Set against the backdrop of the dramatic Dhauladhar mountains, Dharamsala is perched on the high slopes in the upper reaches of Kangra Valley. The town is divided into two distinct and widely separated sections, Upper and Lower Dharamsala, which differ almost a thousand metres in height.
Today, Dharamsala has become the synonymous to the Tibetan government in exile and the home of Tibetan leader Dalai Lama. Even if the Tibetan community dominates the town, still it has retained the colonial lifestyle and British fervour.
Dharamsala over looks the plains and is surrounded by dense pine trees and Deodar forests. A nearby snowline with numerous streams and cool healthy atmosphere makes the surroundings very attractive.
Dharamsala is a busy bazaar town and has established itself as the travellers base camp, who come to explore the nearby mountains. The Kotwali Bazaar provides the entire colour and characteristic of a small town, which is mixed with the simple life style.
The colourful 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.
Kangra Art Museum: This treasure trove of the Kangra valley’s arts, crafts, and rich past, displays artifacts that date back to the 5th century. The museum also includes a gallery of Kangra’s famous miniature paintings and a representative collection of sculptures, pottery, and anthropological items.
War Memorial: Set amidst the pine groves is a war memorial, built on the entry point of the to Dharamsala to commemorate the post independence war heroes of Himachal Pradesh. A web of narrow paths and landscaped lawns lead towards this monument.
Dall Lake: Surrounded by high and green Deodar trees is the lake, which fills a mountain bowl. Situated 11-kms away from the town, this lake is easily approachable by road and makes an enchanting and serene picnic spot.
St. John’s Church: One of the most poignant memories of the British Raj is the church of St. John, situated in the wilderness. This charmingly dressed stone church is located just 8-km from Dharamsala on the way to McLeod Ganj. Under the shade of Doedar branches, a memorial has been made over the body of the British Viceroy, Lord Elgin who died at Dharamsala in 1863.
Tatwani & Machhrial: There are hot springs situated at Tatwani, 25-km from Dharamsala but on the way, at Machhrial, is a waterfall twice as big as the one near the Bhagsunath temple.
The Shrine of Bhagsunath: Just 11-km from the town center of Dharamsala is the ancient temple of Bhagsunath. There are many fresh water springs close to the temple, which are considered sacred by the Hindus.
Kunal Pathri: These are the rock temples from which the place derives its name. Kunal pathri is a 3 kms flat walk from Kotwali Bazaar.
Dharmkot: Just 11-km away from Dharamsala, located on the crest of a hill lie this attractive picnic spot, which presents a panoramic view of the Kangra valley and Dauladhar ranges.
Norbulinka Institute: Just four kms from Dharamsala, Norbulinka was established to preserve and teach the ancient Tibetan arts. The shady paths, wooden bridges, small streams tiny water falls make this place look like heaven. Here one can watch the wooden carvings and the tangka paintings, golsithing and embroidery being done. The nunnery close to the institute is a place where women are taught the advanced levels of Buddhist philosophy.
Chinmaya Tapovan: Just 10-km from the town is the tranquil ashram complex set up by the great exponent of the Gita–Swami Chinmayananda. Situated on the banks of Bindu Saras, the ashram includes a 9m high image of Hanuman, a Ram temple, a meditation hall, a school and a health & recreation center.
Andretta: Situated just 13-kms away from Palampur, lies this dwelling place of artist S.Sobha Singh. It houses a gallery of some of his major works and a pottery center.
McLeodganj: Originally home of the semi-nomadic Gaddi tribe, McLeodganj is today the residence of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. This mid 19th century place was developed as a British Garrison. The place was developed as an important administrative point for the whole Kangra valley. Today the place has developed as headquarters of the exiled Tibetan Government. The impressive monastery has larger than life size images of Buddha, Padmasambhava and Avaloketeshwara.
Masrur: Fifteen richly carved monolithic rock temples sculpted in the splendid style of the Kailash temple at Ellora and dating back to the 8th century are to be found at Masrur, just 15 km south of Kangra. Images of Ram Sita and Lakhsman can be found in the sanctum of the main temple.
Kareri: Set amidst a sylvan surrounding is a rest house, located in the cool depths of the pine grove. Surrounded by green open meadows and forests of tall oak & pine at a height of 3250m is situated the picturesque Kareri Lake, which is just 13-km from the rest house and 22- kms from Dharamsala.
