By – Sona Kamat MD
The largest two Tibetan Settlements outside of Tibet are located in India, some 2,300 Kms away from each other. The settlement of Dharamshala is located in Himachal Pradesh while the town of Bylakuppe is in Karnataka in the South.
Eighteen kilometers from Kangra in the state of Himachal Pradesh sits the scenic town of Dharamshala. It is the current residence of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso; and serves as the headquarters of Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan government in exile).
The city is divided into two distinct sections: Upper Dharamshala and Lower Dharamshala. Kotwali Bazaar and the surrounding markets are referred to as “Lower Dharamshala” or simply “Dharamshala.” 1
McLeodGanj, located further up the mountain is often referred to as “Little Lhasa” and is found in Upper Dharamshala. Several thousand Tibetans live in and around McLeodGanj. It is home to several Buddhist monasteries, temples and schools and has become a tourist attraction for Indian and foreign travelers, alike.
In 1959 H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama fled from the Tibetan government and was offered sanctuary by the Indian Prime Minister Nehru. In 1960, the Tibetan Government in Exile was formed while in India.
One of the most important Buddhist site in the town is Tsuglagkhang or Tsuglag Khang, the Dalai Lama‘s temple. It houses statues of Shakyamuni, Avalokiteśvara, and a statue of Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche).
Dharamshala is currently home to some fifty-three thousand people. It is comprised of multiple suburbs and most famous for being the home of the Dalai Lama in exile. It is visited by many international tourists yearly and is notable for its spiritual and majestic venues.
Ninety kilometers from Mysore, in Karnataka, sits the largest Tibetan population in India outside of Dharamsala in a town called Bylakuppe.
This town, aptly nicknamed “Mini-Tibet”, began as a Tibetan refugee settlement in the 1960’s and has now become a town of seventy thousand Tibetans.
The town is special as it houses one of the largest Tibetan settlements in India — the Lugsung Samdupling settlement and the Dickey Larsoe settlement. The Lugsung Samdupling settlement was first established in 1960, after the 14th Dalai Lama came to India, with just 3,000 residents. Nine years later, in 1969, the Dickey Larsoe settlement was set up. 2
Bylakuppe is comprised of a number of agricultural settlements, colonies, monasteries and temples of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The three most notable are the Sera Monastery, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and Namdroling Monastery. Sera belongs to the Yellow-Hat Gelugpa sect of Buddhism and is the local seat of education. More than 5,000 Buddhists monks study here. Bylakuppe also has many Buddhist universities for advanced Buddhist practices.
Tashi Lhunpo Monastery is one of the four great monasteries of central Tibet and the original seat of the Panchen Lama. This was re-established in Bylakuppe in 1972. There are 250 resident monks who study sutra (a Sanskrit word that means “string, thread”. In Indian literary traditions, it also refers to an aphorism or a collection of aphorisms in the form of a manual or, more broadly, a condensed manual or text) and tantra (an ancient Indian tradition of beliefs and meditation and ritual practices that seeks to channel the divine energy of the macrocosm or godhead into the human microcosm, to attain siddhis and moksha.)
The main tourist attraction in Bylakuppe is the Golden Temple housed at the Namdroling Monastery. Three forty foot statues of Lords Padmasambhava, Buddha and Amitayus are assembled on the dais. Tourists are welcomed to visit the monasteries and temples. Photography is allowed even inside the temple.
Despite the Dalai Lama’s popularity and visibility, little is known in the general public of the thousands of Tibetan refugees living in exile from their native land. India has housed Tibetans and welcomed Buddhist practices for over sixty years in two main settlements. Dharamshala and Bylakuppe together house over one hundred thousand Tibetans and are picturesque venues with strong spiritual visits making them must visits.must visits in a trek through India.