With arresting views of the Himalayan snow capped mountains, dense deodar and pine forests, serene lakes, lush green tea gardens, Dharamshala (meaning ‘Holy Refuge’) stands at the foot of the Dhauladhar Mountain Range in the Kangra District of the state of Himachal Pradesh. It is situated at altitudes ranging from 4,400 ft to 6,560 ft.
Dharamshala is much publicized for being home to the Noble Laureate, the ‘Dalai Lama’ and his Tibetan followers. There are 2 parts to Dharamshala namely Lower Dharamshala with the civil and business areas and Upper Dharamshala with areas like McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj.
When in Dharamshala, make sure not to miss the following places:
1. War Memorial
Situated near the entry point to Dharamshala in thick pine forests, the War Memorial is dedicated to the soldiers and officers native to Kangra district who fought bravely to defend India in various wars. The War Memorial has 3 curved walls of black marble. The names of 1,042 brave fallen soldiers are inscribed on 5 faces and a mural on the sixth face. A disused Patton Tank and a Gnat Airplane are found near the memorial.
2. Norbulingka institute
Norbulingka Institute was founded by the Dalai Lama with the intention of preserving the Tibetan language and cultural heritage. The Centre for Arts, the Academy of Tibetan Culture, the Literary and Cultural Research Centre and the Library are found within this institute. Training in Tibetan statue making, Thangka painting, printing, appliqué and tailoring, wood carving and wood and metal craft are given at the Centre of Arts. The ‘Seat of Happiness Temple’ or Deden Tsuglakhang is also located in the institute and is set amidst Japanese style gardens. The highlights of the temple include frescoes of all the Dalai Lamas, 1,173 murals of Buddha, drawings depicting the life of the 14th Dalai Lama and a gilded copper Buddha Sakyamuni statue.
3. Kangra Art Museum
Kangra Art Museum has a rich collection of arts and crafts and historical artifacts of the Kangra Valley going back to the 5th century. The noted Kangra miniature paintings are also found here. Other displays include fascinating sculptures, coins and manuscripts, pottery, embroidered costumes, tribal wood carvings and jewelry and anthropological items. A part of the museum is reserved for displaying works by contemporary artists, sculptures and photographers.
Places Around Dharamshala
The splendid Naddi Village is 2 km from McLeod Ganj and situated at an altitude of 2,000 m. Delightful views of the Dhauladhar Range can be had to the north and of sweeping Kangra Valley to the south. Naddi is the perfect place for visitors looking for peace and quiet away from the frenetic pace of urban life.
2. Kunal Pathari Temple
Kunal Pathari Temple is 3 km from Dharamshala and one can walk from Kotwali Bazaar in Dharamshala to here. Lush tea gardens nearby, pleasant breeze and fascinating views of the Dhauladhar Range can be enjoyed from this temple.
3. Machhrial Falls
Machhrial Falls is 5 km from Tatwani and is bigger than Bhagsunag Falls.
4. St. John’s Church
The architectural gothic masterpiece, St. John’s Church is about 8 km from Dharamshala and is situated in the deodar forest between McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj. Lord Elgin, one of the viceroys of India, is buried here. One can but admire the magnificent stained Belgian glass windows in the church. There is a cemetery adjacent to the church.
5. Chinmaya Tapovan
Situated 10 km from Dharamshala is the peaceful ashram complex of Swami Chinmayananda called Chinmaya Tapovan. The highlights of the ashram include a 9 m tall Hanuman statue, a temple dedicated to lord Ram, a meditation hall, a school and a health and recreation center.
6. McLeod Ganj
McLeod Ganj is located about 10 km from Dharamshala, at an altitude of 1700 m. With several Tibetan settlers here, McLeod Ganj or ‘Little Lhasa’ is a major Buddhist center and the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile. Several Tibetan handicrafts, Thangka silk paintings, Tibetan carpets and garments are found here. Interesting places to visit include Tsuglagkhang Temple or the Dalai Lama’s temple, the Namgyal Monastery, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Gangchen Kyishong (the premises of the Tibetan government-in-exile), Mani Lakhang Stupa and Nechung Monastery.
