Dharamshala: The Land of the Gods

Posted on June 28, 2010 in Travel

Trishla Gupta:

The colonial origin, the Tibetan influence and the Kangra air make an invigorating cocktail with a unique blend. Dharamshala stands out amongst the other hill-stations of India! It is also an archetypal getaway for jaded city souls with thatched cottages nestling amidst thick coniferous forests. As one looks up, the green fringes merge with the snow-clad mountains and as your eyes shift downwards, the vast panorama of the Kangra valley embraces you. It is a no-holds-barred battle of the eye with the scenery and one wonders how much the eyes can behold this quiet rhapsody of the nature.

“Dharamshala” ,the winter capital of Himachal Pradesh, is a Hindi word (derived from Sanskrit) that is a compound of dharam (धर्म) and shālā (शाला).

In common Hindi usage, the word dharamshala refers to a shelter or rest house for spiritual pilgrims. Traditionally, such dharamshalas (pilgrims’ rest houses) were commonly constructed near pilgrimage destinations (often located in remote areas) to give visitors a place to sleep for the night. When the first permanent settlement was created in the place now called Dharamshala, there was already one such pilgrims’ rest house existing on the site, and the settlement took its name from that dharamshala.

This is a city in the upper reaches of the Kangra Valley and is surrounded by dense coniferous forests consisting mainly of stately Deodars. The Dhauladhar snow-capped ranges rise out of the Kangra Valley, which is a wide, fertile plain, criss-crossed by low hills, to a height of 17,000 feet. They form a treacherous range creating unpredictable weather, but passes of 8,900 feet provide route for the herdsmen of the Ravi Valley beyond.

The suburbs of the town includes Mcleodganj, Bhagsu Nath, Forsyth Ganj, Naddi, Kotwali Bazaar (the main market of the town), Kaccheri area (government offices such as the court, police, post etc.), Sidhpur and Sidhbari (where the Kharmapa Lama  is based)

Dharamshala has an average elevation of 1457 metres (4780 Ft ). The area covered by Dharamshala is almost 29 km². It is located in the Kangra Valley, in the Dhauladhar mountains, and became the capital of the Kangra District in 1852.

The town is divided between Mcleodganj or Upper Dharamshala (which retains a British colonial atmosphere), and Lower Dharamshala (the commercial centre). Upper Dharamshala (elevation about 1,700 m or 5,580 ft) is about 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) from Lower Dharamshala by road and is some 460 m (1,510 ft) higher. Kotwali Bazaar and areas further down the valley are called Lower Dharamsala. McLeodganj is nine km by bus route and four km by taxi route up the hill from Kotwali Bazaar. While inhabitants of Lower Dharamsala are almost all Indians, McLeodganj is primarily a Tibetan area. McLeodganj is surrounded by pine, himalayan oak, and rhododendron. The main crops grown by local Indians in the valleys below McLeodganj are rice, wheat and tea.

Mcleodganj, sometimes known as ‘Little Lhasa’ because of its role as home away from home for the exiled Tibetans and the Dalai Lama, is a peaceful place that sits high above sea level on the edge of the Himalayan Mountains. Mainly a place to visit for reflection and relaxation, you won’t find any mega-shopping malls here. But that shouldn’t dissuade you from doing some shopping. Mcleodganj is home to Tibetan culture and arts, and you can get some great handcrafted one-of-a-kind finds here. It’s local street-front shops, or bazaars, are a great place to pick up some rare finds. In addition to Tibetan handicrafts, you can find New Zealand and Indian wool carpets, Tibetan books, meditation music and herbal incense. Use your own discretion when it comes to bargaining, depending on where you are, you may or may not get anywhere. If you’re interested, you can even get a traditional Tibetan dress, or Chuba, hand-stitched while you wait. Another worthwhile stop is the Green Store, where you can find brightly painted shirts and paper made by hand.

But in your quest for the perfect shopping trip, don’t forget to take time to relax and enjoy the main attraction of this town, which is peace and quiet.


Dharamshala has a monsoon-influenced Alpine climate. Summer starts in early April and peaks in early June, when temperatures can reach 35oC. From July to September, in the season, up to 2000 mm (79 inches) of rain can fall, making Dharamshala one of the wettest places in the state. The monsoon ends in late September and is followed by autumn.

Autumn lasts till late November, with temperatures averaging around 14-15oC. Winter starts in December and goes on till late February. Snow and sleet is common during the winter. Winter is followed by a short, pleasant spring till April. Hence, the best time to visit are the autumn and spring months.

Even if you here on a short trip you cannot afford to miss these 5 must do’s.

  • Visit Tsuglag Khang
    This is the most significant Buddhist temple in McLeodganj. The temple is situated just opposite the residence of the Dalai Lama. This is considered to be the largest Tibetan Temple outside Tibet and has a big meditation hall. You can find the early teaching of Buddhism in India here. The temple is also the training place for the monks who are associated with the temple.
  • Picnic at Bhagsu Waterfall

For romantics, this is an ideal place to visit. Just few kilometers from the town this is the perfect place to explore the beauty of nature in a serene atmosphere. You are bound to forget all about your worries and stress with just a glimpse of this beautiful cascade. This is also a sacred place for the Hindus and the place of a famous ancient Shiv Temple, the Bhagsunath Temple.

  • Go Camping and Trekking

If you are really the adventurous type then do not miss trekking and hiking in the Himalayan ranges. Triund is the famous trekking spot and is perfect for camping with family and friends. You can also get a magnificent view of the snow-capped Himalayas from here.

  • Enjoy Momos

McLeodganj is “Tibet in India”. You can feel the essence of Tibetan culture in the air everywhere.  Do not miss to taste the most exclusive dish of Tibet, momos. The specialty is one you will never find anywhere else. Try the mouthwatering combination of spinach with cheese filling, a favorite of all who try it.

  • Shopping

You cannot afford to miss the opportunity for shopping here. Tibetan art and crafts are the attractions and items like Tibetan carpets, ponchos, masks and stone jewelery are very famous here. The best part is you can meet the artisans, too. These items are easily found in street shops in McLeodganj. Even the items related to Buddhism are easily found in the shops here and are found at very fair prices.

  • A word of advice to all those who are planning to visit Dharamshala. DO NOT blindly follow the itinerary given by the taxi union of Mcleodganj. They charge exhorbitant prices for places which might not be worth visiting. So chart your own path. Walk down the beautiful forest trails and get lost in the mesmerizing beauty of the Land of the Gods.

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

sources: http://www.volunteeringindia.org/dharamshala-guide.htm, http://www.world66.com/asia/southasia/india/himachalpradesh/mcleodganj/shopping, http://www.astrohour.com/dharamshalasvastu.aspx