Norbulingka Institute established in 1988 is a must visit place during a trip to Dharamshala and Mcleodganj. I had read about it online, seen a few pictures but could not find anyone who had visited the place. It firmly figured on my itinerary since I have always been intrigued about Tibetan Art and Culture ever since my visit to Tibet a couple of years ago. When I decided to turn my life into a vacation; I turned to Buddhism to draw on mindfulness, infinite patience and cultivate the art of letting go.
When I stepped into Norbulingka Institute on a hot summer afternoon, the sound of flowing water was instantly soothing. The entrance ticket is Rs 40/- and they do a free guided tour for large groups. Well, I wanted my own pace so opted to wander on my own with the map received along with the ticket. I walked around sometimes opting to sit under the many trees in the institute.
Norbulingka Institute has a ground plan resembling the proportions of the Buddhist deity of compassion and the patron Bodhisattva of Tibet ~ The 1000 armed Avalokiteshvara. The arms represented by the Art and Culture Workshops laid out on either side in low rise 2 to 3 storey buildings, the head resting in the Temple and the feet in Norling House which is a Guest House.
Norbulingka is a community of artisans who are keeping the Tibetan culture alive through different art forms and training people to sustain themselves in the future. The focus is on design and quality in keeping the content and form of centuries old Tibetan art. I visited the different workshops (tailoring, weaving, thangka painting, thangka applique, manual wood carving, wood painting, metal sculpture) watching the artistes at work; sometimes engaging in a brief conversation when they were taking a breather. Most of their art work is sold in the outlet in the Institute and some are made to order.
The fine art requires intense concentration and precision which can be achieved through mindfulness. These paintings are made on cotton or silk and sometimes canvas and depending on size can take up to a month to 3 months to finalize. Natural colors are used mixed with a plant glue to allow the color to stick.
The carvings are done manually using different hand tools. The pieces are cut in machines. I saw a bunch of students from US who were visiting for a month completely immersed in their wood carving.
The artisans were at work, giving color to the wood work; some cute boxes and other artifacts. This requires a lot of timely attention lest the color smudge.
The applique work is traditional Tibetan Design; done as wall hangings or for bags, table linen and other household items
Losel Doll Museum
The Losel Doll Museum located next to the temple is small but compact. Has a very nice display of dolls reflecting Tibetan life style of yore; market scenes, everyday life, dances and other forms.
The Hummingbird Cafe has some excellent range or cakes and tarts; I could not resist this beauty with whom it was love at first sight. The fresh fruit with creamy goodness and a crunchy base pretty much sums up my experience in Norbulingka Institute.
How to Reach
Norbulingka Institute is in Sidhbari/ Fatehpur area about 6 kms from Dharamshala and 16 kms from Mcleodganj. It takes about 2 hours or longer to explore the place properly.
- Take a bus from Dharamshala bus stand that goes towards Palampur and get off at Fatehpur bus stop. Take a short walk of about 20 mins to Norbulingka Institute.
- Take a Taxi from Mcleodganj @ Rs 350 or Take a Taxi from Dharamshala @ Rs 200
- Combine the Trip with
- Gyuto Monastery located 3 kms away. Come back to the bus stop on Dharamshala -Palampur Road; Take a Bus towards Gyuto. This monastery is less than 5 mins from the main road
- Chinmaya Tapovan is the seat of Chinmaya Mission a spiritual organization who are spreading the knowledge of Vedanta. Get off the bus near the Bazaar; follow the road downwards towards Vidhan Sabha. This is before Gyuto Monastery.
- Chamunda Devi Temple is about 9 kms away and is revered as one of the Shaktipeeths
- NAAM Art Gallery on the way has a beautiful collection of Water Color Paintings if there is time.