Dharamsala (Himachal Pradesh)
Description: The town of Dharamsala is situated in Himachal Pradesh. Dharamsala is located in the upper reaches of Kangra Valley. The town is divided into two distinct and widely separated sections, Upper and Lower Dharamsala. Dharamsala is surrounded by dense pine trees and Deodar forests. The town serves as the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile. There are a number of monasteries, temples and several institutes.
Dharamsala Quick facts
Lower Dharamsala is at an altitude of 1400m, while McLeod Ganj is at around 1750m, making them considerably cooler than the plains below. Temperatures in January can dip below freezing, while June can go up to 38°C, and the monsoon season from July to September is very wet indeed. Even in March, when the Dalai Lama holds his teachings and the weather down in Delhi is downright balmy you will still need a heavy winter coat, but these can be purchased at reasonable prices in town.
Best time mid-may to mid-october.
The town is divided into two distinct areas that are separated by a ten minute (9 km.) bus/jeep ride (7 rupees): Dharamsala itself (or Lower Dharamsala), a typical small Indian town that, other than for the bus station, is of little interest to tourists, and Upper Dharamsala, known more commonly as McLeod Ganj (named after David McLeod, once the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab). It is this upper district that is home to the Tibetan community and the center of tourist activity. Unless specifically stated, all listings in this article refer to McLeod Ganj.
Other villages near McLeod Ganj include Forsyth Ganj, a short hike away on the way up from Lower Dharamsala, Bhagsu (2 km north), already a commercialized warren of concrete, and Dharamkot, the flavour of the month. For a really quiet (and basic) experience, try Naddi (3 km) or Talnu (11 km).
Lower Dharamsala consists of most of the government offices, Schools, Zonal Hospital, and commercial areas. It also has a few tea gardens. One in the area of Chilgari and another just beyond Dari. One can enjoy the view while driving through.
* Palampur beautiful valley famous for its tea gardens, agricultural university, temples
* The holy Sikh city of Amritsar and its Golden Temple is a 6-hour bus ride away.
* Manali is the next hub for journeys deeper into the mountains.
* Dalhousie a small hill station close to Pathankot.
This town is well connected to many other cities of Himachal Pradesh and other near by towns. Here is the list of distances by road from different places to Dharamsala.
From Dharamsala to Pathankot 83 Km
From Dharamsala to Delhi 526 Km
From Dharamsala to Jalandhar 160 Km
From Dharamsala to Chandigarh 242 Km
From Dharamsala to Kangra 18 Km
From Dharamsala to Jawalamukhi 53 Km
From Dharamsala to Manali 242 Km
From Dharamsala to Kulu 205 Km
From Dharamsala to Mandi 134 Km
From Dharamsala to Palampur 34 Km
From Dharamsala to Chamunda 16 Km
There is an Indian railway ticket booking counter at Dharamsala main market center inside the HP tourism office cum hotel complex.
From Manali too bus services are available to this place. One can drive from Delhi via Chandigarh, Kiratpur, Bilaspur and it's an 8-hours journey. From Delhi and Shimla, luxury buses ply to Dharamsala.
A taxi from Pathankot to McLeodganj takes about 3 hours, and the official fare from Pathankot is Rs.1300 (return).
Pathankot is 85-km and is the nearest railhead for Dharamsala.
Dharamsala can be approached by air from Delhi and the nearest airport is at Gaggla, just 13-km away from the town.
Dharamsala Festivals and culture
Tibetan Buddhists observe “Saka Dawa” festival in Dharamsala
Dharamsala Tibetan Buddhists on Wednesday celebrated Saka Dawa, one of their most important festivals.
The festival has a special significance for the followers of Lord Buddha as all three stages of his life — birth, enlightenment and death are witnessed in the period known as Saka Dawa.
These three events form the key to Buddha’s life and the day therefore is of great significance to the followers of the religion.
According to the Tibetan calendar, Saka Dawa is celebrated on the 15th day of the fourth lunar month.
Tibetan monks, nuns, tourists and residents in Dharamsala, headquarters of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, flocked to the town’s main Tibetan monastery to celebrate the festival.
