Dharamsala is best known as the home of the Dalai Lama, but the grubby market town where the buses pull in is actually Lower Dharamsala. The Tibetan government in exile is based just uphill in Gangchen Kyishong, and travelers make a beeline further uphill to the remarkably busy little traveler town of McLeod Ganj, also known as Upper Dharamsala. The bus station, a small museum and the bustling Kotwali Bazar can be found in Dharamsala, but otherwise, it’s just a place to pass through on your way to McLeod or Bhagsu.
The best places to explore in Dharamsala:-
When travelers talk of heading up to Dharamsala (to see the Dalai Lama…), this is where they mean. Around 4km above Dharamsala town – or 10km via the main bus route – McLeod Ganj is the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile and the residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Along with Manali, it’s the big traveler hang-out in Himachal Pradesh, with many budget hotels, trekking companies, internet cafes, restaurants, and shops selling Tibetan souvenirs. Naturally, there’s a large Tibetan population here, many of whom are refugees, so you’ll see plenty of maroon robes about, especially when the Dalai Lama is in residence. McLeod (named after David McLeod, Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab) was established in the mid-1850s as a British garrison and it served as an administrative center for the colonial government until the earthquake of 1905. It was a backwater until 1960 when the Dalai Lama claimed asylum here following the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Since then, McLeod has become a center for the study of Buddhism and Tibetan culture. There are all sorts of holistic activities and courses on offer, and lots of travelers come here to volunteer on community projects that focus on the refugee community. Waterproof clothing is handy for McLeod Ganj: it rains a lot. Many shops and businesses are closed on Monday. From the Main Chowk, Jogibara Rd runs south to Gangchen Kyishong and Dharamsala; Temple Rd runs south to the Tsuglagkhang Complex; Bhagsu Rd runs east to Bhagsu, Tipa Rd runs northeast to the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts; and Dharamkot Rd runs north to Dharamkot. Buses now arrive and depart from a new depot about 200m north of the Main Chowk, just past the autorickshaw stand and the shared jeep lot, on the lower road that heads toward the Church of St John in the Wilderness and Dal Lake. The taxi stand is located on Mall Road.
Tsuglagkhang Complex BUDDHIST TEMPLE
(Temple Rd; Central Chapel; non residents 5am-8pm) The main focus of visiting pilgrims, monks, and many tourists are the Tsuglagkhang, comprising the photang (official residence) of the Dalai Lama, the Namgyal Gompa, Tibet Museum and the Tsuglagkhang itself. The revered Tsuglagkhang is the exiles’ equivalent of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. Sacred to Avalokitesvara (Chenrezi in Tibet), the Tibetan deity of compassion, it enshrines a 3m-high gilded statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha, flanked by Avalokitesvara and Padmasambhava, the Indian scholar who introduced Buddhism to Tibet. The Avalokitesvara statue contains several relics rescued from the Jokhang Temple during the Cultural Revolution. Next to the Tsuglagkhang is the Kalachakra Temple, built-in 1992, which contains mesmerizing murals of the Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) mandala, specifically linked to Avalokitesvara, currently represented on earth by the Dalai Lama. Sand mandalas are created here annually on the fifth day of the third Tibetan month. Photography is allowed in the Tsuglagkhang, but not in the Kalachakra Temple. Note that during teachings, cameras, mobile phones, cigarettes, and lighters are not permitted in the temple. The remaining buildings from the Namgyal Gompa, where you can watch monks debate most afternoons, sealing points of an argument with great flourish, a foot stamp, and a theatrical clap of the hands. The monastery bookshop has a good selection of Buddhist texts, and you can enjoy cakes and vegetarian food at Namgyal Cafe. Just inside the main entry gate is the Tibet Museum (admission ₹5; h9am-5pm), telling the story of the Chinese occupation and the subsequent Tibetan exodus through photographs, interviews, and video clips. A visit here is a must for anyone staying in McLeod Ganj. Most Tibetan pilgrims make a kora (ritual circuit) of the Tsuglagkhang Complex, which must be carried out in a clockwise direction. Take the downhill road to the left at the entrance to the temple and follow the winding path leading off to the right. It passes through forest strewn with prayer flags before emerging back on Temple Rd.
Activities in Dharamshala:-
Alternative Therapies, Yoga & Massage McLeod Ganj has dozens of practitioners of holistic and alternative therapies, some legitimate and some making a fast buck at the expense of gullible travelers. Adverts for courses and sessions are posted on noticeboards all over McLeod Ganj and in Contact magazine, but talking to other travelers is a better way to find the good practitioners.
Short walks around McLeod include the 2km stroll to Bhagsu and the 3km walk northeast to Dharamkot for uplifting views south over the valley and north towards the Dhauladhar Ridge. You can do a loop to Bhagsu, across to Dharamkot, and back down to McLeod in a few hours. About 4km northwest of McLeod Ganj on Mall Rd, peaceful Dal Lake is home to the Tibetan Children’s Village.
Around McLeod Ganj:
- BHAGSU & DHARAMKOT
Through pine trees to the north and east of McLeod lie the villages of Dharamkot and Bhagsu, which can both be visited on a pleasant half-day hike, or as an alternative accommodation base. Bhagsu (Bhagsunag) in particular is developing into a traveler’s’ hot spot. The village has a cold spring with baths, a small Shiva temple built by the Raja of Kangra in the 16th century, and a gaudy temple with stairways passing through the open mouths of a cement crocodile and lion. Head uphill a bit and you’ll enter a backpacker land heavy with Hebrew signage, where you can lounge in cafes, take drumming lessons and yoga classes, and forget that there’s a crisis in Tibet. Continuing through Bhagsu, you can walk on to Dharamkot and back to McLeod, or climb up to Triund alongside a gushing waterfall.
You can make staying in Bhagsu & Dharamkot to see the beautiful sunrise. For booking regarding the call or write to us.
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