The Tibetan culture is a unique culture that has assimilated with India over the course of 60 years. On paper, the Tibetan people may be deemed as ‘foreigners’ yet they have very much become a part of India’s way of life gradually. But it is important to understand the history behind the arrival of the Tibetans that forever changed the demographics of India. Moreover, the Tibetan settlements created have continued to thrive through the years and have become hubs of cultural preservation. People all over India tend to visit these settlements in hopes of understanding Tibetan culture and the people that have been granted an asylum here for over 6 decades. We have listed some of the best Tibetan Settlements to visit in India.
Tibetan refugees became an important focal point as a foreign policy under Nehru’s time. His demure stand against the Chinese aggression resulted in a deep personal guilt for the Tibetan refugees. The first wave of Tibetan refugees that entered India was in 1959 when Nehru granted the 14th Dalai Lama asylum. Soon, the waves of refugees started pouring in and continue till date. There is an estimate of around 150,000 living in exile in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Lands were cleared, trees were felled, yet a culture was protected. India’s affiliation with Tibetan Buddhism created a soft spot within the country for the refugees.
Top 10 Tibetan Settlements in India
The article lists a few popular Tibetan Settlements that people can visit to understand Tibetan culture while immersing themselves in it. However, the list does not include all Tibetan Settlements in India. There are over 50 designated settlements in India.
Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh
The first wave of refugees that followed the steps of the 14th Dalai Lama after the abortive 1959 Tibetan uprisings were rehabilitated to the town of Mcleodganj in Dharamshala. The place was a former colonial picnic spot but was at that point, a ghost town. This place was then revived with the cultural vigour of the Tibetan people. With the help of Nehru, government-in-exile was established in 1960 and the Namgyal Monastery.
Soon, the Tibetan people began making it a shrine for their preservation. The Dalai Lama opened the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives that preserve several manuscripts and resources related to Tibetan history, culture and politics. Furthermore, Dharamshala is now a popular hill station destination in India. You can find the Dalai Lama’s Temple, Tibet Museum, Tibetan arts and crafts and Tibetan cuisine in the folds of this hamlet. If you’re curious about Tibetan culture, then Dharamshala makes a great getaway to explore.
After Dharamshala, Bylakuppe owns the title of the largest Tibetan Settlement in the world. The settlement covers the area of Bylakuppe in Karnataka and houses the Lugdung Samdupling and the Dickey Larsoe Settlement. People also name the place as “Indian Tibet”. Karnataka holds several Tibetan refugees within its borders but the Bylakuppe settlement stands out for being the second largest Tibetan Settlement. Moreover, people require a ‘Protected Area Permit’ to enter the settlement.
The place offers beautiful monasteries such as the Namdroling Monastery and the Sera monastic community that resides within it. The place also houses a Tibetan art centre to display the cultural art forms of the Tibetan people and continue the legacy. There are markets selling precious Tibetan handicrafts as well. Furthermore, there are a few restaurants situated within the area that serve delicious Tibetan food for visitors. The Bylakuppe offers a lovely holistic Tibetan experience to those foreign to it.
Mundgod holds another Tibetan Settlement in India. Much like several other settlements, The locals of Karnataka also refer to it as “Mini Tibet”. The sanctuary serves as a repository of Tibetan life and culture. A visit to Mundgod will reflect the transformation and adaptation of the nomadic Tibetan life within the modern vista. Despite the difficulties faced by the Tibetans to the differences, the Tibetan diaspora has continued to retain their cultural pride and legacies through such colonies.
Tucked amongst the paddy fields and low hills, Mundgod offers great insight into the Tibetan life. Further on, a mere stroll through the town can lead you to the seven sprawling monasteries situated within it. One of the popular sights in Mudgod is the Gaden Jangste Monastic College remodelled after the 500-year-old University in Tibet destroyed by the Chinese in 1959. Mundgod, of course, offers the authentic Tibetan delicacies like momos and thukpa in its abode!
Being one of the five Tibetan settlements in South India, Kollegal Dhondenling is another sanctuary for the Tibetans over several generations. The area is designated as restricted to protect the sanctity of their community and culture. One of the prime attractions of the settlement for outsiders is the monastery situated within the settlement. Dzongcheng Monastery offers a spiritual respite for outsiders and the locals.
A visit to Dhondenling will offer a glimpse of the Tibetan livelihood as it has come to adapt the topography of South India. Moreover, the locals of the settlement mostly rely on farming and you can witness the beautiful vista created by the mountain ranges, coffee plantations, animals and the breathtaking Dzongcheng Monastery. A visit to the Monastery and overnight stay requires permission from the Monastery office prior to the visit. It is wonderful to see how the Tibetans persevere and retain their culture even in a change of environment.
