Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Keeping a Candle Burning for Tibet: the Norbulingka Institute


Preserving a culture's heritage is very important, especially now that the west seems to penetrate every modern city in the world. Preservation becomes even more important, I think, when the culture in question is exiled in another country. Fortunately, for the Tibetans exiled based in Dharamsala, India, they have the Norbulingka Institute.

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

The Norbulingka Institute, named after the Dalai Lama's summer palace back in Tibet, is a learning institution dedicated to Tibetan studies, which includes the preservation of Tibetan arts (painting, embroidery, literature, etc.). The institute also has two guesthouses, a cafe, shops and a temple which houses a 4-meter high gilded copper statue of Sakyamuni Buddha.

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

I should probably mention by now that I'm quite fascinated with Tibet and the Tibetan culture. I think I just have this soft spot for people in exile, or people who, for whatever reason, cannot set foot on or come back to the land they call home. And like all exiled nations, the Tibetan story is very tragic one. Hundreds of thousands of deaths have occurred, and is continuing to occur, ever since the Chinese government invaded the Tibetan plateau. What was once the sovereign country of Tibet is now just the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China.

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

Being an advocate of education and learning, I made it a point to visit the Norbulingka. If anything, it is a worthwhile and a very relaxing daytrip from McLeod Ganj as the Norbulingka is set amidst a beautifully landscaped Japanese garden, with all sorts of Tibetan symbols dotting every corner of the park: from prayer flags to stone carvings, Tibetan buildings, etc.

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

Everyone's free to walk around the entire place. No entrance fees. You may even be offered a free tour by the kind keeper at the institute's entrance. Just remember to be quiet, I think. It is a learning institution and at any time, there may be classes going on. I happened to walk into one (well, two) while I was there. I did ask permission if I could observe them while they do their work. The thing about Tibetan art, I noticed, was how detailed a piece could get. Every single dot on a thangka painting or embroidery has been well thought of. The student painters were wearing this little flashlight on the side of their heads just so they could zero in well on the little spot they're working on. It's quite overwhelming the amount of work and dedication that goes in to each piece.

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

I think what I appreciated about this place, and the whole of McLeod Ganj, for that matter, was that the Tibetans there was so open to sharing their story and their culture to all those who want to learn about it. That is why as much as I feel sad that the influx of tourists is further diluting all things Tibetan in that small little town up in the Himalayan foothills, it is important, necessary even, that people continue to come, in the hopes that when they leave, they tell others about the Tibetan cause.

Norbulingka  Institute, Dharamsala, India

That Tibet will one day regain its freedom and sovereignty is, as more years pass, becoming highly unlikely. I even fear the day when they lose their already aging spiritual leader, His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. Where will they find his successor? Will they be able to find his successor? At the same time, I wonder if things are ever going to be the same. To a whole new generation of Tibetans in Dharamsala, a life back in the old country is a very foreign thing. The only life they've ever known is one away from their homeland. Will it be as easy for them to go back to Tibet and establish a life there? I don't have the answers obviously. I am, after all, just an outsider looking in. All I can do is share their story, which what I hoped I achieved today.

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

* How to get to the Norbulingka Institute from McLeod Ganj: Get yourself to the main square of this little Tibetan town and you will find a taxi center right by it. Hail one of the cabs and arrange for the daytrip with the driver himself. The Norbulingka Institute is about a 30-minute drive down the valley, along roads with stunning views of the mountains. A round-trip taxi from McLeod Ganj and back would cost around 400 INR.

** More photos of the Norbulingka Institute in my Dharamsala Flickr set.


What are your thoughts on Tibet and the Tibetan cause? Is there still hope, even if a small one?


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