State: Himachal Pradesh
Distance: 507 km NW of Delhi
When to go: April-October
Tourist Offices: HPTDC, Kotwali Bazaar, Lower Dharamshala
Tel: 01892-224212, 224928
STD code: 01892
Air: Nearest airport: Gaggal
Rail: Nearest railhead: PathankotCantt (90 km/3 hrs)
Road: NH1 and NH21 link Delhi to Kiratpur; then, turn left for Ambala via Anandpur Sahib and Una. At Amb, catch the shortcut to Kangra via Pragpur, NehranPukhar and Ranital. From Kangra, McLeodganj is 31 km via Mataur.
Situated against the majestic backdrop of the snow-capped Dhauladhar range, the picturesque town of Dharamshala spreads across the upper reaches of the Kangra Valley. Dense coniferous forests of pines and deodar cedars surround this hill resort, which serves as the headquarters of the Kangra district. A motley mix of Tibetan and Indian cultures greets visitors to Dharamshala, which has long been identified as the centre for Tibetan Buddhism as well as the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
The town is distinctly divided into Lower Dharamshala (or simply Dharamshala), which forms the commercial heart, and Upper Dharamshala, with the charming Colonial-era suburb of Forsythganj and the vibrant Tibetan settlement of McLeodganj.
Things to see and do
A walk around town is a good way to explore its historic treasures as well as get a feel of routine local life. Much of the town’s commercial activity centres around Kotwali Bazaar where shops sell exquisite handicrafts, shawls and carpets and small eateries dish out tasty Himachali fare. A perfect way to start a day in town is to pop in to one of the local dhabas early in the morning for a steaming cup of Kangra tea while soaking in splendid valley views.
Museum of Kangra Arts
Located near the bus station, this small museum houses a treasure-trove of arts and crafts indigenous to Kangra Valley as well as artefacts dating from the 5th century CE. Of particular interest is the gallery filled with beautiful miniature paintings and a representative collection of sculpture, pottery and other anthropological exhibits. Another section displays dresses worn by the royalty, palanquins of local rajas, jewellery, coins and weapons. The museum also showcases contemporary art, sculpture and photography.
A 3-km walk southwest of Kotwali Bazaar winds through picturesque tea gardens and forests to this rock temple dedicated to the local deity Kalpeshwari (another form of goddess Durga). The temple’s exterior walls are painted in a medley of bright colours with carvings depicting Hindu deities. The entrance to the shrine is crested by an elaborate statue of goddess Durga on her lion mount, encased in glass. A unique feature of the sanctum is the stone saucer that collects water trickling down from an unknown source through the year – it is believed that if the saucer dries up, the world will come to an end. A walk around the temple complex affords fine views of the mighty Dhauladhar range.
Locally known as Shaheed Smarak, the War Memorial is situated just off the highway on Kachehri Road, at the entrance to the town. Set in a pine grove, it was built in the memory of soldiers who perished in the wars of 1947-8, 1962, 1965 and 1971 as well as other skirmishes. The monument comprises three huge blocks of black marble inscribed with names of the bravehearts; one of the marble faces is painted with a mural symbolizing the spirit of national freedom.
The monument is surrounded by lovely gardens crisscrossed by pathways that make for a pleasant walk, especially in the evening. The complex has a small exhibit of prototypes of weapons used in the Indian Defence Services. There is also a small kids’ area with swings and see-saws. A café next to the memorial serves snacks and beverages.
Tsug-lha-Khang Temple Complex
McLeodganj’s Seat of Happiness Temple features 1,173 images of the Buddha along with a 44-ft vaulted temple hall. The Dalai Lama’s Palace (the old Mortimer House, residence of the British Viceroy) is a collusion of office space, an audience chamber and his personal quarters.
At the Namgyal Monastery encounter the continuous chanting and monks who are going about their daily chores. The two-tiered Tibet Museum features exhibits related to the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the community’s projections and hopes of the future.
Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts
Tibet’s traditional performing arts too found an international outlet in their adopted home. Never was there a richer banquet of Tibetan opera (lhamo), music, theatre and dance, for the world community to admire. Book ahead for the spring (Feb/Mar) annual fiesta Shoton Opera Festival, a 10-day affair held in all its exotic pageantry at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA).
Where to stay
HPTDC (Kotwali Bazaar, 176215; Tel: 01892-224212) has several hotels in town, of which The Dhauladhar (Tel: 224926/ 27; Tariff: INR 1,800-4,500) is a good option. The hotel is centrally located with spacious, albeit dated, rooms. A short distance from the town centre is the luxurious chalet-style Club Mahindra Dharamshala (Tel: 229701/ 02; Tariff: INR 4,500-7,800; www.clubmahindra.com) offering stylish, well-appointed rooms, a multicuisine restaurant, a games room and a Tibetan arts and crafts shop. Those seeking a peaceful stay can head to Norling House (Tel: 246405, Cell: 0919816646423; Tariff: INR 3,100-4,560; www.norbulingkahotels.com), situated within the Norbulingka complex.
In McLeodganj, the beautiful and always booked Chonor House (Tel: 01892-221006/ 77; Tariff: INR 4,500-6,600; www.norbulingkahotels.com) is near the Dalai Lama Temple, set in a garden. Its rooms are rich with Tibetan murals. The restaurant is excellent. HPTDC’s Hotel Bhagsu (Tel: 221091/ 92; Tariff: INR 1,300-2,900; www.hotelbhagsuview.com) is good. In Bhagsu, try Hotel Akashdeep (Tel: 221482; Tariff: INR 1,500-2,500; www.hotelakashdeep.com) or Spring Valley Resort (Tel: 221248; Tariff: INR 3,400-4,800; www.springvalleyresorts.com).
The tranquil summer retreat of the Kangra royals, Clouds End Villa (Tel: 222109, 224904; Tariff: INR 3,000-8,000; www.kangragroup.com) is located amongst the fragrant trees on the KharaDanda Road. Drive further uphill to enjoy the picturesque seven-roomed Kashmir Cottage (Tel: 224929; Tariff: INR 1,761-4,000), with its gorgeous vistas. White Haven Estate (Cell: 09418427531; Tariff: INR 5,800-7,800; www.hotelwhitehaven.in) is a Colonial bungalow in an old tea estate.
Where to eat
The restaurant within The Dhauladhar is open to non-guests. The Continental dishes are particularly good. Andey’s Midtown Restaurant that offers tasty Indian, Chinese and Continental fare, and excellent thalis.
At McLeodganj try Mcllo, overlooking the Main Chowk. For an excellent Continental breakfast pop into Moon Peak Espresso on Temple Road or Moon-light Café along the Bhagsu stretch. Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen on Jogibara Road is worth it for the food and music. For Korean, try Dokebi nearby. For slow dining, with classy wine and good food, head for Black Magic Restaurant. The small, clean Gakyi Cafe offers well-cooked Tibetan favourites at good prices. For great pizzas, it’s the Namgyal Cafe or The Family Pizzeria in Dharamkot.