Dharmshala is a timeless preserve of calm skies, emerald green hills, majestic pine trees and snow capped mountains cradled in the Kangra valley in Himachal pradesh. The town is split into two sections; Lower Dharamshala is a busy bustling city while Upper Dharamshala is more debonair and sanguine, still holding traces of its British colonial past.
Dharamsala popularly known as “Little Tibet” is also home to the Dalai Lama as well as a large Tibetan community who have made this their home. When China invaded Tibet in the late 1940s the Dalai Lama fled to Mcleodganj in the 1950’s followed by thousands of Tibetan refugees. People are still making the seventeen day journey across the Himalayas today. Dharamsala’s laidback lifestyle coupled with the potpourri of international visitors gives it a very international village feel. Being the current capital of the Tibetan political movement, Mcleodganj offers plenty of educational opportunities - films and documentaries, the Tibetan museum that speaks of suffering and pain endured by its people, the Dalai Lama's temple, speakers in restaurants all do their bit to educate people about Tibet’s troubled past. China occupied Tibet in the early 1950s, claiming that it had always been part of China. In the past, the two countries had an entente cordiale - Tibet offered spiritual advice to Chinese emperors and China playing an important role in the administration of Tibet's government. This combined with Tibet’s self induced isolation from the rest of the world made it easy for China to occupy the territory. No foreigners were allowed to enter the Country and Tibet, being a peace loving Buddhist nation never asseverated itself as an autonomous state. With the lack of international support, Tibet could not resist the Chinese army and China took over the administration of the Tibetan government. The treatment melted out to the Tibetans ever since the invasion has been despicable. Not only has China destroyed several important monasteries and museums, it also took over the administration of the remaining few. China also has been doing its best to adulterate Tibetan culture through education and culture by settling Chinese people in Tibet and banning Tibetan books. In the last sixty years, thousands of Tibetans have escaped to India only to practice their religion freely. The struggle of the Tibetans who were forced to save their lives by walking across the Himalayas, loosing toes and fingers in the frost and often dying the cold to come to Dharamsala is commendable. The struggle continues today and hopefully one day Tibet will be free.
Macleodganj is a charming Tibetan settlement with narrow main streets and crumbling buildings. Shacks full of small restaurants, cafes, bookshops, antique and curio shops and other colorful stalls line the roads; glimpses of the snow capped mountains can be caught as you walk between the houses. The bustling bazaar houses colorful stalls lining the paved streets selling carpets, Tibetan handicrafts, jewelry, paper mache products and delicious Tibetan food. A wide range of courses are available- Yoga, Tai Chi, Massage, Vipassana workshops are very popular amongst the international tourists. Internet cafes, snooker tables, coffee shops give the city a very cosmopolitan appeal. The pool halls are always buzzing with activity, Buddhist monks in Nike shoes playing snooker and pool and carrying the latest models of cellular phones are a common sight here. It is also a major centre of Tibetan culture. It has the School of Tibetan Studies which exhibits rare manuscripts and ancient texts, the Tibetan Institute for the performing Arts and a Tibetan handicrafts center dedicated to preserve the dying arts. The Dalai Lama's Palace, the Norbulinka Palace and the Tibetan Institute of performing Arts are breathtakingly beautiful and set amongst stunning white capped mountains. Norbulinka Institute lies 4 kms from Dharamshala and is set amid lush gardens sprinkled with a kaleidoscope of color, quaint wooden bridges built over babbling brooks and tiny waterfalls. This complex has been established to teach traditional Tibetan Art such as wood-carving, thanka painting, flat gold work and rich silk embroidery, the monks are taught the art of preserving Tibetan crafts of Thanka painting, puppets, wood and metalwork. Monks can be seen chanting and playing their traditional instrumental music. The Buddha temple is situated opposite to the present abode of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama and is worth a visit for its historical significance. The Tibetan Institute of performing Arts(TIPA) is a ten minute walk from McLeodganj and a must visit for all culture buffs, It is aimed at preserving a number of musical dance and theatrical traditions of Tibet. It also holds an annual ten-day folk festival starting on the second Saturday of April. There is also a Tibetan handicraft centre situated at McLeodganj and a handicrafts market is set up every Sunday. McLeodganj is steeped in Buddhist culture – you can find anything from Tibetan food, good luck charms and thangas to Enlightenment. In fact, many disenchanted foreigners come here seeking solace, meditation or to champion the Tibetan cause.
From Dharamshala and McLeodganj there are regular bus services to Dalhousie, Chamba, Manali, Shimla and further down to Delhi. You could drive in by rented car from any of these towns as well.
The nearest airport is Kangra ( Gaggal , 12 Km)
the nearest narrow gauge railhead is Kangra (18 Km). The nearest broad gauge station Pathankot, (90 Km), is linked to major towns.
well connected by road. Some distances are as follows: Delhi 514 Km, Chandigarh 239 Km, Kulllu 214 Km, Shimla 332 Km, Chamba 192 Km.
Altitude : Between 1,250 meters. And 2,000 meters.
