Dharamsala – The Abode of Monks

Updated: Mar 22, 2011, 12:36 PM IST

Kamna Arora

Snow-capped mountains and dense forests surround this shelter for spiritual pilgrims. Located in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamsala is a very popular hill station, especially among Delhiites. Besides being the winter seat of government of the state of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamsala is home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The presence of the spiritual leader of Tibet is the reason behind Dharamsala’s popularity with the international community.

Reaching here is not cumbersome at all. You can take a flight from Delhi to Dharamsala, or to save money try the Delhi to Pathankot route. The nearest airport to Dharamsala is the newly-upgraded Gaggal Airport, which is around 15 km away. Albeit there is a daily flight from Delhi to Dharamsala, yet it is not advisable to try that since reports say the flight gets cancelled more often than not due to bad weather. If you are opting for the Delhi to Pathankot flight to reach Dharamsala, it will save you not only money but time as well, especially if you are reluctant to travel in train or bus. A note of caution for those who are trying this route: it’s better to arrange for your cab in advance with the help of the hotel you have booked. The cab facility on the airport is nil. It takes around 4 hours from Pathankot airport to reach Dharamsala.

Tourists from the neighbouring states prefer to reach Dharamsala by bus. The buses run by Himachal Road Transport Corporation as well as the ones run by private companies ply between Delhi to Dharamsala for overnight journey. If you wish to reach Dharamsala by train, then the nearest broad gauge railway station is Chakki Bank at Pathankot, which is around 3-1/2 hours from Dharamsala. Taxis are also available from Majnu Ka Tila Tibetan Settlement in North Delhi to Dharamsala.

Currently, it is a very popular hang-out for foreigners and students of Buddhism. Indeed, it is now perhaps a little too popular - many would say the town (especially McLeod Ganj) has become a backpacker ghetto. Don`t come here expecting calm and tranquillity.

Dharamsala is divided into two distinct areas – Lower Dharamsala and Upper Dharamsala. Lower Dharamsala is of little interest to tourists, but it has a number of hotels for those who want to stay away from hustle and bustle of Upper Dharamsala. Separated by just a 10-minute bus/jeep ride, Upper Dharamsala, known more commonly as McLeod Ganj, is home to the Tibetan community.

Spiritualism and positivity are in the air of Dharamsala. Finding an accommodation is quite easy in McLeod Ganj. From big hotels to budget ones, rooms are available as per your spending plans.

The area of McLeod Ganj is small enough to be navigated on foot. The eating points are truly a delight for those who love to try different cuisines. Its main market is full of souvenirs, clothes, handicrafts, antiques, and restaurants. While roaming around, you can see a number of Tibetans spinning prayer wheels and chanting mantras while walking. A prayer wheel is a cylindrical wheel on a spindle made from metal or wood. According to the tradition followed by the Tibetan Buddhists, spinning a prayer wheel multiplies the effect of mantras.

Moreover, the place has Cafes as well, where you can enjoy the facility of wireless Internet while sipping your coffee.

The Dalai Lama

Tourists visiting Dharamsala try hard to at least see the Dalai Lama. But it is not that easy. A number of freelancers, researchers, academicians approach the Dalai Lama office at the main temple, Tsuglag Khang, everyday to arrange a meeting with the spiritual leader. The Dalai Lama travels across the world untiringly, and it is the utmost important thing to ensure that His Holiness is in Dharamsala during your visit. His website is of great help. You might be lucky enough to participate in his public teachings. His home is guarded by Indian guards.

The Dalai Lama’s temple complex houses the Namgyal Monastery (which gives training to monks for rituals associated with the temple), the main temple and a shrine (which houses a giant gilded statue of the Buddha).

Just opposite to Tsuglag Khang is the Tibet Museum, which gives an insight into the history of Tibet and its people.

You can also visit the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile. A number of foreigners prefer to spend their day around this area. A library full of books related to Tibet and Buddhism is of immense interest to a number of people.

Around Dharamsala

You can hire a cab for a day to see places around Dharamsala. The key tourist points are Bhagsu Waterfall, which lies behind the Bhagsunag Temple (the temple of God Shiva); Kunal Parthi Temple, which is dedicated to Goddess Kalpeshwari.

Dal Lake is another tourist point. Unfortunately, the lake, spread in an area of 1 km, is quite dull nowadays since it is being restored. Naddi village is another scenic picnic spot. The place gives a magnificent view of the Kangra valley. The place is popular with nature lovers and trekkers.

And then there is the Church of St John, situated right beside a century-old cemetery. The church is beautiful, and is surrounded by evergreen pines.

The Norbulinka Institute and Monastery is a must visit for those seeking a birds’ eye view of the Tibetan culture.

And of course, don’t forget to see the cricket stadium.

Dharamsala is a good place for those tourists who wish to take a short break from their burdensome routine lives. And it is truly a shelter for those who wish to explore spirituality.