Eternal Creation's workshop is in Dharamsala, in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, about 500km north of Delhi. Home to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the town is a vibrant concoction of Tibetan and Indian culture and religion, augmented by a steady influx of western tourists.
In 1960, the Indian Government bequeathed McLeod Ganj, upper Dharamsala to the Tibetan government-in-exile, headed by the 14th Dalai Lama. It's since become one of the largest communities of Tibetan refugees, and a centre of Tibetan cultural rebirth.
The town of Dharamsala, where Eternal Creation has its Fair Trade workshop, is a melting pot of cultures set against the spectacular backdrop of the Indian Himalayas.
Alternately cosmopolitan and provincial, Dharamsala is bustling with monks, tourists, locals, buses, dogs and cows jostling for space in the narrow, steep streets and bazaars. Monkeys gambol in the trees above (stealing fruit from leisurely shoppers), and Tibetans, prayer wheels rotating, slowly circumnavigate the main monastery of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama.
Most Tibetans look to the Dalai Lama as their community's protector and symbol of their nation's spirit. During a recent earthquake scare, it was rumoured that the Dalai Lama cancelled international tours in order to help avert the danger, which was soon "defused" through application of rigorous pujas (prayer ceremonies), diverting the earthquake to an unpopulated area.
Indians also hold His Holiness in high esteem, and in general, relations between the Tibetan and Indian communities are peaceful and harmonious. This is a testament to the two countries' longstanding friendship and mutual attitude of tolerance, a model that many other societies around the world would do well to follow.
Dharamsala lies along a spur of the Dhauladhar range, an outer emissary of the Himalayas, about 500km north of Delhi in Himachal Pradesh state.
The peaks of the Dhauladars are about 5,200 meters above sea level, and are snow-clad for much of the year. Below the town stretches the picturesque Kangra Valley, while on the surrounding hills grow forests of pines and deodars. Brown bears, barking deer, leopards and monkeys roam the upper woodlands.
Dharamsala has the second highest rainfall in India; most of this falls during the July-September monsoon. The region is among the least urbanized in India - and the least industrialized. The economy depends largely on agriculture, with tea, rice, wheat and barley being the major crops.
The Kangra Valley has Buddhist roots dating back over 2,000 years; in 635 AD a Chinese pilgrim recorded fifty monasteries housing over 2,000 monks in the valley. However, Buddhism was gradually replaced by a resurgent Hindu culture, which integrated Buddha as a reincarnation of the god Vishnu.
The valley was threatened briefly by Alexander the Great during his abortive Indian conquest of 326 BC and raided by the fearsome Mahmud of Ghazni from Afghanistan in the 10th century, who sacked the ancient Kangra fort (pictured left).The Kangra district was most recently annexed by the British in 1848. Military jurisdiction only lasted a few years; Dharamsala's later incarnation as a British hill resort still lingers in the memory of some of the older inhabitants.
Despite these incursions, the Maharaja of Kangra can trace his ancestry over 2,000 years, vying with the Japanese Imperial dynasty for the world's longest unbroken royal lineage.
In 1905 a severe earthquake wrecked much of the Kangra district, including Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj (named after a British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab). The town lay abandoned until 1960, when the Indian government offered McLeod Ganj to the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, headed by the 14th Dalai Lama. Today, McLeod Ganj is home to over 8,000 Tibetan refugees.
To find out more about Dharamsala, these sites are a good starting point.
The gateway to lots of other sites on Dharamsala and Tibet.
The Tibetan government-in-exile's official site, has facts and figures about the town of Dharamsala, including hotels, facilities and places of interest.
An open community site with plenty of info, opinions and tips about what to see, eat and do.
Eternal Creation is a member of the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand.
The Visible Factory is a full member of the Fair Trade Forum India (affiliated with the WFTO).
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