Where to travel
The world famous appliqué thangkas, sacred music of the Gyuto monks, the largest collection of colorful Losel dolls and many other aspects of the Tibetan culture are showcased in two prestigious institutes in Sidhpur: the Gyuto Tantric Monastery and Norbulingka Institute. The village of Sidhpur is located in Dharamsala, Kangra District, Himachal Pradesh, India.
Who will enjoy this short adventure trip idea?
Family and religious travelers
Travelers who enjoy art and architecture
Culture explorers, who have special interest in the Tibetan lifestyle
What to do & see: physical, cultural
Gyuto Tantric Monastery / Gyuto Ramoche Monastery
The monastery, the temporary residence of Karmapa XVII, is home to the Gyuto monks that follow the Gelugpa tradition. The monks, who are world famous for their overtone chanting and singing style, are part of the personal choir of the Dalai Lama. The monks also featured on the Seven Years in Tibet film soundtrack and in Freedom Chants album.
They are trained in multiphonic singing and polyphonic vocalizing techniques. The multiphonic chanting implies singing the chord featuring two or three notes at the same time. The polyphonic style refers to the music in which an array of tunes are sung or played simultaneously.
The low, multi-tonal, guttural style chants are accompanied by sounds of bells, drums and mountain horns during the religious rituals. The guttural sounds refer to the deep sounds created from the rear of the throat. These soul-touching sounds please the ears. However, a note of caution, the deep three-note chord chanting technique could be dangerous if overdone. Overdoing may lead to muteness because of excessive pressure on the vocal chords.
Gyuto Tantric Monastery set up in the end of fifteenth century in Tibet was relocated to India and other parts of the world to escape the Chinese onslaught in mid twentieth century. The Japanese built the new monastery in the lap of the Himalayas to celebrate the Nobel Peace Prize won by the Dalai Lama in 1989.
Gyuto Tantric Monastery
P.O. Sidhbari, Dharamshala
The institute amid lush surroundings, set up to preserve the Tibetan art and culture, comprises of Norling Café, Deden Tsuglagkhang, a Japanese-style garden, tailoring design center, wood carving center, Losel Doll Museum, Norling Guest House, Norbulingka Art Shop and Norbulingka Sculpture Studio.
The Buddhist temple with gold-color roof houses a 14-foot tall copper statue of the Buddha, which is carved at the Norbulingka Sculpture Studio. The 44-foot tall temple hall is decorated with murals, paintings and thangkas. The temple features 1,173 images of the Buddha and the Dalai Lama’s 14 incarnations.
Losel Doll Museum
The cozy museum, the largest Losel doll collection of the world, houses a number of colorful miniature figures in diorama style to give a glimpse of various aspects of the Tibetan culture. Each doll is handcrafted by the monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery. The exhibits cover an array of cultural themes, including the royals, famous saints, local opera, recreational activities, regional costumes, traditional navigation means, important historical events, tantric ritual dance form (Cham Dance) and average persons from different tribes living across the country. Your kids would definitely love this.
Traditional Buddhist art
The institute not only trains Tibetans to create sacred thangka paintings, appliqué thangka, metal sculptures and wooden carvings using traditional techniques, but also produces the masterpieces for sale. Both religious and secular art pieces are available in the art shop. You can even place an order for bespoke art pieces.
The religious art is considered as a “support” and “focus point” for meditation and achieving spiritual goals. For instance, thangkas are used to meditate, visualize the deity and develop a connection with the deity. The sacred art, therefore, is strictly created using size, color and proportion rules mentioned in the holy books. Thangka paintings are a medium to express the Buddhist principles and an object of beauty.
Silk and brocade are used to design an appliqué thangka, an age old Tibetan tradition. The thangka, a time consuming artwork, consists of several pieces. The thangka is a team work of thangka painters and appliqué artists. Each thangka meets standards mentioned in the texts, such as deity statue proportions.
The institute follows two traditional methods to sculpt big and small metal statutes. The wax process is used to create small statues whereas copper hammering technique for big statues. Repoussé and chasing methods are applied to create fine details, including features, face expressions and garment flow and folds on life-size statues. The repoussé method involves hammering and shaping reverse side of the copper sheets.
Tailoring design and wood carving centers
Both the centers are open for public. You can watch artists, tailors and craft men and women designing and creating art work.
