Dharamshala Complete Guide: Dharamshala is a picturesque hill town nestled in the lap of the Dhauladhar range. Situated in the upper reaches of the Kangra Valley, it serves as the winter capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh. Often overshadowed by the more popular suburb of McLeodganj, Dharamshala is a quiet and serene destination to spend a long weekend. Plan your trip to Dharamsala with this comprehensive guide.
Historically, the Kangra Valley was part of the ancient Trigartha region which extended from the plains of Punjab to the hills of Himachal. It was ruled by the Katoch dynasty until it was invaded by the British in 1810. In the year 1860, the 66th Gurkha Light Infantry moved to the site of an old rest house at the seat of the Dhauladhar range – known in the local language as Dharamshala – and converted it. in a subsidiary camp. This soon developed into a cluster of 14 Gorkha Platoon villages, and the battalion later became the 1st Gurkha Rifles. Thus the city of Dharamsala was established.
In 1959, thousands of Tibetans, accompanied by their leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama, fled their homeland due to Chinese aggression and persecution. He was given refuge in India and settled in the upper reaches of Dharamsala, which eventually came to be known as McLeodganj. Over the years, many Tibetans have settled here, establishing schools, monasteries, and temples.
The cantonment still exists in Dharamsala, coexisting with Tibetan settlement and villages of the local pastoral Gaddi tribe.
Best Time to Visit Dharamshala
The best time to visit Dharamsala is from March to July and again from September to November. Mid-December to March is the coolest month, with temperatures dropping to single digits and Upper Dharamsala receiving heavy snowfall.
The annual Dharamsala International Film Festival is an inevitable event held in the first week of November every year. It is a perfect time to catch extraordinary Indian and international films, documentaries, and workshops.
Weather at Dharamshala (Link)
Dharamshala Temperature (Link)
Things to Do in Dharamshala
Take a stroll through the lushly forested town and visit the 19th-century Neo-Gothic St. John of the Wilderness Church, nestled among oaks and pines. A little further, you will stumble upon Dal Lake, which attracts tourists with its 200-year-old temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, as well as boating facilities.
In the upper reaches of Dharamsala is the Tibetan settlement of McLeodganj, which is called Little Lhasa. Before visiting the Tibet Museum and enlisting a helping of momos (Tibetan dumplings) at one of the local restaurants, be sure to check out the Tsugalgkhang complex, the temple, and monastery where the 14th Dalai Lama currently resides.
Walk down the hills of Dharamsala to watch the match at the HPCA Cricket Stadium (Dharamshala stadium). Even if you’re not into the game, it’s worth stopping by to at least catch a glimpse of it; Against the backdrop of the Dhauladhar mountain range, it is one of the most picturesque cricket stadiums in the world.
Further down (4.7 miles from Dharamsala) is the Gyuto Monastery, where you can catch a glimpse of Buddhist tantric rituals and traditions. Nearby is the 500-year-old Aghanjar Mahadev Temple; Also dedicated to Lord Shiva, it attracts many devotees who seek spirituality and peace. Norbulingka Monastery is at a distance of 1.9 miles from Mahadev Temple.
Situated on the banks of river Bindusaras, Chinmaya Tapovan, Siddhabari (5 miles from Dharamsala) is an ideal place to attend spiritual classes and meditate. The ashram complex includes a Ram temple; a meditation room; 30 feet tall idol of Lord Hanuman; and the Samadhi Hall of Swami Chinmayananda, a famous exponent of the Bhagavad Gita.
A detour from Sidhbari takes you to the Kangra Valley (12 miles from Dharamsala). High on a hill overlooking this valley is the Kangra Fort; Considered to be one of the oldest forts in India, it offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. About 21 miles from Kangra Fort and 25 miles from Dharamsala, don’t miss the 8th-century Masroor rock-cut temples.
Learn pottery at India’s first pottery studio, Andretta Artist Village, which is about 28 miles from Dharamsala and near Palampur and Bir Billing. While you are here, you will want to visit the 13th-century Baijnath Temple, where Lord Shiva is worshiped as the god of healers.
Dharamshala is also an ideal place to complete the pilgrimage circuit road tour of ancient and iconic temples including Bajreshwari Temple in Kangra and Chamunda Devi Temple near Palampur.
Foods to Try
Apart from the regular North-Indian food, Dharamshala is famous for momos; Thukpas (Tibetan noodle soup), and hot tea with ginger, honey, and lemon. There are many food stalls and restaurants across the city where you can find all of the above.
Where to Stay
There is no dearth of accommodation in and around Dharamshala. From guesthouses to homestays and from five-star properties to dormitories, this Himachal city caters to every pocket. Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department Corporation (HPTDC) runs government-owned guesthouses and hotels at various locations in the city; Online bookings are available and room rates start at around $22 per day.
The five-star Hyatt Regency (Hyatt Dharamshala) in Dharamkot is a 20-minute walk from Dharamsala. With well-appointed rooms and an in-house restaurant that serves international and Indian cuisine, it offers luxury as well as exceptional comfort amidst spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains.
The tea gardens of Dharamsala and Palampur are quite famous, and many of them organize guided tours. If you prefer to stay at an elegant resort with bustling restaurants and tea garden views, look no further than RS Sarovar Portico in the beautiful town of Palampur (22 miles from Dharamsala, near Gopalpur Zoo). Room rates start at $53 (excluding taxes).
However, if you are planning to stay in a typical Himachali architectural style home, then your best bet is the boutique property of The 4Rooms. It is run by an Indo-German artist, Frank Schlichtmann, who also manages 4tables Cafe, which is located a stone’s throw from the property. It is located in Gunehar village, about 42 miles from Dharamsala, and close to the paragliding site of Bir Billing.
To reach Dharamsala, you must first go to Kangra, which is 8 miles away. You can take a domestic flight from Delhi to the Gaggal airport in Kangra; Alternatively, you can board a train that takes you to Pathankot, then board a toy train that traverses a scenic route on the way to Kangra.
From Kangra, you can either take a hired taxi to Dharamsala or board a comfortable minibus. If you have the budget, you can board a government or private Volvo bus and travel directly from Delhi to Dharamshala.