If you’re daydreaming at work about a break in the mountains, a place where you can unwind, someplace you can just get away, then Dharamshala is where you want to be. Surrounded by the pristine, snow-clad mountain ranges, Dharamshala is a hit with all kinds of travelers. What better place than to relax amidst the mighty Dhauladhar mountain ranges, surrounded by pretty arching deodar and cedar trees? This Dharamshala travel guide will answer pretty much all of your questions if you’re planning a holiday here.
For those craving adventures, again, the Dhauladhar range offers access to many interesting treks that are easy to start from Dharamshala.
Dharamshala is also the seat of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, and the Tibetan Government in Exile is also based out of Dharamshala. The Tibetan influence is easy to spot with all the beautiful monasteries spread across the Kangra Valley. With a plethora of great Middle-Eastern, Tibetan, and Himachali food options, the food and cafe culture in Dharamshala is also growing steadily in prominence.
Nestled in the Kangra Valley, surrounded by the Dhauladhar mountain ranges, Dharamshala has been home to the Gorkha regiment of the Indian Army for the longest time. The mountain town was a popular hill station among the British officers stationed in Delhi; they would frequent Dharamshala for respite from Delhi’s extreme heat in summer months.
Since 1959, Dharamshala has become home to the Tibetan community in exile, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists had to seek refuge in India and was allowed to settle down in McLeodganj in the upper parts of Dharamshala. The Dalai Lama has established the Tibetan Government in Exile in McLeodganj. He also established the Namgyal Monastery, the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama.
Thousands of Tibetan exiles have found a home in McLeodganj, and since Dharamshala has always been relevant in Buddhism. You’re likely to find monasteries throughout the region, with some built as early as the 15th century.
Dharamshala is not just a town, but also a district that comprises smaller towns like McLeodganj, Dharamkot, Bhagsu, and Triund. These villages are gateways to great hikes in the Dhauladhar and also make for a great spot to view the birds of Kangra Valley.
Flying into Dharamshala is an option from Delhi and Jaipur. Kangra Airport, which is the closest to Dharamshala, lies approximately 15 kilometres away. You can choose to fly into Amritsar and drive about four and a half hours to get to Dharamshala.
To be honest, Dharamshala doesn’t enjoy great rail connectivity; the two closest railway stations to Dharamshala, Pathankot Junction and Amritsar Junction are 3 and 4 and a half hours away respectively. So, traveling by road or air is the best option. Although the scenic view makes the drive worth it.
Dharamshala is well connected by road to Delhi, Amritsar and most other big cities in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Most buses are overnight buses; there are also a few day buses, but we recommend the overnight buses as the congestion on the narrow winding Himachali roads is lesser. The buses can be booked online on the Himachal State Transport Corporation website.
It’s always a good time to explore Dharamshala. The summer months from March to June are extremely pleasant and are arguably the best time to visit. But the winter months can be appealing too!
Winter in Dharamshala and McLeodganj can be quite extreme and most guest houses aren’t really equipped to help you combat the heat. If you’re on a budget and expect to have a heater or have access to hot water at all times, then winter may not be the time for you. Dharamshala in the monsoons can be very wet and not conducive for heavy treks but the place is quite green, serene and very pleasant.
Finding a taxi, rickshaw or bus in Dharamshala isn’t hard at all as the town itself is at the base of the valley. As you make the ascent further up, you’ll come across smaller towns like McLeodganj and Dharamkot. We recommend exploring these towns on foot, as it’s not only the easiest option but also the most efficient way of exploring these cute mountain towns at your leisure.
“Dharamshala and McLeodganj are the same.”
While they’re technically the same places, Dharamshala in its entirety is a district. It’s made up of a lot of hamlets like Dharamkot, Triund, Bhagsu and McLeodganj. And while you’re visiting Dharamshala, you’re likely to spend a lot more time in these hamlets (which are all a part of Dharamshala).
Namgyal Monastery is also called The Dalai Lama’s temple and is the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama. Founded in the 16th century, after the arrival of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans, the monastery was relocated to Dharamshala in the 1960s. The Namgyal Monastery houses 200 monks to this day and is the most prominent monastery in Tibetan Buddhism.
