The Dalai Lama, little Tibet with nuns and monasteries, a spectacular international cricket ground where the bowler seems to ‘run in from the Himalayas’, this and so much more to un[travel] in Dharamshala. Literally bursting at the seams with everything Tibetan, from momos to monks, there are Tibetan souvenir shops around every corner and nirvana-searching souls of every known nationality. This former colonial hill station, in the higher reaches of Kangra Valley, is now the centre for the exiled Tibetan government.
Surrounded by beautiful dense pine and deodar forests, Dharamshala is divided into the Upper section (which is essentially Mcleodganj about 4 kilometres north) and Lower section of town. Usually the base camp for fantastic trekking opportunities in the area, café culture is huge here with the gentle rustling of red robes at the table next to yours as monks and nuns visit for their daily cuppa as well. Restaurants boast of regular Hollywood patrons, from Goldie Hawn to Richard Gere, and often have their pictures up along with an amazing international cuisine from Italian to Punjabi.
A walk past prayer wheels at the serene open monasteries of Nechung and Namgyal is bound to leave you more peaceful and content than when you came in. Explore the enchanting Dhauladhar ranges with day hikes to Kareri village, overnight camps at the meadows of Triund, or 4-day treks to the Indrahaar pass. A quick trip to smaller hamlets like Dharamkot and Naddi would give you a glimpse of what the region used to be before it became the ‘backpacker haven’ it is today. From Kangra museum to Norbulingka Institute and Dal Lake (not to be confused with its Kashmiri namesake), there’s much to be explored beyond butter lamps and Thanka paintings. Watch monk debates at the main Tsuglagkhang over a cup of free butter tea (bring your own cup), learn a new skill (from cooking to playing the Tibetan flute) and don’t forget to try a piece of ‘chilly chocolate’ from the local bakery before you head back. You’re guaranteed to come back for more.
Things to do in and around Dharamshala
1. Camping in Dharamkot
Camping in Dharamkot
Camp out under the stars beside towering trees and the serene river. There’s much more to Dharamshala than nirvana and good food. A short drive down from Mcleodganj and hike to the riverbed is just the beginning of a fascinating adventure-filled day with rock climbing, rappelling, jumaring and river crossing. Start with natural rock climbing, after some basic safety instructions by a trained instructor, and getting fitted into a harness. Reach for the sky as you concentrate on gripping crevasses till you get to the top. Make sure you get a good look at how far you’ve come before you rappel your way down. Learn how to climb flat-faced rocks using ascenders in each hand on nylon rope – ‘jumaring’. Keep the adrenaline level up as you get hooked onto another harness after jumaring to cross the river. Hang, literally, upside down as you attempt to cross the gushing river below. Exhausted, but exhilarated, get back to the campsite where we pitch tents and begin with getting a bonfire started. Settle down by the river here while we get the barbeque ready as you listen to sounds of water gushing past while the birds get back to treetops at twilight. The perfect peaceful end to a high-adrenaline day.
2. Dalhousie and its Churches
Often the setting for numerous short stories and fiction, Dalhousie is Chamba District’s most popular hill station. A fairly long, but fantastically scenic drive would lead you up to this charming town on five hills. A hot beverage as soon as you reach, and you set off to see some of the grand old churches of Dalhousie. St John’s church is the oldest church in town, established by the British back in 1863. A splendid library filled with books on the history and geography of this region as well as superb colonial-era photographs makes an added bonus. Move on to St. Andrew’s church that remains as prominent and fascinating as it was back in 1903 when it was erected.
3. Kangra Fort
Mcleodganj and Alexander the Great do have something in common – Kangra Fort proves it. A 32-kilometre drive down from Mcleodganj would lead to the majestic Kangra Fort walls with inscriptions on its doorways and walls that tell of its numerous rulers through the centuries. Walk around this architectural delight, a fort with its first mention in the war records of Alexander the Great, as our local guide tells you more about Kangra. Move on a short drive down to the hot springs of Tatta Pani. Sensible walking shoes here are a must here, with the 3-kilometre hike to the hot springs on parking the cab. The water at Tatta Pani is claimed to have much in the way of medical significance, so there’s a small enclosure for the water to accumulate so people can take a dip.
4. Tea Garden Tour
Clearly not the origin of Darjeeling’s finest, Dharamshala does have some claim to tea fame as well. A quaint little tea garden with an active factory lies on the way up from Dharamshala to Mcleodganj. A small detour through officer’s bungalows, leads you through green tea gardens shaded by gentle tall trees. Drive through tea bushes all the way to the small tea factory with its distinctive aroma of tea two turnings before you actually see it.
Check here for booking trips to Mcleodganj, Dharamshala and other places in Himachal.
5. Triund Trek
Trek to Triund
Intermittent prayer flags and chirping birds keep you company on this hour-long steady climb to the revered Galu Devi temple. With spectacular views of the valley below, winding through forests, the path to the Galu Devi Temple might seem like an ancient riverbed. A few steps below the Temple, is the stand-alone cafe that serves you steamy noodles, chai and other snacks with a view of the valley below. After resting for a bit, we climb towards the meadow of Triund.
Pass a couple of teashops on the way here and stop for a cuppa while you take in spectacular views valley of Dharamshala with its superb cricket ground below. A nearly 3-4 hour hike after, the meadow of Triund is visible. Dotted with tents and a few shacks that sell tea and food to the campers and the trekkers, there has recently been a sudden influx with tourism getting the better of these pristine lands.
Best time to visit Dharamshala
One of those rare places that you could visit throughout the year, Dharamsala’s winters could be intimidating with occasional snowfall, but that’s all the more reason to visit for those splendid snow peaks and valley views. Summer here is pleasant with a maximum temperature of 25 degrees. Monsoons are damp and wet, but rains here aren’t very heavy, and Mcleodganj is still a pleasant visit except for dodging the odd puddle.
Summer – April-June
Monsoon – July-September
Winter – October-March
Things to carry
Pack as light as possible given the amount of road travel involved here.
• Cotton clothing for summer and a light jacket would work for when evenings get cooler. If you’re un[travel]ling in winter, warmer clothes complete with thick socks and warmer jackets. Carry your windcheater and umbrella if you’re here in the monsoons as well.
• Sturdy walking shoes, mandatory if you’re hiking, makes sense given the amount of walking involved here.
• Sunscreen, especially if you’re going up to the higher reaches. Usual prescription medications.
• Mobile and tablet electronic chargers.
Best places to stay in Dharamshala
• Norling House
• Glenmoor Cottages
• Horizon Villa
• Chonor House
• Serkong House