Rightly called the Scotland of India, Dharamshala has some of the most spectacular views of the Dhauladhar snowline and age-old monasteries, dotting the wooded landscape.
Also a sacred place for Tibetans, because His Holiness the Dalai Lama lives here, Dharamsala is a spiritual paradise, where Buddhism prevails and the Dalai Lama is larger than life. At once earthy and surreal, Lower Dharamsala is a busy commercial center, while Upper Dharamsala with its suburbs of McLeodganj and Forsythganj, retains a British flavor and colonial lifestyle.
McLeodganj is also where the Tibetans live amid the backdrop of the Dhauladhar range. An enchanting hill station, while the scent of pine mingled with that of incense infiltrates ones senses, it is an invigorating experience that cleanses both the mind and the soul.
When China annexed Tibet in 1959; the 14th Dalai Lama and his Buddhist government didn't have too many options. Not many countries were willing to risk the wrath of the Communist rulers of China, a nation that was just beginning to flex its muscle in the international arena.
It was the Indian government that came to their rescue, offering them asylum in Dharamsala, a hill station in Himachal Pradesh that the British discovered in 1815, and used as a getaway from the stifling heat of the plains in summer. Of course, there are those who aver that the Tibetan refugees were of great propaganda value at a time when India and China were not the best of neighbors.
Whatever the reasons, a steady stream of Tibetans has relocated here since 1960, as much to escape Chinese oppression as to bask in the presence of the man they regard as their spiritual and political leader.
The colorful temple and Gompas, which reflect the culture of Tibet, adds attraction for the visitor. The Kangra museum gives an overview of the rich past of the region and on the other hand there are institutes that have been established to preserve the Tibetan art, cultures and traditions.
A hot favourite among tourists, for Chinese and Tibetan dishes, sumptuous desserts and steaming cappuccino.
Typical souvenirs from Dharamsala include wooden carvings, silk and woven woollen scarves and Tibetan handicrafts. The more the workmanship, the higher the price you pay for it. All main streets are dotted with tiny stalls selling these trinkets and handicrafts. On Jogibara Road, you can pick up prayer bells, carpets, rugs and books. The Green Shop at Bhagsu Road sells recycled painted cards and other such stationery. Ancient Tibetan handicrafts in particular are a favourite with tourists. Women could even buy a bakku, a traditional Tibetan dress for women. The Tibetan Bookshop and Information Office has good books on Tibet and its history.
The temple of Jawalamukhi, Chamunda Devi end Briheshweri Devi are other pilgrim centres close to Dharamshala. The forts of Kangra and Mangarh are other attractions.
Between May and October, the Dhauladhar ranges offer an enormous variety of trekking and rock climbing. Himachal's mountaineering institute has a branch at Dharamshala.
The 20 km stretch of the river Beas between Nadaun and the Pong Dam offers ample opportunities in angling for mahseer.
The district capital of the Kangra Valley, Dharamsala lies along the spur of the Dhauladhar Range in northern Himachal Pradesh. It is 90 km from Pathankot, 252 km from Chandigarh and about 560 km from Delhi.
IA flies thrice a week from Delhi on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to Gaggal Airport. Airport: About 11 km away from Dharamsala.
The Jhelum-Jammu Express, Pathankot-Jammu and many other northern trains halt at Pathankot station, the most convenient railhead for Dharamsala. The remaining part of the journey can be covered by taxi or bus. Railway station: Although the Kangra Mandir Railway Station, 22 km away, is closest to Dharamsala, Pathankot is more convenient with trains from Delhi, Punjab, Jammu and other cities arriving here.
Linked by road to all major towns nearby, Dharamsala is just off the NH 20. The 85 km distance from Pathankot to Dharamsala can be covered by taxi (fare Rs 1,200) or deluxe bus (Rs 300). Bus terminus: McLeodganj is the normal arrival point for luxury and deluxe buses from Manali and Delhi. State-run buses usually terminate at the bus stop at the southern end of Kotwali Bazaar.
The summer temperature ranges between 15?C and 30?C. The winter temperatures usually range between 8?C and 18?C.
McLeodganj, also known as Little Lhasa, has its own charm and the residence of the Dalai Lama, to show off. The Monastery here is clustered with larger than life carved Buddha, Padamasambhava and Avalokteshwara. The large Tibetan community and the presence of traditional architectural designs drawn from Tibet add up to its charm. Come April and the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, organizes a 10 day festival highlighting Tibetan glory and grandeur.
Set amidst the pine groves, is a war memorial built to commemorate the post-independence war heroes of Himachal.
Chintpurni (74 km) is a holy destination for Indians, and one can spend an entire day there. Usually, people combine Jwalaji with this destination and the taxi fare works out to Rs 1,000.
Showcases miniature paintings, sculptures, pottery and dresses used by local nobility.
About 11 km from Dharamsala, the Dal Lake surrounded by deodar trees, makes for an enchanting picnic spot.
Church of St John is an 8-km drive out of Dharamsala, located between McLeodganj and Forsythganj. An awesome sight, it is entirely constructed in stone.
CHINMAYA TAPOVAN - 10 kms from Dharamshala on the banks of the Bindu Sars River, is an ashram set up by the late Swami Chinmayananada. The complex includes a meditation hall, school, health and recreation center. KANGRA CHAMUNDA DEVI - Kangra Chamunda Devi is another sightseeing option via taxi, for Rs 700. Both the sights combine to make an enriching religious/ historical excursion. KUNAL PATHRI - A pleasant walk through the Kotwali Bazaar, leads you to a temple made out of rocks set in serene surroundings.
BHAGSUNATH - Close to freshwater springs, this temple is 11 km from Dharamsala. It is a popular picnic spot and the famous slate quarries are close by. MASRUR - 23 kms south of Gaggal, is this large, monolithic temple, similar to the temples of Ellora. This is the only shrine carved out of live rock in North India. Images of Rama, Laxman and Sita are installed here. TILOKPUR - 41 kms from Dharamshala, on the highway to Pathankot, is a cave temple dedicated to Shiva, with stalactite and stalagmite formations.