Bir Tibetan Colony, Himachal Pradesh
Bir Billing houses a popular Tibetan settlement in the hillock of Himachal. People know the place for the exquisite and myriad of handicrafts sold here. The Bir Tibetan Colony offers a wide palette of Tibetan delicacies whose praises echo through the valleys. The town is known for meditation as well which is likely drawn from the strong influence of the Tibetan settlement here. Moreover, there are several popular activities and attractions available at the Bir Billing.
Bir Billing is usually associated with the adventurous paragliding activity. However, a trip to the Bir Tibetan Colony is quite pleasant and provides attractions such as the Chokling Monastery to its visitors. You can find an enthralling statue of Guru Padmasambhava, a revered Tibetan Buddhist figure, in the Monastery. Another important site of prayers is the Tashi Jong Monastery which is also a homely abode to Tibetan refugees. The Dharmalaya Institute is a hub for green and recreational activities like meditation and yoga.
Puruwala, Himachal Pradesh
The Sakya Tibetan Society situated within Puruwala is also another destination that offers refuge to the oppressed Tibetan community. The settlement was established in 1969 by His Holiness Sakya Trizin. Various refugees hailing from three provinces of Tibet followed him to this settlement. The refugees formed a “Sakya Camp” and began work as construction workers until a permanent settlement was registered. Once it was made official, agricultural land was made available to the refugees and a handicrafts centre was established to complement their cultural livelihood.
Through the years, the settlement has slowly and covertly continued to preserve their culture. This has now created a vibrant culture within the place and even the establishment of Sakya Monastery. Furthermore, the Monastery is a beautiful structure that follows the sanctity of the Sakya Order of Tibetan Buddhism. The Sakya Tibetan Society is a more unambitious Tibetan settlement merely aimed at the flourishing of Tibetan culture.
Chauntra, Himachal Pradesh
Another offbeat Tibetan settlement of India is Bir Chauntra. The lack of voice regarding this region is emulated in its functioning as well. Chauntra is a small market town located along National Highway 20. Home to the Tibetan refugees, the place has established several monasteries in an honour to protect their culture. Moreover, the place even has 2 schools that provide education to the Tibetan refugee community living there. The refugees in Chauntra came from the Kham region of Tibet.
In the 1970s, they established two settlements, locally known as ‘Khang-sarma’ and ‘Khang-nyingma’ which translate to new houses and old houses respectively. The settlement is not a very commercial settlement and often only attracts the attention of pilgrims. Further on, the place has two monasteries that represent the traditions of the Drikung Kagyu sect and the Nyingma sect. The place serves as a small attraction and reminder of the way the Tibetan community has persevered through the years.
Samyeling / Majnu ka Tilla, Delhi
Majnu-ka-Tilla is a highly popular hangout place in Delhi. Serving as an option to explore Tibetan cuisine, one fails to recognise the history behind the settlement. The refugee colony attracts foreign tourists and students of Delhi University because of the scrumptious Tibetan delicacies found in the alleyways of Majnu-ka-Tilla. Although usually frequented by people for the Tibetan cuisine, the place even holds a Buddhist temple and a small monastery within the area.
The history of the residents dates back to the 1950s when the Tibetan uprisings began. With the influx of Tibetan refugees into India, a section of the community took refuge on the Yamuna riverbed. Furthermore, the livelihood of Majnu-ka-tilla revolves around the restaurants, guest houses and hotels. The market offers a range of retail stalls, bookshops, internet cafes and more. Affectionately designated as “Little Tibet” and “Mini Tibet”, it serves as a prime example of how India enjoys the Tibetan culture.
Chandragiri in Odisha is an offbeat destination when talking about Tibetan settlement. Located across the green valley of Gajapathi district, people lovingly know it as the “Mini Tibet Of Odisha”. While the rush of people is due to peaceful Jirang Monastery, you can expect to see a lot more. The Jirang monastery is a marvel to witness along with its Buddha Stupa and is also home to over 200 monks. The settlement is here goes back to when to Tibetans had actually fled their country and found refuge here.
Chandragiri depicts any normal rural village yet colours fill it with the horticulture done by the Tibetans. Moreover, the place is also famous for maize farming. Forget big restaurants while you are there! Small eateries dot the place serving some of the most delicious momos, thukpas and many other Tibetan delights.
Rabgayling Settlement, Karnataka
Rabgayling is another one of the five Tibetan settlements in South India. Similar to the other Tibetan community settlements, Rabgayling is also a restricted area that requires a special permit. The settlement aims at preserving the Tibetan culture and offers them rehabilitation in the form of houses, educational and medical facilities.
Moreover, the Rabgayling settlement has established three monasteries which help preserve the spiritual reverence for Buddhist culture within the community. A visit to Rabgayling settlement is incomplete without having a look at Choeling Monastery, Zongkar Choedey Monastery, and Gyurme Monastery. Of course, having a taste of authentic Tibetan food!
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