7. Bhagsunag Falls
Situated about 11 km. from Dharamshala and 2 km from McLeod Ganj is the charming village of Bhagsu which is reached by climbing up from McLeod Ganj. One can visit the cascading scenic Bhagsunag Falls, a lovely pool, the ancient Bhagsunag Temple complex and slate quarries here. Bhagsu is the perfect picnic spot for tourists with several food stalls dishing out delicious food.
8. Dal Lake
Dal lake is an oval shaped artificial lake located next to the Tibetan Children’s Village and surrounded by fir trees and hills. It is at a distance of 11 km from Lower Dharamshala. Trekkers start their trekking from Dal Lake. There is a small Shiv Temple on the banks of this lake. (Note: This is different from the Dal Lake in Srinagar in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir)
Dharamkot is situated on top of a hill at an altitude of 2,100 m and a distance of 14 km from Dharamshala. It can be reached by trekking from Bhagsu. Heart stopping views of the Kangra valley, the Pong Dam Lake and the Dhauladhar ranges can be had from here.
At an altitude of 2,827 m and a distance of 17 km from Dharamshala is the mesmerizing picnic spot of Triund. One can trek from McLeod Ganj to Triund through dense, beautiful deodar and oak forests and the trekking time takes about 4 hours. A further 4 km from Triund is Illaqa at an altitude of 3,350 m where the snowline begins. There is a forest rest house for tourists at Triund.
The historic town of Kangra is 17 km from Dharamshala. Some of the important temples here include Jwalamukhi (Jwaladevi) Temple, Chamunda Devi Temple and Brajeshwari Devi Temple. There is a fort called Kangra Fort here.
Situated 25 km west of Dharamshala, Tatwani is a charming village famous for its hot water springs.
13. Kareri Lake
About 33 km from Dharamshala is the pristine shallow fresh water Kareri Lake at an altitude of 2,166 m. Surrounded by rolling green meadows, dense oak and pine forests, Kareri Lake is a pretty place to visit. There is a forest rest house at Kareri Village for the convenience of tourists.
The pleasant hill station of Palampur is situated about 40 km from Dharamshala. It is surrounded by lush tea gardens and pine forests. The picturesque Bundla Falls falling from a height of 328 ft is nearby.
Location: At the foot of the Dhauladhar Mountain Range, in the district of Kangra in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India.
Altitude: From 4,400 ft to 6,560 ft
Climate: The climate of Dharamshala is very pleasant with the best months being March and April. The summer season is from March to June, the monsoon season from July to September and the winter season from November to February. The temperatures range from 0 ?C in January to 38 ?C in June. Dharamshala has the second highest rainfall in the country with annual rainfall ranging from 290 cm to 380 cm. In winter heavy woolens are recommended and in summer light woolens and tropical wear.
Best time to travel: The best time to travel to Dharamshala is between the months of April and October. Dharamshala is noted for trekking and rock climbing. May to October is the best season for trekkers.
Accommodation: Low and high budget hotels, lodges and tourist rest houses are available. One can also rent houses from the locals.
By Flight: The closest airport to Dharamshala is Gaggal Airport at a distance of 15 km. Regular air services to Dharamshala are also available from Jammu Airport which is 200 km away, Amritsar Airport which is at a distance of 210 km and Chandigarh Airport which is 260 km away from Dharamshala.
By Train: Pathankot is the nearest broad gauge rail head to Dharamshala at a distance of 95 km. There is also a narrow gauge railway line between Pathankot and Jogindernagar going through Kangra Mandir railway station which is situated about 17 km from Dharamshala. From Pathankot one can take a bus to Dharamshala which takes about 4 hours travel time or a taxi which takes 3 hours travel time.
By Road: There is an extensive road network and regular bus services connecting Dharamshala to other parts of the state and the country. The distances from Dharamshala to Chandigarh is 252 km, Pathankot 95 km, Delhi 560 km, Nangal 145 km, Jalandhar 166 km, Hoshiarpur 128 km, Mandi 147 km, Jwalamukhi 55 km, Kullu 214 km, Manali 252 km, Chamba 192 km and Shimla 322 km.