Triund: Triund is a popular picnic spot at an height of 2827 m. The area is on the foothills of Dhauladhar range and is 17-kms from Dharamsala. The snow line starts at Ilaqua, which is five kms from Triund. The breathtaking views of the mountains and the valleys makes Triund an ideal picnic spot and trekking spot.
Trilokpur: On the way from Pathankot, 41-km from Dharamsala are the unique cave temples with a stalactite and stalagmites dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Sujanpur Tira: This place is famous for the wall paintings and the temples. Sujanpur Tira also has fort, which is worth visiting. It is 8- km from Dharamsala and in particular the festival of Holi is a major event here and attracts many visitors to this area.
Jawalamukhi: Dedicated to the “Goddess of Light”, the temple is one of the most popular Hindu temples in northern India. In this temple there is a copper pipe through which natural gas comes out, the priest of the temple lights this and the blue flame emanating is worshipped as the manifestation of Goddess. The temple is topped by a golden spire, a gift from the Emperor Akbar. The famous temple of Jwalamukhi is 30-km. from Kangra and 56-km from Dharamshala.
Chamunda Devi: Not so far from the town is the famous temple with the majestic Dhaulandhars as a backdrop. It is an enchanting spot with glorious views of the mountains, the Baner Khud, Pathiar and Lahala forests.
Nurpur: Named after Nurjehan the consort of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, it has an ancient fort and an exquisitely carved Krishna temple. Nurpur is also famous for its fine Pashmina shawls and textiles.
Treks and rock climbing:
Dharamsala is one of the most popular starting points for treks and rock climbing over the ridges of the Dhauladhar range. There are tailor-made treks in the Kangra valley around Dharamsala and adjoining places. The trekking season starts from May and goes on to October. The most frequented route from Dharamsala to the Chamba valley, over the Indradhar Pass (4350m), is arduous trek but the most novice trekkers can manage to complete it within five days.
There are many easy walks of small treks around McLeodganj and Dharamsala such as Toral Pass (4575m) that start from Tang Narwana (1150m), which is 10-km from Dharamsala. A 2-km stroll takes one to Bhagsu, then a little further a 3-km walk will bring the trekkers to Dharamkot. If one wishes to go on a longer walk then he can walk 8-km to Triund. The snow line of Ilaqa Got is just a 5-km walk.
The most difficult route is towards the north, a five to six day trek across Bhimghasutri Pass (4580), covering near-vertical rocky ascents, sharp cliffs and dangerous gorges. An easier four or five day trek from Dharamsala crosses Bleni Pass (3710m) in the milder ranges of the northwest, weaving through the alpine pastures, woods and passing through few streams, before terminating at Dunali, on the Chamba road.
The area is rich in small rivers and streams, which give ample opportunity for angle fishing. The 20-km stretch of the river Beas between Nadaun and the Pong Dam offers ample of opportunities in angling for Mahaseer.
One can also do Para Gliding in Bir Billing, Kangra. In fact, Bir Billing has now become one of the world’s best spots for Para Gliding and they also organise competitions every year.
HOW TO GET THERE
Air: Dharamsala can be approached by air from Delhi and the nearest Airport is at Gaggla, just 13-km away from the town.
Rail: Pathankot is 85-km and is the nearest railhead for Dharamsala. Trains from all over the country make a stop over at Pathankot and from here it is a three-hour journey to Dharamsala.
Road: From Manali too bus services are available to this place. One can drive from Delhi via Chandigarh, Kiratpur, Bilaspur and it’s an 8-hours journey. From Delhi and Shimla, luxury buses ply to Dharamsala.
WHERE TO STAY DHARAMSALA
Dharamsala’s accommodation options include HPTDC’s hotels, private hotels, guest houses, PWD and Forest rest houses, which are located in and around the place and are available at reAsonable prices.
CLIMATE IN DHARAMSALA
As Dharamsala is located in the Himalayas, the climate is very pleasant during the summers but in winters the cold is very bad. Temperature can drop below the freezing point during the winters and heavy woollen clothes are required. During the summers the weather is mild and light woolens and cottons are recommended. The best time to visit the place is during the summers when the cold has shed its biting teeth and there is plenty of Sunshine.