Dharamshala is the largest town in the beautiful Kangra Valley and is one of the popular travel destinations in Himachal Pradesh. It town extends from the valley floor to the lower spurs of the Dhauladhars. The lower town is at 1065 m and the highest elevation in the upper town is 2350 m. The upper town is as much loved for its proximity to the snow-capped Dhauladhars as for its spiritual connection. There are several areas in the upper Dharamshala from where Dhauladhar mountains appear to be at a touching distance. McLeod Ganj in the upper town, being the seat of the venerable Dalai Lama, attracts many spiritual seekers from across the globe. While the lower town is insignificant, the lush green valley around it is overlooked by the peaks of the Dhauladhars. The snow-melt of these mountains turns into brooks which gush through this valley. This has led to the development of several resorts and retreats in this region.
Places to Visit in Dharamshala
Spread across a pine-covered ridge, backdropped by the mighty Dhauladhar mountains, McLeod Ganj is a Tibetan settlement. Its nucleus is the Tsuglagkhang complex which has a temple, monastery, and the residence of Dalai Lama. This place is also the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Originally McLeod Ganj was established during British rule by David McLeod, the lieutenant governor of Punjab in 1848. But unlike other hill towns developed during the colonial era, McLeod Ganj has very few traces of the British rule.
This temple is the sole reason for the spiritual seekers to travel to McLeod Ganj. Situated at the southern end of the town, Tsuglagkhang is of great importance to the Buddhists. The presiding image here is of Sakyamuni (the historical Buddha), the gilded image is 9 ft in height. There are gilded images (12 ft high) of Padmasambhava and Avalokiteshvara on either side. There is a raised dais in the temple from where the Dalai Lama holds discourses. This temple, with its simple hall, is said to be the replica of Tsuglagkhang Temple in Lhasa. After worshiping the Buddha inside, most of the devotees do a circumambulation of the temple complex.
Church of St-John-in-the-wilderness
The earthquake of 1905 brought almost everything down in McLeod Ganj and its surroundings, but this church stood erect. Built in 1852, this grey stone structure is situated in Forsythganj, a short drive downhill from McLeod Ganj. Its stained glass windows depicting John the Baptist with Jesus are remarkable. In the backyard of the church, there is a small structure in the shape of a cathedral, it is Lord Elgin’s memorial erected by his widow. Elgin had died here in 1863 due to a mishap in which his horse fell in a gorge.
The location of this lake is way more beautiful than the lake itself. This small water body is surrounded by the hills thickly covered with oak and pine trees. This lake is also of religious importance to the locals who hold a fair here every September. You can reach here by taking a 2 km long forest trail from McLeod Ganj. You can also drive up to the lake.
Naddi is a small village, 4 km from McLeod Ganj and is just 2 km from Dal Lake. This village is on the travellers’ map for its view of Dhauladhars. From Naddi you get to see the snow-capped Dhauladhars right in front of you. There are a few mid-range retreats in Naddi which attract people who yearn to get more out of Dhauladhars.
Bhagsunag, just a couple of kilometres from McLeod Ganj, has a temple of Lord Shiva and a waterfall. Shiva is worshipped as Bhageshwar in the temple which is said to be very old. It is also said that the temple was rebuilt several times. Near the temple, there is a tank filled by the spring water. And it’s obvious that it would be crowded by people wanting to take dips. The best thing to do in Bhagsu village is to take a walk on the path, carved on a hillside, leading to the waterfall.
Generally filled with backpackers, Dharamkot is a village that serves as a base for the treks to Triund and Indrahar Pass. Apart from this, Dharamkot itself is a nature retreat. If you are the one who likes to go on trails, commune with the nature, and explore life in the Himalayan villages, this place is meant for you. But please be informed that there are no roads in this village except the connecting road to McLeod Ganj. So, you are completely dependent upon your feet.
Norbulingka, situated in lower Dharamshala, has a huge campus with an array of Tibetan style buildings spread across Japanese Gardens. The most beautiful building is the Deden Tsuglagkhang Temple with its striking roof, painted walls and beautiful ‘Thangkas’ (Tibetan style paintings on a cloth). The main purpose of Norbulingka is to preserve and promote traditional arts and crafts of Tibet. There is an institute in the campus where you can see craftsmen at work. The activities like painting, woodcarving, sculpting and moulding are done here within properly defined departments. The café here called ‘Zen Café’ should be one of the most soothing places in Dharamshala. There is also a guesthouse in the campus.
Gyuto Tantric Monastery
This monastery, 3 km from Norbulingka in lower Dharamshala, has the residence of the 17th Karmapa of the Kyagu Sect. The beautiful facade of the temple in the monastery has white-tipped Dhauladhar mountains in the background. This monastery is home to hundreds of monks relocated from Tibet.
While most of the tea-covered slopes are in the nearby town of Palampur, there are a few in Dharamshala as well. So, if you don’t have plans to visit Palampur, you can check out these slopes. And if you want to taste the brew made out of this tea-leaves, you can stop at any of the tea-stalls along the highway.
This stadium enjoys a beautiful location. It is so amazing to see, while standing in the field, that you are surrounded by the majestic mountains. It was established in the year of 2003 and is managed by Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association.
This temple is situated beside Tsuglagkhang Temple in the same complex. ‘Kalchakra’ is a philosophical system in Tibetan Buddhism and is said to contribute towards world peace. There is an intricate mural of Kalchakra Mandala in the temple.
This monastery is also a part of the Tsuglagkhang Complex. Originally Namgyal Monastery was constructed above Potala Palace in Lhasa in the 16th-century. During the Tibetan uprising of 1959, it was transferred to this place in Dharamshala. During afternoon, the monks of this monastery can be seen debating in the courtyard opposite the temple.
The Tibet Museum
Located near the Namgyal Monastery, this museum narrates, with the help of photographs and videos, the plight of Tibetan People after Chinese invasion in 1949.
Library of Tibetan Works and Archives
This library is inside Gangchen Kyishong, the administrative centre of the Tibetan Government-in-exile. It has the world’s most extensive collections of original Tibetan manuscripts of sacred texts and prayers. It also has books on all aspects of Tibet along with books on Indian Culture. There is a museum above the library which has bronze images and ‘thangkas’ (Tibetan Buddhist painting).
Excursions from Dharamshala
This fort is set on a cliff overlooking Manjhi and Banganga rivers. The earthquake of 1905 had destroyed almost every structure within the fort. Today the entire fort lay in ruins, the only structure erect is a small temple. Nevertheless, moving around in the fort you can imagine what could have been the chambers and palace apartments. The views from the ramparts and from the top of the fort are spellbinding. Even the journey from Dharamshala is quite scenic. The distance from Dharamshala is about 25 km. Read More
These 8th-century monolithic rock-cut temples were constructed in Nagara style. Just like many other structures in Kangra, these too were devastated by the earthquake. Originally, they were 15, but today you get to see their ruins. Read More
The lesser-known Kangra Tea comes from here. This town, surrounded by the tea estates, is situated right below the Dhauladhars. Apart from checking out its tea estates, you should visit its ‘Neugal Khad’ where you will be able to sit by the brook and gaze at the majestic Dhauladhar Mountains. Read More