While the monastery may be deemed a bit simple from the outside, the place is known to have an extremely calming effect on people. Try making it for the evening prayers to witness the chanting of the monks and maybe even interact with them after for life lessons and perspectives.
This is the official residence of the Dalai Lama. If you plan well in advance, you may even be able to meet with the Dalai Lama and attend one of his discourses (Tip: check the schedule on their official website to see if there are discourses around the time when you’re going.)
Should the Dalai Lama’s discourse not be scheduled for when you are in Dharamshala, you can still explore the complex and it’s definitely worth a visit!
The local delicacy of the Bhagsu hamlet and all of Dharamshala is the Bhagsu Cake; it’s the ultimate sweet dish. It has an extremely buttery taste to it and is loved by locals and tourists alike.
The Norbulingka institute in McLeodganj offers a different perspective and lets you delve deeper into the culture and traditions of Tibetans. You can not only visit but also participate in the different workshops that are held at the institute. Try your hands at woodcarving, wood painting, applique, Thanga painting, etc and play a part in conserving centuries-old art that has been passed down through generations.
If workshops aren’t your thing then walk around the huge campus. The architecture would certainly make you feel like you’re in Tibet. Check out their gardens, museum, cafe, and local shop that has many artifacts on display. The institute is open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm daily, but the workshops are closed on Sundays and the second Saturdays of the month.
Bhagsu is another small town in Dharamshala like McLeodganj and you can either trek upto Bhagsu by road or the waterfall route. To make it accessible to most tourists, a fair length of the trek has steps alongside the waterfall.
For those you wish to hike further, you’ve to climb up rocks and boulders which make it more of an adventure. The trek can get difficult if traveling in the monsoons because as you go higher, it tends to get colder. But it’s worth the effort as the view from the top is spectacular. Right at the top, there’s a cafe, where you can chill and reward yourself with a delicious bowl of Maggi or hot chocolate! The hike to Bhagsu waterfall is a day trek of about 3-4 hrs.
For those who love walking, hiking and being close to nature, make the most of your trip to Dharamshala by trekking to Triund. This is a two-day trek that starts from McLeodganj going through Dharamkot and the Galu Devi temple up to Triund, which is at an altitude of 9,500 ft. Wake up to the snow-kissed Himalayan ranges that glow orange under the sun; the Dhauladhar mountains on one side and the Kangra Valley on the other. One the way back to McLeodganj, go via the Bhagsu waterfall route.
3 days would be sufficient for exploring Dharamshala and the towns of McLeodganj and Dharamkot. Keep aside 5 days if you’re planning a trip to Dalhousie as well.
Of course! This hill station in Himachal Pradesh is the perfect blend of Himachali and Tibetan culture and cuisine, and you’ll be blessed with splendid views of the Dhauladhar ranges and the Kangra Valley.
Yes! Dharamshala and McLeodganj are quite safe for travelers. But we recommend that you take all the necessary precautions when visiting.
Dharamshala is a bigger city than Dalhousie, which means it has more things to do, and a thriving Tibetan Buddhist culture. On the other hand, Dalhousie is more ideal for those looking for a lazy and quieter holiday.
Shimla has beautiful colonial buildings and the major attractions are close to the city, but the rampant commercialization of Shimla makes it a little less appealing. Dharamshala is a smaller town with a thriving Tibetan Buddhist culture.
Kasol is about 200 km away from Dharamshala, and would take you about 6-7 hours by road. There are buses and cabs that you can avail between these hill stations.
Dalhousie is about 118 km away from Dharamshala. This journey would take you about 3-5 hours. You can either board a bus or hire a cab for travel.
If you time your visit to the Tsuglagkhang Complex (the official residence of the Dalai Lama) with his discourse, you can attend his sermon. Also, you can request an exclusive appointment with His Holiness by sending an email to the website of the Tsuglagkhang Complex.
McLeodganj is about 5 km away from Dharamshala. You could get a rickshaw, but walking all the way would be more rewarding.
Yes! If you love snowfall, you should definitely visit Dharamshala in the months of December and February. It goes without saying, but make sure you carry a lot of warm clothing!