The Heritage Toy Train Journey - Childhood Memoir

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I wonder if it is natural to be nostalgic! Or is it due to the mental and emotional exhaustion invoked in us due to Covid -19 and its consequences? Do you also feel nostalgic at times! If yes, kindly share your moments of nostalgia in the comment box. One such nostalgic moment evoked by Ruskin Bond's book 'The Great Train journey' inspired me to write this blog. You must be wondering how! To explain this, let me take you to my childhood memories. I was born and brought up in the same small town Kalka which Ruskin Bond has beautifully mentioned in his book. Not only this, he also talked about the Toy Train, which happened to be the first train that I also ever saw.  Still confused! Let me explain further.  It was nostalgic because I also saw the train for the first time on the narrow gauge of the Kalka Shimla track that happens to pass just behind my house. I got excited every time the train blew its whistle. Waving to the passengers sitting at the window seat was a routine

Norbulinka Institute, Dharamshala

Colorful Entrance of Norbulingka Institute


Hello friends, today I am writing about a beautiful institution near Dharamshala- Norbulingka. Situated in foothills of Dhauladhar range, Norbulingka not only gives you knowledge about Tibetan culture but the architecture of the institution, its greenery, water flowing in the middle of the garden and prayer flags fluttering above your heads are treat to eyes. The brightly colored ambience of the institution is perfect for photography. I chose to write about Norbulingka because I think not many people who visit Dharamshala or Mcleodganj know about this institution.

greenery, water flowing in the middle of the garden and prayer flags fluttering above your heads at Norbulingka

greenery, water flowing in the middle of the garden and prayer flags fluttering above your heads at Norbulingka

Norbulingka means 'Jeweled Park'. In 1755, Norbulingka was built in Lhasa, Tibet. It was the traditional summer residence of Dalai Lamas from 1780s onwards until the 14th Dalai Lama came to India on exile in 1959. It served as an administrative and religious center. It is a unique representation of Tibetan palace architecture. 

After 1959 Tibetan uprising there was an influx of Tibetan refugees in India, who followed the 14th Dalai Lama. They started settling in various parts of India, Himachal Pradesh being the most important. To preserve the Tibetan culture in its artistic form, Kelsang and Kim Yeshi founded an institution in Sidhbari, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh in 1995 and named it Norbulingka. This institution focuses on retaining the Tibetan cultural knowledge and techniques and passing it on to the artists who are interested in pursuing their cultural heritage. This institution also helps in providing jobs and training to Tibetans in exile.

As we entered Norbulingka, we got fascinated by the picturesque beauty of the institution. We took entry tickets, and a guide took us on the tour of the institution. A gurgling stream rushing through the middle of the lush green gardens, chirping of birds and bright prayer flags were mesmerizing. As we headed towards the main building, we saw small stupas, colorful walls, a small Persian wheel rotating a prayer wheel in the middle of the stream. Several prayer wheels are installed at the main entrance that you can spin while entering and exiting the institution. After getting an eyeful view of the architecture, we headed towards the workshops where the artists learn Tibetan arts.

Tibetan Prayer wheel operated by persian wheel

Buddhist prayer wheels

Buddhist stupa at Norbulingka

Thangka Paintings

Thangkas are sacred paintings mainly of Buddhist deities. Practitioners use thangkas in meditational and devotional practices. Thangkas are painted on cotton or silk and traditionally kept unframed and rolled up when not in use. Thangkas can also be made by applique or embroidery on silk.

Thangka Paintings

Thangka Paintings

Thangka Paintings

Applique Thangka

Applique is a particular type of embroidery in which artists stitch small pieces together intricately to make figures of deities or traditional Tibetan motifs like flowers, animals or auspicious symbols. The silk thread used in embroidery is specially made by wrapping silk thread around the Mongolian horsetail hair. The whole technique of making Thangka painting- painted or applique requires a lot of precision, patience, hard work and time. 

Applique Thangka

Applique Thangka

Wood Painting

In Tibet, furniture and temple walls are painted with different traditional designs using vibrant colors. It is also a sacred art. It involves creating a lightly molded design that enhances the effect of paint and gives 3-D effects making the images pop off their flat surfaces. 

Wood Painting

Wood Painting

Wood Painting

Wood Painting

Wood Carving, Carpentry, Metal Craft

The guide also took us to the workshops where artists were busy carving woods, making statues of Buddha and also making wooden furniture without using nails.

