The last time I was at Norbulingka Institute, I lost my memory card and almost dropped my camera into the monastery pond. Such, my friends is the awe-inspiring beauty of this institute – cum – monastery that leaves you spellbound and makes you forget about your worldly possessions.
Norbulingka or Norbu-lingka in Tibetan translates into many phrases in ordinary English. ‘Jewelled Garden’ or a ‘Treasure Garden’ are some of its translations. Norbulingka, unlike many other monasteries of Tibet, is present both as an institute in India and as the summer retreat of the Dalai Lamas at Lhasa, Tibet.
The original site at Norbulingka near Lhasa in Tibet has been declared as a UN World Cultural Heritage site and has been under diligent restoration since 2003. The Norbulingka at Lhasa lies 2km east to the Potala Palace, the world’s highest castle style complex.
According to Tibetan records, there used to be a spring season at Norbulingka that could cure diseases and the seventh Dalai Lama who used to fall ill would often visit to take a bath at Norbulingka. The then Qing Dynasty’s Imperial Minister asked for a construction of a rest place for the Dalai Lama after the bath. As a result, the first structure at the Norbulingka came into form-The Pavilion Palace.
Following the cultural (sic) revolution of the 1950’s under Mao Zedong, the complex was shelled and the complex lay dilapidated until restoration work began in 2003. Norbulingka currently is a museum displaying the Tibetan history and culture.
The Norbulingka Institute at Dharamsala, is the brainchild of Kalsang Yeshi and his wife Kim Yeshi. Kalsang Yeshi was born in 1941 in Tibet and spent most of his childhood in the Kham region. Following the oppression under Mao Zedong, he fled with many other monks to India, to the state of Assam. He worked with various Tibetan schools at Mussorie, Madhya Pradesh, Dharamsala in the early 1960’s. After moving to US for six years, he finally returned to India, initiated work on the Norbulingka Institute with the help of the Dalai Lama.
The institute is believed to be a replica of the palace built at Tibet. Here too we have lush green meadows, (artificial) flowing streams, koi ponds. The Dhauladhars’ rise spectacularly in the background but replicating the Tibetan aura is just impossible.
Many works of Tibetan artwork are on the display at the Institute, the most noticeable one being the Tibetan Thangkas. Tibetan Thangkas are traditional scroll paintings that depict the Buddha, deities, mandalas or scenes from the Buddha’s life. The thangka painting is done according to a proportional grid relevant to each deity. They are painted in opaque watercolor on cotton fabric, and then mounted in traditional Tibetan silk brocade.
The institue includes many other sections such as the Seat of Happiness Temple, Losel Doll Museum and the Norbulingka Gift Shop and Showroom. Many of the traditional and sacred Tibetan arts are taught and showcased at the Institute.
The only trouble is reaching the institute. The road leading to the institute is damn crowded and full of speed bumps. If yours is a low ground clearance vehicle, better keep it outside. Secondly, the demon of parking space haunts you badly if you dare to take your vehicle to the Institute. So either hire a taxi or if you are in your own vehicle then park it near the Lundrub Chime Gatsal Ling Monastery. There is ample parking space at the monastery and not many people venture out in that direction. The Institute is hardly 300 meters from the monastery. So you get free and safe parking space and also get to see the beautifully painted Lundrub Chime Gatsal Ling Monastery. There is another monastery closely popularly called the Gyuoto Monastery in Sidhbari. We will talk about both these monasteries and the magical world of Tibetan Painting in a separate post sometime later.
There is an entry fee for both the Indians (INR 2o for adults) as well as foreigners at the Institute. There is a library above the main temple complex but on both the occasions, I have found that library locked.
The Doll House gallery is certainly not to be missed.
And when you are done visiting the monastery, head towards the Dharmasala town via the not-so-popular Sidhbari – Khaniara road. That’s where the trails leading to Chamba over the mighty Kundli and Toral passes start.
And the Dhauladhars’ watch you closely on this road. Damn Close!