Thursday, February 14, 2013

McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh

   McLeod Ganj (also spelt McLeodGanj or Mcleodganj) is a suburb of Dharamshala in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, India. It has an average elevation of 2,082 metres.

   Situated on the Dhauladhar Range, whose highest peak, "Hanuman Ka Tibba", at about 5,639 metres, lies just behind it, it is known as "Little Lhasa" or "Dhasa" because of its large population of Tibetan refugees. The Tibetan government-in-exile is headquartered in McLeodGanj.


   McLeodGanj was named after Sir Donald Friell McLeod, a Lieutenant Governor of Punjab; the suffix ganj is common Hindi word for "neighbourhood"


   In March 1849, the area was annexed by the British after the Second Anglo-Sikh War, and soon a subsidiary cantonment for the troops stationed at Kangra was established on the slopes of Dhauladhar, on empty land, with a Hindu resthouse or dharamshala; hence the name for the new cantonment, Dharamshala. During the British rule in India, the town was a hill station where the British spent hot summers, and around the late 1840s when the district headquarters in Kangra became overcrowded, the British moved two regiments to Dharamshala. A cantonment was established in 1849, and in 1852 Dharamshala became the administrative capital of Kangra district. By 1855 it had two important places of civilian settlement, McLeodGanj and ForsythGanj, named after a Divisional Commissioner. In 1860, the 66th Gurkha Light Infantry, later renamed the historic 1st Gurkha Rifles, was moved to Dharamshala. Soon 14 Gurkha paltan villages were established nearby and the Gurkhas patronised the ancient Shiva temple of Bhagsunath.

Lord Elgin, the British Viceroy of India (1862–63), liked the area so much that he even suggested at one point that it be made the summer capital of India. He died at Dharamshala while on a tour there, on 20 November 1863, and lies buried at the St. John in the Wilderness at ForsythGanj, just below McLeodGanj. His summer residence, Mortimer House, became part of the private estate of Lala Basheshar Nath of Lahore and was acquired by the Government of India to house the official residence of the Dalai Lama. The original Tea House built by Lord Elgin and catered to by a local grocery store called Nowrosjee & Son continues to prosper to this date. Nowrosjee & Son is a popular hangout for visitors to McLeodGanj and has been at its present location since 1860. The Tea House set up by Lord Elgin became homeless when the Government acquired Mortimer House and shifted to a new base in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China. It continues to this date under the name Mcleodganj Tea House and sells fine teas under the Mcleodganj Tea House brand by invitation to hotels and residences on the ground, in the air and at sea. The official tea service in residences ranging from the Buckingham Palace to Rashtrapati Bhavan to Air Force One to the Tea Buffet at the Claridges in London is almost always a proprietary blend created by McLeodGanj Tea House exclusively for that customer.
   The twin towns of ForsythGanj and McLeodGanj continued to grow steadily in the coming years, and by 1904 had become important centres of trade, commerce and official work of Kangra District. But much of the town was destroyed by the devastating 7.8 magnitude 1905 Kangra earthquake at 6:19 am April 4, 1905; close to 19,800 people were killed and thousands were injured in the Kangra area. The earthquake destroyed most buildings in Kangra, Dharamshala, and McLeodGanj; even the Bhagsunath Temple was destroyed. Thereafter district headquarter offices were shifted to a lower spot, and the town waited another half century before anything significant transpired in its history.
In March 1959, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled to India after the failed uprising in 1959 in Tibet against the Communist Party of China. The Indian Government offered him refuge in Dharamshala, where he set up the Government of Tibet in exile in 1960, while McLeodGanj became his official residence and also home to several Buddhist monasteries and thousands of Tibetan refugees.[9] Over the years, McLeodGanj evolved into an important tourist and pilgrimage destination, and has since grown much in population.


   Tourism is an important industry in McLeodGanj, but many people come here to study Tibetan Buddhism, culture, crafts, etc. The town is also known for Tibetan handicrafts, thangkas, Tibetan carpets, garments and other souvenirs.


   Dharmalaya offers educational and service-learning programmes and promotes cross-cultural appreciation and personal empowerment. Volunteers in McLeodGanj can serve as English tutors or computer teachers or can help with the environmental programmes of the Tibetan Welfare Office. Dharmalaya also offers volunteer and service-learning opportunities in the nearby town of Bir.



   The nearest airport is Gaggal airport, 15 km south of Dharamshala.


   The nearest railway stations on the Shimla-Kangra narrow gauge line are at Kangra and Nagrota (about 20 km south of Dharamshala). The nearest railhead (broad gauge) is at Pathankot (85 km).