Dharamsala or Dharamshala serves as the Central Administration Headquarters of the Tibetan Government that is not recognized by the Chinese. Hence Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader had set up the establishment 18 km away from Kangra City on the invitation of the Indian government. The name of the place means a spiritual habitat for the pilgrims who request shelter. The hill station in the lower reaches of the Kangra Valley is set amongst the lofty Dhauladhar Range of the Himalayas and offers a picturesque view of the surroundings that is soothing to the mind. It had been developed into a town by the British but failed to become the summer capital on account of a devastating earthquake that hit the area in 1905. It remained a quiet and secluded spot thereafter until Dalai Lama arrived to set up the Tibetan Government after being asked to leave his own country. Natural scenery, an ancient fort as well as multiple architectural spots make Dharamsala a delightful place for the tourists. Many people, especially couples on their honeymoon arrive here hoping for some peace and quiet. Unfortunately, the entire area is now thronged with backpackers, foreign students, and Tibetan Refugees who try to earn a quick buck off the visitors. McLeod Ganj, on the upper part of Kangra City, has become a hub of sorts for the young, hippie population. However, tourists who come looking to study Buddhism are not disappointed on visiting this unique and off beat locale.
One would expect a quiet haven at Dharamshala that is devoted to spirituality with no nightlife to speak about. Fortunately, that is not the case. On the contrary, the tourists, especially the young ones along with couples on their honeymoon are delighted to find a number of venues to dance away until late hours. Parties are common enough at many of these places but it might be wise to enter a remote area looking for an exciting time.
It would be a shame to miss visiting X-Cite Discotheque at McLeodganj though. It is usually crowded due to the availability of a dance floor along with some of the best cocktails and liquor from its well stocked bar. Rock music and hip-Hop is all the rage here but the ones yearning to shake a leg will not be disappointed either. The place transforms into a disco two day a week, however. The place is totally safe and secure but unfortunately, only couples can enjoy a wonderful time at the disco.Rythm happens to be a secluded bar within Dharamsala that has a great bar serving all kinds of wines and hard liquor. Cold snacks and mocktails are served alongside with a lively music playing to set the mood for the evening.
Having a quick drink late in the evening is not going to be a problem when in Dharmsala. The Bhagsu Restaurant & Bar is a restaurant and pub that serves all kinds of food and beverages including hard liquor. It is located near the Bhagsunag Temple and waterfall and provides a respite for the tired tourists who drop in after a long evening walk up and down the steep paths. The McLlo Beer Bar along with the adjoining restaurant is definitely a cool place to hang about. The open top floor is a delightful place to enjoy the sight of the lights twinkling below with a cold and refreshing air blowing. The place is usually chock-a-block with men who love their beer.
Best Restaurants & Food
The enticing backdrop of the Dhauladhar Range and the refreshing cool air of Dharamsala is enough to whet one’s appetite. This small hill station may be located in India but its food and culture bears the stamp of many cultures that has made this place their home. Sure, one can find the inherent Indian restaurants here along with the Continental fare as well as the ubiquitous Chinese food everywhere. However, the best surprise comes in the form of Tibetan food that is authentic and a delight to savor. Nobody can refuse to try the delicious momos that is usually served with a hot, chilli sauce. The taste is definitely ‘out of India’ and a treat to the palate. There is no dearth of fillings to choose from either. It comes stuffed with potatoes, cabbage, spinach and chicken to satiate people of every taste. The Lang phing is a local dish and an instant hit with the tourists. It is a kind of pancake made with Chinese turmeric that comes dipped in a savory and filling soup. Priced at Rs 30 per plate, it is indeed a steal. The mutton thukpa is a breakfast item of Tibetan origin. The long Tibetan noodles swimming in the soup warms the body and gladdens the mind at the same time.
However, no tourist can escape the lure of the following eateries when in Dharamsala:-
Monastery Kitchen- This is located within the monastery of Dalai Lama is considered to be the most pious eatery by the Buddhists living in and around the Kangra Valley. There is no opulence with plain food served here including a zucchini vegetable platter and hot buns along with salt tea.
