IANS

Dharamsala misses its spiritual patrons, tourism hit

By Vishal Gulati
Dharamsala, Jan 12 (IANS) Himachal Pradesh, whose economy largely relies on tourism, is praying for blessings from Tibetan spiritual leaders to improve their business.

The 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who heads a 900-year-old lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, is no more staying here and his mentor and elderly monk, the Dalai Lama, has been holding his teachings most of the time out of nearby McLeodganj, where the government-in-exile is based. As a result, hordes of tourists, mainly foreigners, who religiously came to their abodes, are giving the state a miss.
McLeodganj is a quaint town about 500 km from New Delhi. It is home to thousands of Tibetans who found a second abode to preserve their unique faith, culture and identity. Members of the hospitality industry say there is a notable decline in the footfall of tourists, resulting in a massive downturn in earnings. Even local Tibetan shopkeepers are feeling the pinch.

“Our businesses have badly hit as both spiritual leaders — the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa — are giving Dharamsala a miss,” Mc’Lo restaurant-cum-pub owner Pankaj Chadha told IANS.

He said since Dharamsala and its suburbs like McLeodganj do not offer high-end tourist resorts and spas, and the teachings and blessings of the venerated Tibetan spiritual leaders were the prime attraction for the visitors.

“For over a year-and-a-half, the Karmapa is not in India. His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) prefers to hold most of his teachings out of Dharamsala. This is a big blow to the tourism industry,” said Chadha, who runs a restaurant in McLeodganj, called Little Lhasa.

Officials say the Karmapa has been living in the US since May 2017. The Dalai Lama’s private office says the elderly monk prefers to stay in Karnataka’s Bylakuppe and other parts of the country to escape Himachal’s harsh winter.

The spiritual pull of the monks lures thousands of tourists, mainly Westerners and Asians, to visit this Himalayan hill town to lend their ear to the teachings and sermons of the spiritual leaders.

Another restaurant owner, Amit Walia, said of late the arrival of South Koreans and Japanese had declined.

“Paragliding has come up in a big way in the region. More and more foreigners are now coming for flying. The government should promote other adventure-related activities to spike the tourist footfall,” he added.

Padma Dolma, who earns her livelihood by selling Tibetan dumplings or momos outside the Tsuglagkhang temple in McLeodganj, said most of the local vendors prefer to travel along with His Holiness during his winter sojourn.

“Since thousands of devotees are coming to Bodh Gaya these days from across the world to participate in teachings and seek blessings of Guruji (the Dalai Lama), most local vendors have shifted their base there,” she said.

The Dalai Lama’s teachings are free and open to the public. Even board and lodging is free for the participants, says his office.

The teaching sessions are held at the request of followers and devotees. The Dalai Lama teaches in Tibetan and there are simultaneous translations in English, Hindi and Chinese for the participants.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese Communist rule in 1959.

(Vishal Gulati can be reached at vishal.g@ians.in)

–IANS
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