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How to see the Dalai Lama in India for a once-in-a-lifetime teaching in the foothills of the Himalayas

After spending around six months traveling through India on three separate occasions, I now know that when the heat and bustle of India’s megalopolis cities like Hyderabad and Delhi get too much, it’s best to refresh by heading up into the mountains to experience a different side of Indian life. As popular holiday destinations since the beginning of time, the hill station towns of Northern India continue to draw honeymooners, families, and nature lovers from all over the country, as well as tourists who are keen to relax for a few days, or perhaps catch a glimpse of the Dalai Lama.

layers of hills and mountains, some with snow on top of them in the Indian hill station of Dalhousie, not far from Dharamshala, the town where it's possible to see the Dali Lama
Endless mountains in Dalhousie
Since I like to travel slowly I made my way into Northern India by bus, pausing along the ways for nights in Chandigarh to visit the Nek Chand Rock Garden and then idled a few days away in Amritsar where I was blown away by the majestic Golden Temple—undoubtedly one of the most beautiful temples in India. I was on my way to see the Dali Lama, but since I still had a few days to play with I decided to visit Dalhousie, an ex-colonial hill station with a huge Gandhi statue at its center.

Buddhist rock paintings of gods on a series of rocks in Dalhousie, the next town on from the Dalai Lama's Indian residence
Rock paintings in Dalhousie

Where does the Dalai Lama live and how easy is it to see him?

After Dalhousie, I took another government bus to the refugee town of McLeod Ganj, home to the Tibetan Government in exile and the Dalai Lama himself. Tibetans flocked to the Indian hill station, walking for weeks at a time, over the freezing Himalayas, to escape Chinese suppression in 1959. Six decades later, the town still remains mostly populated by Tibetans. Aside from the endless rolling snow-capped peaks surrounding the town, the main draw is catching a teaching with the man himself. 

gold prayer wheels in a hall in mcleod ganj, near where the dalai lama gave a four day teaching
Prayer wheels in McLeod Ganj
To see one of the Dalai Lama’s teachings, you first need to check when he’s in McLeod Ganj, which you can do on his official website. Next, you simply turn up in the town, find a place to stay, and register to apply for a security pass, which you can do at the Tibetan Branch Security Office. I had to take my passport, two passport photographs, and ten rupees and was told to fill out a form when I arrived. Queues to register can get pretty long but the whole process only took me about an hour after which I was presented with a small blue stamped pass that allowed me access to the Dalai Lama's four-day teaching, starting the very next day.

After my pass was secured I headed up to the hall where the Dalai Lama would be teaching to tape a piece of paper to the floor with my name scrawled on it. The hall gets so busy and cramped it’s good to have a small space saved and this is the process for doing so. I arrived the next day to find monks in maroon robes and tourists in harem pants all tightly packed into the hall sitting on the floor. Before the teaching begins excitement hums through the air and friendly people share butter tea, (take your own cup if you want to taste it) and Tibetan bread.

Surrounded by guards, and the many monks in his entourage, I managed to catch a glimpse of the Dalai Lama as he entered the hall. Once settled into his spot, the teaching kicks off pretty swiftly spoken entirely in Tibetan. Listening through a small transistor radio (which you can buy in town), I listened to the Dalai Lama's interpreter as he translated the teaching from Tibetan into English in a steady, meditative stream. The topic was all about the path to Enlightenment, providing the perfect introduction to Buddhism. 

The green rolling hills and snow-capped peaks of the countryside around McLeod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama
The mountain views surrounding McLeod Ganj
After a seriously spiritual few days in the hill stations of Dalhousie and McLeod Ganj, I was finally ready to head back to the big Indian cities, refreshed and relaxed and kind of high from the excitement of it all.

1 comment

  1. Your in-depth exploration of India offers a treasure trove of insights for intrepid travelers! With meticulous research and firsthand experiences, you provide valuable guidance for navigating diverse cultures and landscapes. Your passion for adventure and cultural immersion shines through your engaging narratives. Thanks for being a trusted companion on the road less traveled



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