Norbulingka Art Shop
Visit the shop for window-shopping and / or purchasing some of the Tibetan art pieces. The shop sells interiors, garments, statues, jewelry, carved tables, appliqué thangkas, thangka paintings, stone and wood malas (necklaces) and goods for children like yak purses and bags. You can even shop online at http://www.norbulingkashop.com/tibetan-products/shop/7.html.
The café, offering indoor and outdoor spaces, serves vegetarian Chinese, Indian, Italian and Tibetan items including teas, meals, cakes, coffees and fresh juices. One full meal may cost up to INR 500 per person inclusive of VAT (5%) and service tax (3.71%). We sampled Dal Makhani with rice (INR 175), vegetarian momo (INR 80) and smoothie (INR 100). All the items were well prepared and worth the money spent.
P.O. Sidhpur, Dharamshala
Gyuto Tantric Monastery: Free
Norbulingka Institute: INR 5 per person
Working days (Office): Monday –Saturday
The museum and temple: Remain open all days
Visiting hours: 9:00 AM 5:30 PM
Closed: 2nd Saturday of every month and official Tibetan holidays
Losel Doll Museum: INR 5 per person (Indians), INR 20 per person (Foreigners)
Photography is allowed within the institute complex except in the art shop.
When to go
How to reach
Nearest airport: Gaggal Airport, Kangra District, Himachal Pradesh.
Currently, there are no flights to the airport from any part of the country. However, the flights from New Delhi to Gaggal may resume from March 31, 2013.
Delhi-Sidhpur: about 500 kilometers
Delhi-Dharamsala: about 505 kilometers
Kotwali Bazaar, Dharamsala – Mahatama Gandhi Smriti Vatika Chowk: 10-15 minute walk along the main road
Mahatama Gandhi Smriti Vatika Chowk to Gyuto Tantric Monastery: About 25-minute bus ride (INR 9 per passenger)
Gyuto Tantric Monastery – Sacred Heart School Chowk: about 10-minute bus ride (INR 3 per passenger)
Sacred Heart School Chowk – Norbulingka Institute: about 1-km walk on the quiet road leading to Khanyara
You can book bus tickets online. Check websites of the following:
- Himachal Road Transport Corporation
- Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation
- Red Bus
- Travel Yaari
Hotels in Sidhpur
The Sanctuary (Sterling Resort) near Norbulingka
Blossoms Village Resorts, near Norbulingka Institute (from INR 3,100 per night plus luxury and service taxes)
Norling Guest house is located within the institute complex. You can choose from theme based suites (family rooms) and double rooms. The room themes include fish, ibex, parrot, dragon, flycatcher and sea crocodile.
Hotels in Dharamsala
Hotel Centre Point (http://www.hotelcentrepointdharamshala.com/) (from INR 2,800 per night)
The Exotic Dharamshala in Khanyara (From INR 2,800 per night), http://www.exoticaresorts.com/
The Dhauladhar (From INR 1,800 per night), http://hptdc.nic.in/
The Kashmir House (From 1,400 per night), http://hptdc.nic.in/
We visited the monastery and institute on September 15, 2012.
The weather was fine. There was no rain. We were lucky to watch the religious ritual and enjoy the Gyuto monk music at the Gyuto Monastery. We attended the ritual in the main hall for half an hour. The well-synchronized musical ritual was punctuated with a mini food break when milk and the Tibetan bread were served to the monks. The food was also served to the visitors. Then again, the ritual was resumed. The bright yellow head gears were carefully lined up behind the monks who were dressed in traditional maroon attire. The “choirmaster” wore the maroon cape.
It was fun to watch the cute dolls and read about them at the Losel Doll Museum located in the Norbulingka Institute. The wood design center was also our favorite spot where we could see artists engrossed in their work. The dark and calm temple was empty, so looked very spacious. The art shop was tempting, but most of the things were quite expensive. Sizes of the Tibetan garments were not of our choice. We enjoyed lunch in the alfresco dining area within the garden. The food was delicious. The service was good.
We traveled by public buses. While going the buses were not crowded. However, while returning from Norbulingka Institute, it was around 3:00 PM. The Sacred Heart School students crowded the bus stand and buses. We had to miss two buses. We boarded the third bus for Dharamshala that came after fifteen minutes and was almost empty.
Tip: If you are planning to travel by a public bus, avoid peak hours.