During this period we believe that if you act good and virtue things it will multiply in thousands and therefore this day monks offer prayers and give alms to poor, said Sonam, a Tibetan Monk.
The celebration, which began with morning prayers, involved the taking of vows from the Eight Mahayana precepts, which are not to kill any living being, not to steal and not to lie.
We just give money to beggars, don’t eat meat and we do all the good things that we could do and we also go to temple for prayers, said Neema a Tibetan girl.
Devotees lights lamps, candles and incense sticks before a huge statue of Lord Buddha.
On the holy day devotees do pious deeds and distribute food and alms to beggars.
It is believed that good deeds in this month are rewarded 300 folds and so the sight of people donating money and food is not uncommon.
Exploring Tibetan Culture
The cultural life in Dharamsala is colourful and rich in tradition. The fairs and festivals are occasions for relaxation. To the local Indian traditions, Tibetan refugees have added their own festivals such as Losar (Tibetan New Year), and His Holiness the Dalai Lama's birthday which is celebrated on July 6 with the performance of Tibetan, Nepali and Gaddi dances revealing the cultural mosaic that McLeod Gunj is. More recently, tourists and students from the west have added rock music, stage musicals and contribute other Western influences to this melting pot of peoples and cultures.
The Tsuglagkhang Complex in Dharamsala is a sacred building complex enclosing the residence of Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Government in exile. The complex is constructed in a location near Mcleod Ganj and is overlooked by the mountain ranges of Dhauladhar. Lush pine forests offer the natural beauty and the atmosphere offers a perfect tranquility in the location.
Tsuglagkhang Complex encloses a monastery, a Tibetan museum, a cafeteria, a book shop and library, prayer wheels and Buddhist shrines, apart from the royal but simple residence of the spiritual saint. Visitors are allowed to move anywhere in the complex without any obstacles and difficulties.
The town of Dharamsala is situated in Himachal Pradesh, on the high slopes in the upper reaches of Kangra Valley. With the Dhauladhar Mountains serving as its backdrop, the town presents a picturesque sight. Dharamsala is divided into two parts, the Upper Dharamsala and the Lower Dharamsala, differing by approximately 1000 m in altitude. The town serves as the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile. Dharamshala is also the seat of His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama in India.
It houses a large settlement of Tibetan refugee. Monks in their robes and old Tibetans walking with rosaries in their hands or turning the prayer wheels is a common sight here. There are a number of monasteries and temples in Dharamsala, which serves as the major attractions for the tourists coming here. There are also several institutes here, set up to conserve the art, culture and traditions of Tibet.
Tourist Attractions of Dharamsala
■ Namgyal Monastery
Sonam Gyatso, the third Dalai Lama, founded Namgyal Monastery in the year 1575. During that time, it was situated at the Potala Palace in Tibet. Its purpose was to assist the Dalai Lama in his spiritual duties and public religious activities. It was from here that he used to perform religious and ritual prayer ceremonies for the Tibetan Government and for the welfare of Tibet. However, it was later shifted and presently, it is situated in the Dharamsala town in Himachal Pradesh.
■ Gangchen Kyishong
The offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives are located here.
■ Monastery of Nechung Oracle
Just below the Tibetan Library in Gangchen Kyishong is the splendid new Nechung Monastery, the seat of Nechung, the state oracle and protector-deity of Tibet. The oracle is the medium through whom Dorje Drakden (Nechung), the principal protector of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government, communicates with His Holiness and the Kashag (cabinet). Major decisions of the state are also made in consultation with the Nechung Oracle.
Nechung monastery in Tibet lies just below Drepung monastery, four miles west of Lhasa, and the country's capital. Nechung originally came to Tibet with a descendant of the Indian sage Dharmapala.
It is the center for Tibetan Medicine, located very near to Nechung.
■ Norbulingka Monastery
The Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan Culture was founded by the Department of Religion and Culture to preserve and promote Tibetan Art and Culture in exile.
It derives its name from the His Holiness the Dalai Lama's beautiful summer residence, the 'Norbulingka' (Jewel Garden), set in parkland two kilometers from Lhasa. Fearing for the future of Tibet's cultural heritage, the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso, established institutes of arts and science there in 1754.
