, and after two or so kilometres of walking uphill we gave up and found a rickshaw to take us the rest of the way.
The town of Dharamshala itself turned out to be quite typically Indian with crowded streets and a wide assortment of shops and restaurants selling every manner of things, however, it was still much more relaxed than the dusty center of Kangra thanks to the greatly reduced vehicle traffic. Eventually we found our way into the walls of the famous Dalai Lama Temple and first visited the small museum inside which gives a good explanation of how the Buddhists were driven from Tibet and the hardships the Tibetan people still face there. We spent about an hour touring the temple, unlike many in India the temple here is actually quite modern as it was built after the Tibetans fled to India in the 1960s. Entry to the temple is free (a small donation is customary) and photography is generally permitted except in a few areas, a refreshing change from the no photo or “camera fees” in place at many other sites.
After our tour of the temple we took a short walk through the city then settled down for dinner at an outdoor resteraunt with a sunset view and more importantly wifi as Thomas and Robin had no mobile data. Tandoori chicken was probably not the most enlightened thing I could have eaten but still recovering from my sickness I was sticking to familiar foods. It was very good all the same. Afterwards it was another taxi and bus trip back down the mountain to Kangra.