German Bakery – One of the best places across Dharamshala for International flavors. The grilled chicken and sizzlers along with the stuffed Spanish Omelet are highly popular here.
Tibet Kitchen- Tourists hoping to taste Tibetan food are recommended here. The authentic chicken momos and bok choy soup are crowd pullers.
How To Reach
By Road- The most popular bus route to Dharmashala is from Pathankot that lies 90 km away. The trip is inexpensive and costs about Rs 120. However, there are a number of private operators who bring tourists to this hill station from Delhi, Dehradun & Manali. The Himachal Road Transport Corporation provides overnight Volvo buses to Dharamshala as well.
By Rail- Pathankot serves as the nearest railhead where the visitors usually alight and take a taxi or bus up to Dharamsala. Tourists and honeymooners may travel by a slow Kangra Valley Railway upto Kangra City if they do not mind the long trip of 6 hours.
By Air- Gaggal Airport located 15 km away from McLeodganj at Gaggal happens to be nearest airport. Daily flights to Delhi can be availed at a reasonable rate, if booked in advance. Otherwise the price is likely to become too steep to make the journey by air worthwhile.
Best time to Visit
The summer is extremely pleasant in Dharamsala with the weather being cool and greenery all around. The winter months receive occasional snowfalls and could be extremely cold. However, many tourists especially the foreigners prefer to travel to this hill station during the winter to experience the snow and gaze at the icy mountain peaks from the Kangra Valley. The area does not receive as much rainfall as the other parts of Himachal Pradesh but the slippery roads and landslides make it a risky proposition for traveling. October to June happens to be the perfect time line for visiting this beautiful locale.
What you will like
- The extraordinary natural beauty
- Amazing greenery all around the Kangra Valley
- Presence of Dalai Lama
- Sumptuous Tibetan food
- Beautiful trekking trails
What you might not like
- Crowds seen everywhere
- Vehicles honking and sound boxes blaring thus spoiling the peace in the area
Day 1: Arrive at the twin sites of Dharamshala- McLeodganj. You can reach each section via a brisk walk of 30 minutes. Do step down from your cab or bus to reach the hotel. Freshen up and savor a sumptuous breakfast at the Tibetan Mandala Café to try some amazing offbeat dishes. Visit the Norbulingka Institute that is an architectural wonder having been designed in the lines of Dalai Lamas summer palace in Lhasa. Spend a serene afternoon by the side of the Dal Lake watching the gold fishes frolicking in the oval body of water. The beautiful natural surroundings created with deodar trees and tall mountains all around I make is worth a visit. Do pay your homage to Lord sjiva at the small adjoining temple if you are a devout Hindu. Walk downhill to find the spectacular ancient Anglican Church dedicated to St. John. It is situated amid a dense forest of deodar trees and look like a jewel with the Belgian glass windows sparkling from afar. Feel free to attend mass if you are thee on a Sunday though. Make the most of your visit and opt for an authentic Tibetan lunch at the Tibet Kitchen in the afternoon. Later you can check out the rebuilt shrine of Bhagsunag along with the beautiful waterfall beside it. Catch a colorful lhamo (folk opera) at the Tibetan Institute Of Performing Arts in the evening and head to your hotel, tired but satiated.
Day 2: Wake up early and have a great, filling breakfast starting with chocolate mousse at Nick’s Italian Kitchen. Embark on a 18 km trek to Triund thereafter. The verdant valley is covered with exquisite greenery as the trail moves up the mountain. You may be able to see areas being painted red with Rhododendrons in full bloom. Do cover yourself up properly if you happen to be visiting during winter. The marvelous white landscape will greet you making you yearn for more. Be sure to be back to Dharamshala within 4 to 5 hours. Celebrate your achievement by indulging in a decadent dessert at the Crepe Pancake Hut and check out the collection of books there. Drop in to the Namgyalma Stupa later on and pay your respects to the Tibetan soldiers who died for their motherland. Wrap up your last day at Dharamshala by enjoying lively music while tucking into delicious food and pick up a conversation with the other tourists and backbackers at Illiterati Books & Coffee. Retire to your hotel and mark the end of your visit by checking out early the next morning.