Situated in the picturesque Kangra valley and set against the Dhauladhar mountain range in Himachal Pradesh, Dharamsala is an ideal retreat for nature lovers. The pristine environment with dense green cover consisting of Deodar and Pine trees provides a visual treat. Dharamsala is also the winter capital of Himachal Pradesh.
Dharamsala consists of two distinct areas which are separated by a 10 minute bus or jeep ride.
Lower Dharamsala is where most of the government offices, schools, the local hospital and commercial areas are located. It also has a few tea gardens. The upper Dharamsala, known more commonly as McLeod Ganj, is the seat of Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. It is home to the Tibetan community and epicentre of religio-tourism centred around Tibetan Buddhism.
- Meeting the Dalai Lama requires a good deal of luck. Dalai Lama’s website provides his annual itinerary and an email to his office will confirm his travel dates.
- Meet the Dalai Lama’s secretary at the Tsuglagkhang Complex to know about unscheduled events which also happen regularly.
From earlier times until the British Raj, Dharamsala and its surrounding areas were ruled by the Katoch rulers of Kangra. The Katoch dynasty is said to be one of the oldest royal families of the world.
The Gaddis were the original inhabitants of Dharamsala region. Gaddis, a Hindu group, lived a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle.
Tibetans started settling in Dharamshala in 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet. Prime Minister of India Jawharlal Nehru allowed the Dalai Lama and his followers to settle in McLeodGanj.
Thousands of Tibetan exiles have made McLeod Ganj in upper Dharamsala their home. In addition to monasteries, the Tibetan exiles have also built temples and schools. McLeod Ganj is sometimes known as ‘Little Lhasa’, after Lhasa the Tibetan capital.
- Dharamsala is popular with adventure lovers and para-gliders. Department of Tourism, Civil Aviation and Himachal Pradesh government organizes 'Para Gliding Pre-world Cup' at Billing-Bir in October.
Dharamsala has become synonymous with Buddhism in India. Hence, it is the perfect place to learn about Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan struggle for freedom. Numerous Buddhist Viharas or Gompas and Tibetan architecture are the main attractions of Dharamsala.
Kotwali Bazaar is the busiest area of Dharamsala. Shops are stacked with various kinds of souvenirs including the famous Tibetan carpets. Many traditional Tibetan artefacts can be found in Dharamsala such as jewelry and trinkets, woolen shawls, prayer flags, prayer wheels, Tangkha and Mandala paintings or musical instruments like the Tibetan Singing Bowl.
Where to stay
A room in a budget hotel could cost around Rs 200 to Rs 1,000 per day. The mid-range hotels generally charge between Rs 800 and Rs 1,600 while the luxury hotels charge more than Rs 1,800 per day. The mid-range hotels offer facilities like heated water, internet accessibility and good food. Most luxury hotels have in-house bar and some of them even offer Ayurvedic massages. The peak season is generally during summer, so it is recommended to book rooms in advance if planning to visit during that time. Most of the hotels can be found in the McLeod Ganj area and Yongling area on Jogiwara Road.
Where to eat
Tourists will easily find delicious street food like Momos and Thupkas here. A variety of cuisines is available in Dharamsala, from South Indian snacks and Gujarati food, to Kebabs, rich curries, continental snacks and beers. If you want to try authentic Tibetan food, head to Jogibara Road or the Town Square. Italian cuisine like pizzas and pastas are also available here.
Best time to visit
Dharmasala enjoys cool climate throughout the year. Best season to visit Dharmasala is from September to June. However, January is best avoided as the temperature plunges to sub-zero and the weather is chilly.