Dharamshala Travel Guide
McLeod Ganj Dharamsala is situated in the Northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. It lies on a spur of the Dhauladhar range in the Pir Panjal region of the Outer Himalayas; and commands majestic views of the mighty Dhauladhar ranges above, and the Kangra Valley below.
Dhauladhar means "white ridge" and this breathtaking, snow-capped range rises out of the Kangra Valley to a height of 5,200 meters (17,000 feet).The Kangra Valley is a wide, fertile plain, crisscrossed by low hills. The scenery touched the heart of a British official who wrote: "No scenery, in my opinion, presents such sublime and delightful contrasts. Below lies the plain, a picture of rural loveliness and repose...
McLeod Ganj Dharamsala is famed as the holy abode of Tibetan Charismatic Leader Dalai Lama and houses the Tibetan Government in exile. Dharamsala is a synonym for Buddhism in India. Situated on the upper hilly terrains of Kangra valley and set against the scenic backdrop of exquisite Dhauladhar Mountains. The gorgeous city is distinctively divided as upper and lower divisions with two altitude ranges.
Home to the Tibetan leader, this is the perfect place to learn about Buddhism and the Tibetan struggle for Freedom. The city is dominated by the Tibetan populace while still retaining the British fervor and English lifestyles. Numerous Buddhist Viharas or Gompas, presenting great cultural values and Tibetan architectures, are the main attractions of Dharamsala.
McLeod Ganj Dharamsala has a vibrant environment with dense green forests with Deodar trees and pine trees. Blessed with many clear and unpolluted streams it is an ideal retreat for nature lovers. This place has been renowned as one of the best picnic spots in India.Kotwali Bazaar is a perfect shopping place where one can view the color and lifestyles of the entire Dharamsala community. The market is considered as the base camp for tourists’ travelling to upper Dharamsala. The tourists who love nature walks and trekking can stay in this base camp and explore the hilly forest regions.
It is usually warm in the morning and afternoon in June–July, gets cold early in the evening, and is quite cold at night: pack woollens and jackets; T-shirts can be worn in the daytime while the sun is out. The weather gets quite cold when it rains.
In winter, the temperature can drop to freezing point when heavy woolens are required. The summer temperature are mild and light woolens / cottons are recommended.
One of the tourist attractions in Dharamsala is the Kangra Art Museum, displaying the rich past of Dharamsala and its cultural supremacy of the Tibetan people. There are some institutions as well which are established to preserve the grand old Tibetan traditions, cultures and arts. This little hill town is indeed a must visit to every traveler coming to this region.
A pretty imposing and cool tourist destination, McLeodganj is nicely situated in upper Dharmasala and is the renowned seat of the holy leader Dalai Lama. The city was named after David McLeod, the former Governor of Punjab under British rule. This is the administrative headquarters of the Tibetan Government in exile. Mcleodganj a real cross section of Tibet is a well known learning centre of Tibetan culture and Buddhist dharmas and rituals. It has been nick named as the little Lhasa, reverberating the Buddhist influence on the land.
This is an imposing hill station located at about 1700m high in Himachal Pradesh. The area is enriched with many ancient temples, monasteries and structures. Tsuglagkhang is the main temple enshrining Sakyamuni Buddha, Avalokitesvara and Padmasambhava. The ambience of the area is resonated by Buddhist religious practices and lifestyles. This is a bastion of the natural beauty as the Mother Nature has blessed this area with all its magnanimities.
TIPA, Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, is an attraction for all art loving tourists. The ten day festival of theatres, music and dance held annually during the month of May is vibrant and enticing.
McLeodganj thrives on Tourism Industry. It is known for Buddhist handicrafts, garments and thangkas. Namgyal Monastery is one of the great attractions here. The architectural marvel of St. John in the Wilderness an Anglican church constructed in the neo-gothic style attracts all tourists reaching the Mcleodganj. This is a prefect religious destinations for the Buddhist.
Bhagsu Falls is a small yet beautiful waterfall located 2km away from Mcleodganj. Around 0.5 km from the waterfall stands the Bhagsunath temple and the waterfall is revered by devotees who throng the temple.
The falls is easily reachable by taxis or autos, besides trekking or walking is another good experience to enjoy the serene surroundings. It will take around 6 to 8 hours to explore the region. During monsoons, the place is subject to heavy rains and snow is winter. It is a good idea to avoid visiting during mid-winter.
During monsoons, this waterfall turns into a 30 ft cascade besides a mountain that looks like an art piece made out of slate. This occurrence is due to the rich deposits of slate in the surroundings. Tourists can enjoy swimming but the water is cold.
It is a place where one can enjoy and relax in the soothing environment of the miraculous Himalayas. Besides a nice picnic spot close to McLeodganj with small cafeterias where visitors can have snacks and refuel themselves.
