Surrounded by a green ambiance of oak, pine birch and the Dhauladhar spur, is a very neat and peaceful town of Himachal Pradesh called Dharmashala. The town is built in 1855. The nearest airport is at Amritsar and Pathankot for rail. Named on Kangra valley's ruler, Raja Dharam Chand, Dharmashala is one of the 80 hill stations built by the British during 1815 - 1847.
The town is spread across a radius of 10 km, and is divided into two parts, Upper Dharmashala and Lower Dharmashala. It takes about a couple of hours of trek to ply between the two areas. District head quarters of the Kangra valley is also here. The 14th Dalai Lama, LHAMO DHONDRUB, has made constructive efforts to bring back the city to what tourists are grateful for today. Even if Dharmashala is not as popular as Shimla or Manali, for travelers, it’s their new found paradise.
Best time to travel, is, from March to May, and October to November. We can find plenty of rains in this area during the rainy season. There is marked difference of climate in the upper and lower regions of Dharmashala. Snow falls occur in the upper region from December to February.
Upper Dharmashala is also further separated into Forsyth Ganj and McLeod Ganj. It’s at a height of 1830 meters. Traces and memories of British India still linger on. The name McLeod Ganj is derived from Sir Ian McLeod. District Civil Administrative and military quarters were established here for at least 5 years, in his time. Later it went to Kangra valley.
Post confiscation of Tibet by China in 1959, His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama and his mission from Lhasa settled in the region and subsequently built the Gelupa Monastery. The spiritual institution thrives in studies, discussions and debates. His Holiness is often a part of these discussions. The two-storied temple called Tsuglagkhang consists of a 9 foot bronze statue of Buddha.
The Namgyaima Stupa is created in indo-Tibetan fashion to commemorate the martyrs of Tibet in the war with China.
McLeod Ganj is called 'The Little Lhasa" since 1960. Different shades of Tibetan prayer flags are seen on the rooftops of the houses. On the tip of 'Mini Lhasa' shines the golden ceilinged Dip-Tsechokling Monastery.
In between Upper and Lower Dharmashala, stands the school of Tibetan Culture Library. It’s a treasure trove of ancient Tibetan literature, scriptures and spiritual books in Tibetan language. The museum is on the 2nd floor of the library. Various types of statues of Buddha and mandalas, outside Tibet, are seen only here. A local program is held every year in April, for 10 days. The prayer wheel here is huge.
Apart from shopping in the Tibetan Handicrafts center, souvenirs can be collected from the local flee market at upper Dharmashala. The Tibetan Charitable Fund has opened hand made artifacts stores in the town. Various book stores on Buddhist religion can be accessed in this part of the town.
Norbulingka Institute is dedicated to the 7th Dalai Lama in 1774. Tibetan Buddhism is taught here. The young and debatable future dalai lama, Karmapa, is also a part of this institute.
The Tibetan Information centre has a special collection of war pictures of China capturing Lhasa in Tibet.
The Tibetan Astro Medical Institute is famous for the adaptation of herbal cure for ailments in the eyes, ear, throat, cancers and many other serious illnesses.
Tushita Medical Centre is ideal for individual or group meditation.
Tibetan food is available in almost all the hotels and restaurants. Pizza, tandoori and street food is also found. The predominant language is Tibetan, apart from English and Pahari.
Thousands of European tourists and Hippies reside in Upper Dharmashala. A branch of mountaineering institute is in McLeod Ganj.
St. John's Church (1852), built in gothic style, is further down from Lhasa. The 8th British Viceroy Lord Elgin from Scotland is also buried here. After the earthquake of 1905, the British establishments shifted to lower Dharmashala along with the offices and courts. The area is re-constructed in the last 55 years including St John's Church. The bright designs on the glass window are pretty.
Almost 2 km from McLeod Ganj is Bhagsunath (east) (860 meters). History suggests that, the demon King Bhagsu and the King of Snakes, Nag has built it. A serene atmosphere prevails in this area. Bhagsunath Waterfalls is a special attraction. It’s also ideal for camping and picnic.
Triund is at 2827meter height. It’s a 7km trek from McLeod Ganj. Trek for another 5 kms, and you will reach Liaka, the land of snow view. It offers you the closest view of the snow capped Himalayas, and is situated at a height of 3300meters. On the way one can visit the temple of Galudevi on the way to Liaka. In can be covered from Dharmashala, keeping Liaka and McLeod Ganj in the itenery.
Dal Lake, (1775 meter) It’s located behind the Tibetan Children’s' Village (TCV). Surrounded by birch tree, oak and pine, the lake is very scenic. The water is as pure as Kailash and Mansarover. A Shiva temple is also found on the banks. This is not to be confused with the Dal lake of Kashmir.
Naddi, is about a km away from Dal Lake, is a nice spot to watch sunrise and sunsets. The height is 7000 foot. The view of Pir-Punjal range and Kangra Valley is picturesque and priceless from here.
The height of Lower region is 1250 meters. Kotwali Bazaar is the hub of business, trade, Government offices, tourist agencies, Bus Stand and museum. Kangra Art museum is next to the bus stand in the Bazaar. Ancient traditional attires and miniature kangra paintings and many traditional priceless pieces are on display here. 3km from Kotwali bazaar, is where the town begins. Indo china and indo war memorial dedicated to the soldiers of the Indian army. Mahakali
Temple is on the other side. "Hari Kuthi" of Swami Vivekananda is located here. It’s a bit higher up from the market.
Kareri Lake (3065) is surrounded by meadows of green, with oak and pine. The distance of the lake is 35km from Kotwali Bazaar. You can spend hours, by the lake, watching the idyllic starry night. Camping on the bank is an option for the nature lovers. The Kareri village also facilitates rest houses.
How to reach: Dharamshala is connected by bus with Kangra, 18 kilometers away. The nearest Airport in Amritsar and the nearest railhead is Pathankot. Takes about 3.5 hours from Pathankot. You can also go there from Manali, will take the better part of a day. Overnight buses are also available from Shimla.
Where to Stay: There are a few good hotels to stay. Check our hotel booking links below for photos, rates, options and online bookings