Rewalsar lies very near to Dharamshala. Here, you can visit the cave temple of the great Indian Tantrik Guru Padmasambhava.
Dharamsala Entertainment and Night Life
Dharamsala is one of the most popular starting points for treks and rock climbing over the ridges of the Dhauladhar range. Take a travel trip to mountainous valley and indulge in diverse adventure sports. There are tailor-made treks in the Kangra valley around Dharamsala and adjoining places. The trekking season starts from May and goes on to October. The most frequented route from Dharamsala to the Chamba valley, over the Indradhar Pass (4350m), is arduous trek but the most novice trekkers can manage to complete it within five days.
There are many easy walks of small treks around McLeodganj and Dharamsala such as Toral Pass (4575m) that start from Tang Narwana (1150m), which is 10-km from Dharamsala. A 2-km stroll takes one to Bhagsu, then a little further a 3-km walk will bring the trekkers to Dharamkot. If one wishes to go on a longer walk then he can walk 8-km to Triund. The snow line of Ilaqa Got is just a 5-km walk.
The most difficult route is towards the north, a five to six day trip across Bhimghasutri Pass (4580), covering near-vertical rocky ascents, sharp cliffs and dangerous gorges. An easier four or five day trek from Dharamsala crosses Bleni Pass (3710m) in the milder ranges of the northwest, weaving through the alpine pastures, woods and passing through few streams, before terminating at Dunali, on the Chamba road.
The area is rich in small rivers and streams, which give ample opportunity for angle fishing. The 20-km stretch of the river Beas between Nadaun and the Pong Dam offers ample of opportunities in angling for Mahaseer.
Walk 1): McLeod Ganj to Triund (9kms, 18kms return)
A popular 9kms trek for a day to the 9,000 foot ridge over looking the Dhauladhar range. A gradual climb of 1500 mts takes you from McLeod Ganj to Triund via the village of Dharamkot. It follows a well-established path used by the local Gaddi people. There is a Forest Rest House a top the ridge which can be booked in advance through the HPTDC office in Kotwali bazaar.
Walk 2): McLeod Ganj to Naddi (Talnu) via Dal Lake.
From McLeod Ganj take the Mall road to Dal Lake. About 2kms this road joins another road coming from Forsyth Ganj and heads to Dal Lake (1km). This small fished filled lake is brownish in color and not nearly as impressive as the name and reputation suggest. It is at an altitude if 1775 mts surrounded by Deodar trees, held sacred, this lake has a small shiva temple on its banks. The banks of the lake are enlivened during sept. by a fair attended – amongst other – by a large number of Gaddi folk. To get to Naddi take the metal road past Dal Lake and walk uphill for about 3kms to the top.
There are many easy walks of small treks as well. Around McLeodganj and Dharamsala small treks such as Toral Pass (4575m) that start from Tang Narwana (1150m), which is 10-km from Dharamsala. A 2-km stroll takes one to Bhagsu, then a little further a 3-km walk will bring the trekkers to Dharamkot. If one wishes to go on a longer walk then he can walk 8-km to Triund. The snow line of Ilaqa Got is just a 5-km walk.
The area is rich in small rivers and streams, which give ample opportunity for angle fishing.
Money & Shopping
* Tibetan Singing Bowl. Buy the hand-made Singing Bowl, its very easy to play and is used for Sound healing, Music therapy or just to relax. edit
Many Tibetan things can be bought in Dharamsala - woolen shawls, prayer flags, prayer wheels, thangka and mandala paintings, Tibetan jewelry & trinkets etc.
McLeod Ganj is a great place for eating, and the town has an abundance of restaurants, especially in the mid to upper range that cater to foreign tourists.
Kangra Art Museum: This museum closes at 5 PM and it houses the original throne of Raja Sansar Chand. There are samples of famous Kangra miniature paintings displayed here.
Buddha temple at McLeodganjThe upper Dharamsala is known as McLeodganj. Famous for the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He is the spiritual leader of the Tibetans so it is popularly know as Little Lasa. Near the residence of Dalai Lama there is a famous Buddha temple. In the year 1960 Indian government had offered Dalai Lama to settle down at Dharamsala. Along with many of his followers Dalai Lama established his monastery and stayed here.