Dal Lake, which is 2km walk westwards from Mcleodganj market, is renowned for its scenic beauty and the cool ambience. With an altitude of 1775 m, the lake is situated at the vehicular road between Mcleodganj and the village of Naddi. Surrounded by deep green Deodar forests, it is also a base camp for trekkers in Dharamsala and Mcleodganj.
The Lake can be reached by bus, taxi or on foot, taking around half an hour to 2 hours to explore the whole area. The annual fair held every year in September on the banks of this Lake is a great attraction to the tourists.
Taking a holy dip in this lake is considered to remove all miseries. It is a common belief that the dip in this holy lake will bring blessings of Lord Shiva. Even though the lake is small, the surroundings make it charming and dynamic. The temple located close to the Lake which is dedicated to Sage Durvasa is also a worth place to visit.
Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala is a sacred building 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.
The monastery is located inside the Tsuglagkhang Complex, which also encloses a Tibetan museum, a cafeteria, a book shop and library, prayer wheels and Buddhist shrines, apart from the royal but simple residence of the Tibetan spiritual leader. Visitors are allowed to move anywhere in the complex without any obstacles and difficulties.
One can reach the monastery by taxi. Being a private monastery of the Dalai Lama, no visitor is allowed to enter the temple premises except Dalai Lama and his students. However, tourists can visit the Naam Art Gallery, which opens from 10 am to 7 pm but remains closed on Mondays.
Kangra Art Museum:
Situated close to the bus stand, Kangra Art Museum is a unique museum displaying the artifacts of Tibetan and Buddhist cultures. This is a treasure of Kangra valley’s cultural past, crafts, arts and other ancient artifacts. Some of the displayed items in the museum are dating back to 5th century.
Kangra Museum encloses a gallery consisting of miniature paintings of Kangra’s rich past, pottery, rare coin memorabilia, sculptures and anthropological materials. It has a varied collection of jewelry of various tribes, embroided costumes and wood carvings. A section dedicated to contemporary artworks adds the attraction to the museum.
Tourists can easily reach by bus or taxi and it will take 30 mins to one hour to see the museum. While visiting the museum, never miss to explore the Kotwali bazaar.
Triund, the name of a crest in the Dhauladhar ranges in The Himalayas, is a very famous tourist attraction, which is 9 km trek from Mcleodganj. This place gives a breathtaking view of the Moon peak-Indera Pass. Ideal for camping, its unpolluted air and the unspoiled environment make the place an eco-friendly tourist spot.
Also popular as trekking spot, the place offers the greenery forests and undulated hilly areas in the Himalayan Ranges. A trek to Triund will take around 4 hours from Mcleodganj and the best time to trek is April - June & September - November.
Situated towards the southern end of the town is the holy abode of the Tibetan leader, Dalai Lama, the Tsuglagkhang Complex. Namgyal Monastery is a part of this sanctum and thousands of pilgrims’ travel here seeking the blessings of the leader.
Reachable by taxi, all the parts of the monastery except the monk’s residences are open for public visit. The famous Namgyal Monastery is a part of this complex. Besides meeting the Dalai Lama (which is not an easy thing to do) tourists can enjoy viewing the paintings that depict the sculptural stories and various Tibetan leaders.
There are various stupas, temples, monastery for the tourists to explore. Also there are bookshops, café and a museum that too serve the tourists.
Bir, often called as ‘Paragliding Capital of India’ is the best place to enjoy this sport. Bir serves as the take-off site for paragliding, while Billing, just 14 km from Bir, is the landing site. The best time for enjoying paragliding is from March to May and in October and November, when the air is light and weather is cool.
Paragliding is a risky sport, which cannot be undertaken by novices. Various private tour operators are available that give training and provide equipments. Experienced paragliders can visit during the month of October, when the Department of Tourism, Civil Aviation and Government of Himachal Pradesh organize the 'Para Gliding Pre world Cup' at Billing- Bir.
Located just 20 km from Dharamsala and 3 km from Kangra, the Kangra Fort is a magnanimous structure built by the royal family of Kangra. The fort finds a mention in the war records of Alexander, around 4th century B.C. It is one of the largest and oldest forts in India.
The fort has been a witness to many plunges and confiscations by the foreign rulers like Muhammad of Ghaznavi, Muhammad Bin Tughlak and was finally taken over by Mughal emperor Jehangir, who garrisoned it with his troops.
The main attraction inside the fort view of gushing streams of Banganga and Manjhi rivers from the Fort. The fort is also known as Nagarkot and tourists need to climb through seven gates to reach the three temples located inside.
