Usually, Ladakh or Dharamshala and Macleodganj are referred to as the little Tibet in India. But are you aware that there is a mini Tibet in Odisha as well?
Yes, I am talking about Chandragiri, home to some 600 Tibetan families for more than 50 years.
Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet in 1959 forced about 85,000 Tibetans including their religious and political head His Holiness 14th Dalai Lama to seek shelter in India and other places.
In response to the personal letter of Dalai Lama, the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had requested the state governments to provide a place for the settlement of the Tibetan refugees.
Chandragiri, about 80 kilometers from Berhampur was chosen as one of the six main camps and settlements established in the country.
The first batch of Tibetan refugees arrived in Odisha on 1 May of 1963 and was settled in Chandragiri, which is situated at an elevation of about 3,200 feet above sea-level on a plateau of the eastern ghat.
Since the Tibetans are used to living in the cold region, the Government of Odisha selected Chandragiri for their settlement, keeping in view the climatic and environmental similarity between Chandragiri and Tibet.
The place was named as Phuntsokling by the refugees, which literally means the land of happiness and plenty.
Surrounded by luxuriant tropical forest, gurgling rivers, exquisite mountain slopes, and roaring hilltop, Chandragiri is a paradise for all nature lovers, while it is also known of Maize Bowl of the state.
Bestowed with bounties of nature, this place is famous for seasonal fruits, Tibetan woolen garments, carpets, and dogs of various breeds, while the carpets produced at Chandragiri are exported to European countries.
Tibetan cooperative society of Chandragiri now runs handicraft, dairy, poultry, horticulture, and healthcare centres, mechanical workshop, an old age home, crèche, schools and monastery.
The Monastery at Jeerango, inaugurated by His Holiness Dalai Lama is supposed to be amongst the largest Monastery in South-East Asia.
Buddhist monastery Padmasambhava Mahavihar that took almost 10 years to complete is a four-storied complex with a massive prayer hall and place of worship with 200 resident monks, mostly from the Himalayas.
It also provides research facilities to those interested in Buddhism.
How to visit?
Chandragiri is located in Gajpati District and was carved out of the Ganjam district in 1992. Those visiting Gopal Pur On Sea can combine a visit to Taptapani and Chandragiri/Jeerango.
One can also visit Mahendragiri, associated with mythological stories from the Ramayana as Mahendra Parvata, as also the temples built by Pandavas, while it is said that sage Parashurama practiced penance for a long time at the Mahendra Mountain.
So next time you plan to visit Odisha, do not forget Mahendragiri, it is just the right place for a quiet weekend of contemplation and to embark on a spiritual journey.
You can walk around the settlement area, visit the carpet weaving centre, sample Tibetan snacks at the cafe and pick up handicrafts and trinkets. Or even bring a Pomeranian back home.
(The author is a 1985-batch Odisha cadre IAS officer currently posted as the secretary with the Water Resources Department, Government of India.)