Dharamshala Travel Guide

 

The Tibetan Buddhist roots of Dharamsala stretch back into the 8th century, although most of the local population long since reverted to (and remains) Hindu. "Dharamsala" literally means an "inn attached to a temple", and it was so until the district headquarters in Kangra became too crowded and the British moved 2 of their regiments in the late 1840s to what is now Dharamsala. This over the years grew to be district headquarters of Kangra, and the very location is now known as the Police Lines.

haramsala was mooted to be the summer capital of India, but it was not to be, as much of the town was destroyed in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake of 4th April 1905, which killed over 10,000 people in this sparsely populated area.

fter falling into obscurity in the early days of Indian independence, Dharamsala regained some social standing in 1959 with the arrival of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile [1]. Currently, it is a very popular hang-out for foreigners and students of Buddhism.


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 (thus 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).

ower 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. 

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Tsuglagkhang Complex, Temple Rd. This is the largest Tibetan temple outside Tibet, and it has a large meditation hall containing some beautiful statues and thangkas, as well as a Kalachakra temple with beautiful murals. It is the monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and is located just in front of his residence. On the basement level of the complex you will also find the Namgyal Cafe, which is run as a work-training center for Tibetan youth with daringly fusionesque if often unremarkable food, but great atmosphere in the evenings.

Tibet Museum, opp. Tsuglagkhang, tel. +91-1892-22510, [3]. Small but interesting museum on the history of Tibet and its people. Open Tu-Su 9AM-5 PM, entry Rs.5.

Tibetan Library, [4], near the Tibetan Government in Exile, with a small but interesting museum.

Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), [5]. Stages performances of traditional Tibetan dance, music, and theatre.

Every year in February-March for ten days or so, and occasionally at other times, the Dalai Lama [6] 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, as security is tight. The last day of teaching concludes with public prayers, for which no security pass is needed. Donations are welcome.

Visit the 17th Karmapa at his temporary residence at the Gyuto Tantric University in the town of Sidhbari near McLeod Ganj. For detailed information, check the Kagyu school's official web site: Kagyu Office.

 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 and an extra vest or coat. At the top, even in sumnmer, the weather can change from quite 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 in a snowstorm.

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.

Courses
Courses range from yoga, meditation, reiki, Tibetan and Indian cooking classes, Tibetan language classes and Thai massage. All courses include vegetarian meals, and are offered at the following meditation centers:

Tushita Meditation Center, -10 days meditation courses (mostly residential) with Buddhist teachings. Silence is usually only half the day.

Vipassana - Situated near Dharamkot, offers a 10 days meditation course. You need to register in advance at their web-site. The course will teach you the vipassana technique as taught by Goenka. You have to be in complete silence, and you are provided 2 meals and very light dinner. The course is free, you can leave a donation if you please.

Buddha Hall - reiki with Usha - Usha is a grandmaster reiki teacher who runs courses in reiki (I,II,III and Master) as well as tarot and crystal healing from Buddha hall in Bagsu, (Opposite the German Bakery). She is a very flexible and compassionate teacher - highly recommended.

Z-Meditation,  - five day meditation course in McLeod Ganj (go down the stairs at Yongling School. It's the big green building). The course is much more varied than vipassana - it includes a few techniques on meditation, some with painting, some about subjects related to your own life, and also 2 hours of daily yoga, 3 meals, and a refreshment break. The entire retreat is undertaken in silent.

Asho Institute in Bhagsu Village also provide courses in ayurvedic nutrition and tai-Chi.

Llhamo's kitchen learn how to cook traditional tibetan food, including momos from a delightful tibetan man called Llhamo. It all takes place in llhamos single room house right in the centre of town.

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By plane
Newly upgraded Gaggal Airport (IATA: DHM) in Kangra, 10 km away, has flights from Delhi on Air Deccan (daily via Pathankot) and Jagson Airlines [2] (three times weekly via Kullu). Flights are prone to cancellation due to bad weather or because enough passengers didn't show up, so leave some leeway for onward connections on the way out.