Kareri Lake is a shallow fresh water lake around 9 km from Dharamsala. Located on a very high altitude, the lake is fed by the snow melting from the Dhauladhar mountains. Due to the fresh shallow water, the bed of the lake is easily visible. This lake also serves as excellent trekking spot in the Dhauladhar region.
The lake is 3 km from Ghera, which is the nearest road head and tourists need to hike from here in order to reach the lake. Alternatively, tourists can also take 13 km long trek from Kareri to reach the lake.
The trip to McLeod Ganj Dharamshala is a long one if you are heading from Delhi. It usually involves taking an overnight train to Pathankot (about 10 hr) and then a 2–3 hr drive from Pathankot to Dharamshala. The options for overnight trains are Delhi-Pathankot or Delhi-Chakki Bank train. Chakki Bank is only 4 km away from Pathankot which gives you the pleasure of being on train at right time (around 9PM) and being in Chakki Bank at morning (06:30AM).
There are frequent bus services from Pathankot to Dharamshala, which cost Rs. 125, as well as daily McLeod Ganj Dharamshala to Delhi bus (Semi Deluxe, Deluxe, AC Deluxe & Volvo). A taxi from Pathankot will set you back between 1100 (unoffical) to 1500 (offical taxi) Rupees.
The nearest airports are:
Gagal: 12 km
Pathankot at 100 km, with one flight from Delhi to Pathankot and back. However, in case of fog, it gets cancelled.
April-July, Pleasant and cool weather
Temperatures – 22°C-30°C
July-September, Heavy continuous rainfall
Annual rainfall – 290-380 cms
November-February, Extremely cold, snowfall is common
Temperatures – 20°C-0°C
Pahari, Hindi & English
Best Time to Visit: April - October
Clothing: Cottton and tropical wear in summer & Heavy woollen in winter. An umbrella is a must during Dharamsala's monsoon
Dharamsala is divided into two distinctive areas – Lower & Upper Dharamsala. Lower Dharamsala, at 1250 mts is the main town. Upper Dharamsala, better known as Mc LeodGanj is 10 kms from main Dharamsala. You can cover the entire area on foot, or hire a taxi to go around the place.
Tourist Offices: HPTDC
Near Tibetan Monastery, McLeodganj
Tel : 01892-221232
Kotwali Bazaar, Lower Dharamsala
Tel : 01892-224928
Chandralok Building 36, Janpath, New Delhi
Tel : 011-23325320, 23325233
What to See
Literally the Jewelled Park, this drew inspiration from the Dalai Lama’s summer palace and is a fine example of Tibetan craftsmanship. It is an institute that was established to preserve and teach ancient Tibetan arts. Among the teachings are thangka making, statue making, carpentry, traditional Tibetan image sculpting, woodcarving and metal crafting. The thangkas are bright illustrations of traditional Tibetan gods created as per details laid down in the ancient manuscripts. You can also place orders for these in the painting department.
Open from: Craft department timings – 8.00 am-5.00 pm (Sunday closed);
Showroom timings – 9.00 am-6.00 pm (closed for lunch, 12 noon-1.00 pm)
Church of St John-in-the-Wilderness:
Located a little outside Little Lhasa en route to Lower Dharamsala, this church stands silent amidst towering oaks and deodars. An old, though well-built structure, it has withstood the attacks of time and comes across as a neo-gothic church with exquisite stained glass windows showcasing John the Baptist with Jesus. The graveyard adjacent to it is the resting place of the British Viceroy Lord Elgin, and is marked by a miniature marble cathedral-like structure.
Open from: 10.00 am-5.00 pm,
Service timings – Sunday, 10.00 am
This is the main temple complex in Dharamsala, built without cutting a single tree! In fact it is based on trunks of growing deodars, held in place by adjustable iron rings. The main deity inside is a 9 ft high gilded Buddha on a lotus seat. Also located within are 12 ft high gold images of the Padmasambhava and Avalokiteshwara. In fact, it is believed that some elements of the temple were brought from the originalTsuglakhang in Tibet. The temple also provides beautiful views of the neighbouring Dhauladar peaks. Evening is the best time to visit it when prayers and other rituals are conducted by the Dalai Lama. The courtyard is the centre of activities as the monks make preparations for the Kalachakra ceremony. The café here is also the best place to try out some Tibetan herbal tea and South Indian coffee.
Note - Photography is not permitted inside the monastery
This Buddhist stupa is surrounded by prayer wheels, located centrally in McLeod Ganj. It is dedicated to the Tibetans who lost their lives fighting for their homeland. There is a shrine with an idol of the Sakyamani Buddha and reflecting a typical indo-Tibetan style of architecture. This stupa is a hub of activity through the day as you watch devotees turning turn the prayer wheels and chant mantras.
Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts:
This institute was established as early as 1959 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as an attempt to preserve Tibet’s unique performing arts. The institute houses over 112 members proficient in various arts, singing, playing instruments and dances. Along with these, there is a handicrafts section, with produces in-house costumes and props needed for the performances. A special highlight of the TIPA is the Traditional Tibetan Opera, which hosts the annual 9-day Shoton Opera Festival marked by Lhamo performances. Performers, dance and perform to the tune of cymbals and drums, and sport vibrant Tibetan masks. Another annual festival is the 3-day Yarkyi Festival, which is held in August to commemorate the establishment of TIPA. Along with cultural performances, it is marked by sporting competitions like soccer, basketball, badminton and volleyball. To make its presence felt across the world, TIPA also organizes several tours, showcasing Tibetan culture to audience across the world.
Note – Shoton Opera Festival – show entry few Rs 50, still camera fee Rs 100, video Rs 500
Losel Doll Museum:
Located inside the Norbunlingka Institute, this doll museum houses more than 160 different dolls. It is probably the best place where you can get a glimpse of the original Tibetan costumes, most of which don’t exist in reality anymore.
Open from: 9.00 am-6.00 pm (closed for lunch, noon-1 pm)
Located 2 kms from McLeod Ganj, this is a small lake set amidst forests and hills. It is a scenic picnic spot and you can even feed the goldfish that abound here. The locals consider this lake extremely sacred and it is believed that a dip here fulfills wishes.
Located barely a km from McLeod Ganj, Bhagsunag is home to an ancient temple and a beautiful waterfall. This is another scenic spot you can walk around in.
This ashram is located almost 10 kms from Dharamsala and houses a 9 m high idol of Lord Hanuman, a temple dedicated to Lord Rama, a meditation hall and a health and recreation centre.
Located close to Dharamsala, this temple derives its name from the eternally burning flame from rock in the sanctum. This flame is said to be the manifestation of Goddess Sati and offerings of rabri, misri, milk and fruits. Near the flame, two pools of clear water flow, fed by the underground springs. Though the water seems to be boiling, it is actually refreshingly cool! This temple is the site of the vibrant Navratri Festival held in honour of the goddess.
This is the place to gorge on the typical hill fare of momos and thukpa. Of course, considering the increase in tourists and backpackers, you are likely to get a good assortment of Tibetan noodle soups, Dilli chaat, south Indian idilis, steaks, fish, pizzas and chocolate pancakes. Try the thin-crust pizzas at Dharamkot’s pizzeria. Most hotels also have their in-house restaurants. The restaurant in Hotel Tibet is one of the oldest hotels serving authentic Tibetan and Chinese fares. For veges, head out to Nick’s Italian Kitchen for their pastas and lasagna. The Snow Lion Hotel serves yummy lemon curd cake and a range of herb teas. Carpe Diem in Jogibara Road and JJI’s Café serve the best muesli in town. Momo Café serves, obviously, momos accompanied by hot chai. Grab some hot croissants, French pastries and Tibetan herbal teas at Lhamo’s Croissants. Lung Tha offers delectable Japanese options; before you order, take a look at their daily specials! For Italian try the heavenly pepperoni pizza and friend banana with nuts at Pema Thang’s Guest House. So many options, we promise you’d be spoilt for choice!
Loads of Tibetan goodies to lay your hands on! The Kotwali Bazaar is perfect for colourful Tibetan carpets, Buddhist thangkas, woolen ponchos, jackets, colourful masks, jewellery made of silver and semi-precious stones, trinkets, lamps, fruit preserves, jams and jellies. The Jogibara Road is one of the main places to hunt for silk scarves, wood, bamboo and cane handicrafts. As souvenirs, pick up some Tibetan cheese, prayer wheels and prayer flags. The Namgyal Bookstore has a wide range of books on Tibetan culture and Buddhism and regions of Himachal.
A range of festivals add colour to this quiet town. Among them, the Dharamsala Summer Festival is organized by the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts and is marked by songs and dance performances by locals. The Himalayan International Festival, in Mc LeogGanj, is held n December to commemorate the conferment of Nobel Prize on the Dalai Lama. Lohri is celebrated to mark the last of harvest sowing and is celebrated by the entire community gathering for bonfire and folk performances. The Nalwari Fair is marked by the sale of cattle, performances by local artists and wrestling matches. Celebrated in August in Upper Dharamsala, the Dal Fair is another colourful and popular event here. Navratri is celebrated with great pomp for nine days dedicated to Goddess Durga. A large number of pilgrims flock to the temple of Chintpurni and Jawala Mukhi which is of major focus during this. Dussehra in October is marked by the Ramlila, wherein various events from Rama’s life are enacted. Gold and silver idols of gods and goddesses are taken out in processions. During this festival, stalls are set up by Tibetan traders selling woolen shawls, ponchos, caps and blankets.