Tsuglagkhang Complex, McLeodGanj, Dharamsala, India                   Click here for photos of McLeod Ganj town ...

The seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile is in McLeod Ganj (upper Dharamsala), a picturesque town overlooking the Kangra valley, below the snowy peaks of the Dhaula Dhar range in the Indian Himalayas. At one end of the ridge in McLeod Ganj is the locus of the Tibetan community, the Tsuglagkhang complex, their Potala Palace-in-exile, though this is a rather modest affair by comparison. It contains the Dalai Lama's residence, a monastery, temples, and stupas. For visitors there's also a café, bookshop, and the Tibet museum.

Visitors are free to roam except to the monks' residential quarters.  The ambiance is warm and collegial.  Wistful sketches of the Potala Palace hang beside paintings that depict scriptural stories and fierce Tibetan deities. Most monks are refugees from Tibet (rather than born in India) and speak only a smattering of Hindi or English; their monastic education is entirely in Tibetan. Each day they study philosophy, tantra, history, geography, Tibetan, etc. (but not Hindi or English, forcing an additional state of exile on the monks, some mere kids drafted into the order). Few among the Indian-born Tibetans—or Tibetan-Indians, depending on how they see themselves—choose to become monks.

Student monks gather each day in the courtyard and, in small groups, debate nuances of Buddhist thought, even as other monks and pilgrims in the complex indulge in the un-Buddha-like practice of mechanically turning prayer wheels. The monks also perform Buddhist rituals and learn the art of making tormas (butter sculptures) and sand mandalas. As they approach adulthood, monks are free to quit the order and join the laity, as many do; a few proceed to get the monastic equivalent of Ph.Ds; fewer still become rinpoches, or precious teachers. The monks don't study science—surprising, given the Dalai Lama's own interest in and openness to science, and the lack of an inherent conflict between science and Buddhism—but then Buddhist philosophy too is preoccupied with using a (different) set of disciplined, rational techniques to understand the nature of reality (I've discussed this topic further in section 3 of this essay).

When not traveling, the Dalai Lama gives occasional public audiences. Over 140,000 Tibetans (including those born after 1959, the start of the exile) live in India as refugees, 80% of whom have not applied for Indian citizenship, hoping one day to return to Tibet and regain their theocratic state. Oddly enough, their largest strength outside the Himalayan belt is in Karnataka. Each year, about 3,000 refugees still make perilous journeys across the Himalayas to come to Dharamsala (a good recent documentary is Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion). Given the Dalai Lama's emphasis on nonviolence, compassion for the adversary, and peaceful negotiations, their hopes for Tibet rest entirely on a more enlightened Chinese government coming to power in their lifetimes. Meanwhile, smart money is not betting on this outcome. [—May 05; Comment?]

Tsuglagkhang complex

Includes His Holiness Dalai Lama's residence, monastery, temples, stupas, Tibet museum, bookshop, cafe, etc.

Tsuglagkhang Temple

The Tsuglagkhang, or Central Chapel, is the exiles equivalent of the Jokhang temple in Lhasa and, as such, is the most important Buddhist monument in McLeod Ganj. -- Lonely Planet, India 2003

Sakyamuni Buddha (more)

A 3 meters high gilt statue.

Padmasambhava (more)

 Indian Buddhist mystic who introduced Tantric Buddhism to Tibet in 8th century CE and who is credited with establishing the first Buddhist monastery there.

Avalokiteshvara (1, 2)

The bodhisattva ("Buddha-to-be") of infinite compassion and mercy, possibly the most popular of all Buddhist deities, beloved throughout the Buddhist world. He supremely exemplifies the bodhisattva's resolve to postpone his own Buddhahood until he has helped every being on earth achieve emancipation.

Sakyamuni Buddha

Dharmaraja Tri-Ralpa-Chen (806-841 CE)
The 40th king of Tibet

A painting inside the central chapel

Monks immersed in study

Doctrinal disputation

Sitting ones defend

Language game or reality?

The teaching attributed to the Buddha was transmitted orally by his disciples, prefaced by the phrase

You call that an illusion?

Advantage nothingness

Hmm, a trick of the ego

Because all is impermanence!

He called me full of emptiness

Distraction in blue?

Melting pot

Outside the entrance to the Tsuglagkhang complex

Central compound

Two women

Dharamsala from above

View of Dharamsala from McLeod Ganj

Elderly monk

Walking monks

Talking monks

Elderly monk

Laughing monk

Gazing monks

Gazing monks

Monks in the bazaar

Chatting monks

Supplicating women


Scene on the Kora

Bull horn exercise

Controlled blowing

Posing monks (1, 2)

Group portrait (1, 2, 3)


Skull-studded architecture

Snowy backdrop

Home, sweet home

Painting of the Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet

Prayer wheel (more)

Near Namgyal Cafe

Wall painting (1, 2)

Wall painting (1, 2)

Where is the Panchen Lama?

Spinning tourist (1, 2)

Elderly monk (1, 2, 3)

Teacher & students (1, 2)

Memorial, Tibet museum

Memorial for the 1.2 million Tibetans who died as a result of the Chinese occupation. Artist: Pekar, April 2000

Doctrinal disputation

Heated argument

Disagreement (more)

Mixed gender debate

Kalachakra temple (1, 2)

Kalachakra temple

Prayer time (1, 2)

Earth moving woman

One of the three women laborers on a small construction project inside the complex.

Dalai Lama's summer view

The Dhaula Dhar mountain range

Elderly monk

Bored looking monk

Elderly woman (more)

The Kora

Path that circumambulates the Tsuglagkhang complex

Dozing man

Earth moving women

There was some construction work going on inside the complex

Chopping wood

Dhaula Dhar range

Tibetan woman

Young Tibetan-Indians

Poster on a wall


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