Wood Carving

Wood Carving

Wood Carving

Metal Craft

Buray Silk

A luxurious variety of silk-Buray silk is weaved at Norbulingka. This silk fabric is made from pierced cacoon of moth that lives on castor oil trees, mainly found in jungles of Assam. This silk has the warmth of wool and softness of silk. It was traditionally used to make shawls of monks.

 Losel Doll Museum

We could see the traditional Tibetan scenes in the doll museum. Miniature dolls displayed in glass cabinets give you a fair idea of beliefs of Tibetans. From the Doll Museum, we were directed towards a temple situated on a peaceful corner of Norbulingka. 

Losel Doll Museum

Losel Doll Museum

Losel Doll Museum

Losel Doll Museum

Losel Doll Museum


Deden Tsuglagkhang Temple

Also called Seat of Happiness, the temple is a magnificent example of Tibetan religious architecture. It is a peaceful place to practice meditation. There is a 14 ft. high statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. This statue is most extensive of its kind in India and has been crafted by artisans of Norbulingka. 

Another masterpiece of Norbulingka artists is the Thangka that hangs in the temple. There is a beautiful story behind this Applique  Thangka. Norbulingka made Thangkas for patrons worldwide but had none for themselves. Therefore an American Buddhist patron ordered one to be displayed in Norbulingka. The Thangka has sixteen Arhats embroidered on silk. The Thangka was completed in ten months. We spent some time in the temple and then headed towards the souvenir shop. 

Deden Tsuglagkhang Temple

Norbulingka Institute Shop

The souvenir shop at Norbulingka sells all kinds of crafts items that are made by the artists of Norbulingka. The articles are a little expensive, but after seeing the hard work of the artist, we found them worth the cost. A few items that are sold in the shop are- bedsheets, handbags, dress material, shawls, furniture including carved beds, lampshades, idols of Buddha of different sizes, hand made wrapping sheets, holy symbols like prayer flags and prayer wheels, thangka paintings, thangka applique and many more. Art objects produced at Norbulingka are sold at the shop, and the money is used for the benefit of the Tibetan refugees.

It took us around two hours to see Norbulingka, and we were famished, so we decided to eat at the restaurant at Norbulingka.


Restaurant

It is an open-air restaurant with a live kitchen. We ate dosas, fried momos and red velvet cake and had cold coffee in the end. 


After eating to our content, we went to see Norling house.

Norling House

Norling House is the guesthouse located within Norbulingka. There are thirteen rooms, and each room is unique and themed according to different animals from Tibetan mythology. We saw two rooms-parrot and tiger themes.  Rooms are air-conditioned with double beds and seating area. The bedsheets, carpet, cupboards and wall hangings or I must say the total furnishing of the room was theme based. They did not allow us to take the photographs. 

Norling House

Norling House

Norling House

Workshops

Norbulingka offers customized workshops to those who wish to try their hand at the Tibetan arts. At the end of the workshop, the guest can carry his beautiful product home. There is no application process for the workshops, and guests can join anytime and can stay as long as required. 

All proceeds from Norbulingka go directly back into the institute and are used to provide benefits to the staff of Norbulingka and to fulfil their mission of preserving Tibetan culture.

I would recommend this place to all those who visit Dharamshala or Mcleodganj. I visited Sidhbari in April 19 and Rakkar in June 19 and during both my trips I ensured that I visit Norbulingka. And I wish to see it again and also take a workshop. 

How to reach Norbulingka

  • Distance from Dharamshala- 7 km
  • Distance from Mcleodganj-11 km

Other Places to visit nearby

  • Monastery and residence of Dalai Lama at Mcleodganj
  • Bhagsu Fall at Mcleodganj
  • Rakkar- A small village with scenic beauty with water flowing from hills along the road and also in the houses.
  • Dharamshala cricket stadium
  • St John Church, Dharamshala
  • War Memorial, Dharamshala
  • Naam Art Gallery, Sidhbari
  • Gyuto Monastery
  • Namgyal Monastery
  • Bhagsu Nath Temple, Mcleodganj
  • Tibet Museum Mcleodganj
  • Kangra Art Museum, Dharamshala
  • Aghanjar Mahadev temple

To know more about places near Norbulingka, please wait for my next blog.

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