We head out of Amritsar into the seamless unending fertile plains of the Punjab. We cross many irrigation channels transporting water from the mountains and distributing it to the thirsty crops in the fields. After two rather monotonous hours we leave the plain at Pathankot and get the first glimpse at the Dhauladhar range that soars to up to 5’639m.
The road starts to wind through valleys and over ridges that get us into the Kangra Valley and to Dharamsala. This is the area where the Tibetean refugees were allowed to settle after 1959. Upper Dharamsala at 2’080 m – also called McLeodGanj – is home to the Dala Lama, the government in exile and the Namgyal Monastery. The former British hill station is also known as Little Lhasa in reference to the large community of Tibeteans living there.
Winding our way down 700 m to Lower Dharamsala we cross the main business and administrative district and head out to the Norbulinka Institute. It was founded in 1988 to ensure that the integrity of Tibetan artistic traditions is maintained for generations to come. We watch artists painting Thangkas, woodcarving, wood painting and forming metal statues. The temple is rich with the output of the workshops and impressed us by the outstanding quality of the artisanship.
The 17th Karmapa stayed for some time at the nearby Gyato monastery and university that is specialized in tantric meditation. In the prayer hall we got nearly scared by ferocious looking statues and amazed by a wooden 3D mandala.