Kangra Valley, Kangra Vacation PackagesKangra valley is one of the Himachal’s beautiful valleys. It rolls down the southern edge of magnificent Dhauladhar range in gentle slopes covered with forests of pine, orchards, green tea gardens and terraced fields.
The Dhauladhars -the “White ranges” rise upto 14000 ft . providing a dramatic backdrop to the hill resort of Dharamshala. This is the principal township of Kangra covering a wide area in the form of town settlement. Lower Dharamsala (1380 mt)is a busy commercial centre, while upper Dharamsala (1700 mt) with the suburbs of Mcleodganj and Forsythganj, -retains the British flavour more or less colonial lifestyle.
The charming stone church of St. John in the Wilderness, with its beautiful stained glass windows is situated here and this church yard is the final resting place of lord Elgin a British Viceroy of India who was buried here in 1863, as he chose to remain in the town he loved.
Up in Mcleodganj is a charming Tibetan settlement with bustling Bazars that sell carpets, handicrafts and delicious Tibetan food A giant prayer wheel ornaments main street and in the monastery, a serene statue of the Lord Buddha presides over the gentle chanting of the monks.
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama resides in Mcleodganj, which is now a major centre for Tibetan Government -in- exile and Tibetan culture. It has a School for Tibetan studies with rare manuscripts and texts, Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts and a handicrafts centre.
Dalai Lama, Dharamshala Tour PackagesDharamshala has everything for a perfect holiday. Winter in the Kangra Valley is enchanting. The snow line remains close enough at all times and during winter months, the northern part is swaddled in a blanket of freshly fallen snow allowing the magic of Kangra to take on yet another hue.
Numerous ancient temples like Jawalamukhi, Bajreshwari, Chamunda and Baijnath (Vaidyanath) lie on the below Dhauladhar.
* Bhagsu Waterfall, 3 km from Dharamsala. An easy walk down Bhagsu Rd through the village of the same name, then 1 km up to the waterfall itself. Despite a sign advising visitors not to venture further, the path to the waterfall is in reasonable shape, except for the final 50 meters which are distinctly dodgy, especially in slippery weather.
* If you are in for a brisk walk, climb the hill beyond Dharamkot to Triund with a beautiful view of the first peaks of the "real" Himalayas, and a wide view over the plains at its feet. As the peak is over 3000 meters, make sure to wear good shoes, carry water (some food if you like) and an extra vest or coat. At the top, even in summer, the weather can change from hot and sunny into a small snowstorm very quickly. Every year some tourists get themselves into serious trouble this way, wearing only sandals and a T-shirt.If you want to warm up before the Triund trak, try the trek to Guna temple ( 5 km one way, through jungle and quite a climb, but you will see nature at it's best)
* Dal Lake, 4 km from Dharamsala (past Naddi). Fairly well signposted, this thoroughly anticlimactic sacred pond is the color and texture of its yellow lentil namesake. Don't bother.
As Dharamsala is located in the Himalayas, the climate is very pleasant during the summers but in winters the cold is very bad. Temperature can drop below the freezing point during the winters and heavy woollen clothes are required.
During the summers the weather is mild and light woolens and cottons are recommended. The best time to visit the place is during the summers when the cold has shed its biting teeth and there is plenty of Sunshine. But avoid coming here during the monsoon months, as there is a danger of landslides.
HPTDC Tourist Information Office
HP Tourist Information Centre
Near Tibetan Monastery, McLeodganj
36, Chandralok Building, Janpath, New Delhi
State Bank Of India
Kotwali Bazar, Dharamsala, Kangra, H.P.
* Every year in February-March for ten days or so, and occasionally at other times, the Dalai Lama  holds public lectures. Registration at Tibetan Branch Security Office (near Hotel Tibet) is necessary, preferably 3-4 days beforehand (although shorter notice may be possible). Bring a cushion to sit on, a FM radio with headphones to listen to the simultaneous translation from Tibetan to English, a cup for tea, and a sunhat/umbrella, but as little else as possible since security is tight. The last day of teaching concludes with public prayers, for which no security pass is needed. Donations are welcome.
Note: According to the official website of the Dalai Lama, due to health issues His Holiness no longer holds public audiences