This month, Inspired Adventures would like to take you on a journey to Dharamsala, India. This little town in northern India has become a bustling hub for a Tibetan community who have settled here and life revolves around the spiritual teachings of its most famous resident – His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
We take you to Dharamsala this month because, ultimately, this is where Inspired Adventures was born.
The impetus to launch Inspired Adventures came about after a chance meeting with a Tibetan monk who had suffered many human rights abuses. Justine Curtis, Inspired Adventures’ Director, met Palden Gyatso when he was living in exile in Dharamsala.
Palden Gyatso’s story was moving and his determination, resolve and simplicity invoked an epiphany within Justine that could not be ignored. From that chance meeting, Inspired Adventures grew. It made sense that our first ever charity challenge was the Trek for Tibet in November 2005 to support the work of the Australia Tibet Council. This first trip saw 20 passionate people take up the call to raise funds and trek the Indian Himalayas. Today, Inspired Adventures continues to offer trips to this amazing destination that invokes spiritual feelings and creates cherished memories.
The town and its people
The word Dharamsala is a Hindi word that is difficult to translate directly into English. A loose translation means ‘spiritual dwelling’ or ‘sanctuary’. The indigenous people of the area are the Gaddis, a predominantly Hindu group. Due to their nomadic nature and lack of permanent settlements, the Gaddis lost a significant amount of their land when the British and Gurkhas arrived to settle.
The Tibetan settlement in Dharamsala commenced when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and the Prime Minister of India allowed him and those who followed him to settle in McLeod Ganj (Upper Dharamsala). In 1960, a ‘Tibetan-Government-in-Exile’ was established and since then many institutions have evolved to protect precious religious, cultural and historical documents from Tibet. Today, McLeod Ganj has become known as ‘Little Lhasa’ (after the capital of Tibet) and many thousands of Tibetans call it home. Brightly coloured flags featuring a striking snow lion in the centre are ubiquitous. This is the Tibetan national flag, which flies freely in exile but is outlawed in Tibet.
Dharamsala has also become a thriving tourist destination for spiritual seekers, human rights activists, volunteers and genuine travellers keen to absorb the vibrant atmosphere and enjoy some scenic treks in the Kangra Valley.
For food lovers, Dharamsala is a-dream-come true. Not only can you treat yourself to tasty Indian curries, you can tantalise your tastebuds with the delights of Tibetan and Nepalese food. Momos (dumplings) are very suitable to the western palate and are available in abundance at street stalls and in restaurants. Thukpa is a rich soup popular in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Of course any dish must be washed down with a chai tea, a lassi, Tibetan butter tea or even a local beer.
For history and culture buffs, no trip to Dharamsala is complete without a visit to the Norbulingka Institute. The main building is shaped like the Dalai Lama’s traditional summer residence in Tibet. The purpose of the Institute is to preserve and protect Tibetan language and its rich cultural heritage.
The Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) is often the highlight of any visit to this region. TCV takes care of and educates orphans and refugee children from Tibet. It is now part of a network that has spread across India and cares for over 12,000 children.
Dharamsala is the starting point for many treks into the surrounding mountains and in particular, over the Dhauladhar range and through the Kangra Valley.
A typical Inspired Adventures trek takes you on a five-day journey into the mountains and villages beyond Dharamsala. Starting with a 14km trek to the picturesque Kareri Village, the trek continues through mixed forests of oak, rhododendron and pine on to Triund, an alpine meadow located on the top of a high ridge. From here, the views are second-to-none: the perpetually snow-capped Dhauladhar peak on one side and the Kangra Valley on the other. Day four takes you to a shepherd camp at Laka Got, situated at the snout of a glacier. Caves and pastures dot the mountain creating a dynamic layered landscape unique to this area. The last day of the trek offers epic views of the valley below and the peaks above as you descend down a grassy ridge to the village of Bhagsu Nag where a vehicle awaits to take you back to Dharamsala for a celebratory dinner.