By bus
Most people come to Dharamsala by bus. It has good connections with other parts of North India, although the journeys are often slow due to the narrow winding roads in the hills.
The main bus terminal is in Lower Dharamsala, but some public HRTC buses to Delhi and Pathankot go all the way to the main square of McLeod Ganj, where you can also book advance tickets for the return trip. Unreserved HRTC buses from Pathankot cost Rs.75 and take 3/4 hours to Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj. Many private bus companies are available for travel from Manali, Dehradun and Delhi. Overnight buses from Delhi, many private ones leaving from the Tibetan colony of Majnu ka Tilla, take upwards of 13 hours and cost from Rs. 500 upwards. The cost on 20/12/07 was Rs 450.

By train
The nearest broad gauge railhead is at Pathankot and the neighboring station of Chakki Bank, a comfortable overnight journey from Delhi. Train buffs can continue on the very slow and rickety but pretty Kangra Valley Railway to Kangra, a journey that easily takes up to 6 hours and still leaves you 18 km from McLeod Ganj, but most travellers choose to continue by bus or taxi instead. If you do choose to go to Kangra then from the train station you need to walk and autorickshaw to the bus stop where buses are available to take you to Dharamsala.
By taxi
A taxi from Pathankot to McLeod Ganj takes about 3 hours, and the official fare from Pathankot is Rs.1300

Get around
McLeod Ganj is small enough to be navigated on foot. Public buses to Dharamsala leave roughly hourly and cost Rs.5, while chartered autorickshaws charge around Rs.100. Trips from McLeod Ganj to nearby points (eg. Bhagsu) shouldn't cost much more than Rs.30.

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Dharamsala stands on a spur of the Dhauladhar range amidst magnificient deodar and pine forests, tea gardens and beautiful hills.

Lying 526-km northwest of New Delhi, Dharamsala is the headquarters of the Kangra District in the Indian State of Himachal Pradesh. Kangra valley is one of the most pleasant, relaxing and spiritual places in the Himalayas. Marvelously scenic, especially upper Dharamsala is well wooded with oak, cedar, pine and other timber yielding trees and offers some lovely walks and finer views.

n 1855, Dharamsala had only two major areas where civilians settled in: McLeodganj, named after Lieutenant Governor of Punjab "David McLeod", and Forsyth Ganj, named after a Divisional Commissioner.
Lord Elgin, the British Viceroy of India (1862-63) fell in love with the natural beauty of Dharamsala because of its likeness with Scotland, his home. Lord Elgin died in 1863 while on a tour. He now lies buried in the graveyard of St. John's Church-in-Wilderness which stands in a cozy pine grove between McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj.

A Legend has it that Lord Elgin liked Dharamsala so much that he had sent a proposal to the British monarch to make Dharamsala the summer capital of India. However, the proposal was ignored. By 1904, Forsyth Ganj and McLeod Ganj had become nerve centers of trade , business and official work of Kangra District, But on April 4,1905, as a result of a severe earthquake, whole of the area was devastated. Alarmed at the massive destruction, the British government decided to shift the district headquarter offices to the lower reaches of spur. As a result, the present-day district courts and kotwali bazaar areas came into being which earlier had only a jail, a police station and cobbler's shop to boast of. Until India attained independence from Britain on Aug. 15,1947 McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj continued to serve as health resorts and resting places for the British Rulers. But all this changed when the government of India decided to grant political asylum to the 14thDalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatsho, in 1959. In 1960, he was allowed to make McLeod Ganj his headquarters . After his arrival, trade, commerce and tourism picked up afresh. Because with the Dalai Lama came thousands of Tibetan refugees, who gradually settled in McLeod Ganj. During the last three decades, The Tibetans have built many religious, educational and cultural institutions in and around McLeod Ganj, which has helped in preservation of their culture. This has been a keen area of interest for the people around the world and as a result they flock at Dharamsala at various times.

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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.