Temperature: Between 35 C in summer and 0 C in winter
Best Season : April to June/September to October
A great place to shop, the vibrant stalls are running over with tribal silver jewelry, chromatic glass bangles, pretty bead necklaces in turquoise and other semi precious stones and delicately embroidered pashmina shawls, fluffy woolen shawls in traditional designs and various other handicrafts all hand-made by the local women. Other good buys are Tibetan handicrafts, carpets, woolens, exquisitely painted thangka paintings and prints. The city also has great bakeries serving an assortment of Tibetan food and freshly baked goodies, especially worth trying are the famous Tibetan cookies, succulent cheese momos and the noodle soups like Thenthunk and Geyathunk. The Namgyal Cafe serves delicious pizzas and chocolate cake.
Dharamkot, 150 Meters above Dharamsala, offers a panoramic view of the majestic Dhauladhars. Essentially a mountainside village, it has a few foreigners preferring to live here instead because it is so removed from civilization. The evenings are quiet with only the sound of the winds to keep you company, icy mountain flanks are covered in Tibetan prayer flags, unassuming Hindu temples dot the retreat, and death defying trails for intrepid trekkers are the only signs of human life. Dharmkot is popular with foreigners looking to meditate and connect with nature
Besides visiting places in Dharamshala you may trek to the places around it too. There are innumerable places of interest, each with its share of haunting anecdotes. Bhagsunath is at a distance of three kilometers from Dharamsala. You can move around in Bhagsunath and see the spectacular spring and the wondrous waterfall. Hiking in Dharamsala is a must do, an experience in itself as it is surrounded by green hills, waterfalls and snowy peaks. Dharamkot waterfalls and the Dal Lake are famous tourist destinations but the highlight is definitely the Triond. A three hour walk uphill is rewarded with spectacular snowy peaks. Many travelers stay there for several days, sleeping in the comfortable forest rest house that lies nestled on one side of the hill. The more adventurous travelers opt to camp in a cave or a tent. The Dhauladhar Mountain range and surrounding valleys at the foothill of the Himalayas provide a stunning view, so expansive that you can sit under the bright warm sunshine on one mountain while you watch dark storm clouds gather to shower over another. The Dal Lake surrounded by pine and deodar trees makes an enchanting picnic spot; it is the venue of the annual fair that takes place in the month of September. The lake overlooks the Himalayan peaks where a few houses and stalls with terraced gardens are sprinkled on one side of the mountains. The hot springs at Tatwani is a pleasant picnic spots. Further down the mountain lie Machhrial waterfalls, the land here is green, moist and scented with the aromas of heaven
Dharmshala is dotted with places of worship. The monasteries, Hindu temples and church co exist in perfect harmony. The vintage church of St. John in the wilderness is the final resting place of Lord Elgin, a British Viceroy of India during the l9th century. The graveyard here is one place in Dharamshala that offers perfect peace and tranquility. Numerous ancient temples like Jawalamukhi, Brijeshwari and Chamunda lie on the plains below Dharamshala
The famous temple of Jwalamukh is 56 kms from Dharamshala. Dedicated to Jwala or the "Goddess of light", the temple is very popular with the locals. The Devi or goddess is believed to be in the flame, no idols are worshipped. A perennial flame burns from the rock cloister and is fed by the priests with the offerings of devotees. The golden dome of the temple was a gift from the Emperor Akbar. Two important fairs are held here during the Navratras in earlier April and mid October.
Further ahead lie the Masroor temples, dating back to the 8th century A.D. Masroor is just 15 Km south of Kangra Known for its monolithic rock temples, There are 15 rock cut temples in Indo-Aryan style and intricately carved. The temples lie in partial ruins now and are decorated with delicate ornamentation. The main temple is dedicated to Lord Ram, Lakshman and Sita. These are fashioned in a similar manner as the sensuous temple of Kailash at Elora in Maharastra.
The ancient temple of Kunal Pathri is a rock temple dedicated to the local goddess and goes back to the days of the Aryans when nature worship was the considered norm. Also worth a visit are the famous temple of Chamunda Devi and a natural cave temple at Trilokpur, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva which has stalactite and stalagmite formations. Legend has it that Lord Shiva had once meditated in these caves.
Nurpur is a diminutive village with an interesting history dating back to the days of the Pandavas. The ruined fort and Krishna temple at Nurpur are noted for fine wood carving. Nurpur, which was named after the Mughal Empress Nurjehan, is famous for its fine pashmina shawls and textiles.
There is plenty of accommodation in Dharmshala. Besides the government hotels run by Himachal Tourism in Dharamshala and McLeodganj, there are several private hotels and tourist lodges in both areas. Most hotels run by the Tibetan refugee community have clean rooms and good service along with an interesting variety of Tibetan food. Outside Dharmshala, Kareri and Dharmkot are peaceful and secluded. Kareri, 22 km from Dharmshala is a scenic spot with a rest house and is beautifully set among alpine meadows and forests of pine.
The winters are cold and the town is quiet and empty, perfect for that peaceful vacation away from the hustle and bustle of city life. The best time to visit Dharamshala is between October and December or from March to June. Carry heavy woolens, rain protection and walking shoes
'It is not life that matters, but the journey' , The Zahir; Paulo Coelho. This certainly holds true in Dharmshala’s case. Dharamsala is an enriching experience, soaked in history and bound by mythology. The haunting images of the mist laden mountains will keep urging you to come back and with each visit you discover some endearing element that pulls you to this town again and again