In March 1959, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, and approximately 100,000 Tibetan refugees, fled from Tibet to India. The then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru granted the Tibetans asylum and later offered Upper Dharamsala as a base for the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), which functions as the Tibetan Government in exile.
Upper Dharamsala, or to use its British name, McLeod Ganj, is perched on the side of a mountain in the Kangra valley, which is a part of the Himachal Pradesh region of the lower Himalayas. It is ideal for the Tibetan community, who are not used to the intense heat and humidity of the Indian plains. After the Dalai Lama took up residence in McLeod Ganj, numerous Tibetans made the long journey from the more southern Tibetan communities to enjoy McLeod Ganj's temperate climate.
McLeod Ganj is a mainly Tibetan locality, immersed in the preservation of its own unique culture, language and lifestyle. The town provides the Tibetan refugee community with educational facilities (from nurseries to adult education centers such as Lha), places of worship, primary health care clinics, hospitals, and access to traditional Tibetan medicinal practices. Several important monasteries in McLeod Ganj house the thousands of monks who have made the treacherous journey, sometimes on foot, across the Himalayas, to be close to their spiritual leader.
McLeod Ganj is now a thriving tourist hill station that receives hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, who come to marvel at the beautiful mountains, streams and waterfalls, and unique Indian town immersed in the culture of Tibet. The town is especially busy when the Dalai Lama gives his famous Open Teachings. The Tibetan community accommodates tourists with an open, gentle manner, friendly smiles, traditional Tibetan cooking (don't miss the momos), and beautiful Tibetan arts and crafts for sale.
Lha is located right in the middle of McLeod Ganj's main bazaar on Temple Road opposite the State Bank of India. Lha utilizes the upper floor of a building owned by the Tibetan Handicraft Co-op (whose shop is at street level in the same building). Lha's rent is paid directly to the Co-op, which is a conglomerate of approximately 400 Tibetan families working together to preserve the diverse handicrafts that originated in Tibet. Hence, even the money paid in rent by Lha finds itself back to the Tibetan community.
Fast Facts on the climate of Dharamsala
Between 1,250 and 1,982 metres.
Maximum 38 degree Celsius in June; minimum 0 degree C. in January.
Varies between 290 and 380cm. Monsoon season is July to September.
For information on how to get to Mcleod Ganj from Delhi, living costs and what to bring see Travel Guide: Guide for Volunteers.
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