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Dharamshala-Mcleodganj

Dharamsala has an aura about it. The town has lived up to its name, which means “The pilgrims’ rest house”; it is today the sacred seat of the Dalai Lama and his exiled government of Tibet. The backdrop of the Himalayas and the old world charm of the town adds to the magnetic attraction of the unique experience that is Dharamsala.

Set against the backdrop of the Dhauladhar mountains, Dharamsala is perched on the high slopes in the upper reaches of Kangra Valley and surrounded by forests of pine, deodar, oak and rhododendron.  During winters, the entire range gets covered with snow, gloriously imposing itself upon the landscape. 

Dharamsala has historical and political significance with respect to the Tibetan liberation movement. Today, it has become synonymous to the Tibetan government in exile and the home of Tibetan leader Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

 Fearing persecution by the invading Chinese army, the Dalai Lama left Lhasa/Tibet in disguise and sought political asylum in India in 1959. Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India offered to settle him and his followers in this area. Today it is popularly known as the "Tibetan Kingdom in Exile” or "Little Lhasa in India".

Facing destruction of their culture and religion, many Tibetans have fled the Chinese occupation of their country and followed their spiritual leader and made it their home. The main street ends at the Buddhist temple complex entrance. Tibetan Monks in saffron robes walk around clutching prayer beads. The temple complex walls abound with pamphlets about saving Tibet, highlighting the importance of this place in the Tibetan struggle.

The presence of monks and refugees, over the past five decades, has transformed the area into a Buddhist pilgrimage. A steady stream of modern-day hippies and tourists from around the world also pour into the area making McLeod Ganj a potpourri of cultures where Tibetans monks, Kashmiri curio shop owners, American hippies and Israeli backpackers brush shoulders with each other amidst prayer flags, Hindi film songs and restaurants offering European cuisine.


The town is divided into two distinct areas that are separated by a ten minute (9 km.) bus/jeep ride:  Lower Dharamsala (1400m) is a small Indian town and Upper Dharamsala, known more commonly as McLeod Ganj (1750m),  named after David McLeod, the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab. It is this upper district that used to be the abode of the British officers and today is home to the Tibetan community and the centre of activity.

Upper Dharamsala with the suburbs of Mcleod Ganj and Forsythe Ganj, retains a British flavour and colonial influence. The charming church of St. John in the Wilderness is situated here.


Just before the bus stand, a small road diverges to a place named Chilgari. The woods here are dense and dark and the view of the Kangra valley is gorgeous. Reaching the place at sunset presents a surreal sight of sunrays filtered from the clouds bathing the valley and Mcleod Ganj with immaculate brushstrokes of an artist.

Still further up and away, very close to Chilgari is a vast stretch of pine forests. It is surely an interesting experience listening to the pine trees whispering amongst themselves.

Another well kept secret is the Kunal Pathri Temple that is a leisurely 3km walk from the bus stand through the best preserved forests of the region.


However, as soon as you join the milling crowds, you realize that every person and every road leads up to the main monastery and the Dalai Lama’s residence. A mass movement of faith and curiosity, enough to give you a dizzy feeling. The small monasteries on the way, innumerable shops selling Tibetan handicrafts and trendy clothes, even the barber with his Tibetan styled shop add to the mystique of the place.


Life is laid back here.  There are Buddhist monasteries, yoga schools, meditations schools. All restaurants are family run, with very humble interiors. It is this simplicity that makes people come here again and again.

Tsuglagkhang Complex
The temple complex is located in the monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is supposedly the largest Tibetan monastery outside of Tibet. It was crafted by exiled Tibetan craftsmen and is considered a replica of the original Tsuglakhang monastery in Lhasa. The monastery rests on atypical columns: trunks of deodars which are still growing and are protected by adjustable iron rings. The principal image here is a gilded Buddha rising 9 ft (meter conversion) from a lotus seat. One of the images, the 11-headed Avalokiteshvara, dates back to the 7th century AD, when the famous king Songtsen Gompa, first installed it in the temple at Lhasa. The Dalai Lama delivers his sermons to thousands of devotees assembled in the square outside by sitting in between the two statues on a wooden pulpit. For both believers and non believers the temple ambience is a heavenly abode perfect for meditation. At sunset, the monks of the old Namgyal Monastery - which conducts the many rituals and prayers performed by Dalai Lama - step into the square to practise on their long, narrow collapsible brass trumpets.
Church of St John-in-the-Wilderness
A stone building stands at a distance, away from the hustle bustle of the main city. It is located just outside McLeod Ganj, towards Lower Dharamsala. The Church of St John-in-the-Wilderness, was among the first buildings to be constructed by the British in 1852. Its unique stained-glass windows portray John the Baptist with Jesus, This monument survived the jitters of the earth-quake of 1905. Lord Elgin, is buried in the church cemetery. He was a former viceroy who lost his life on a tour — his horse lost its footing on one of the steep curves of the mountain road and landed in the gorge, killing him instantly. His widow built a small cathedral on the spot where he was buried, which was not taken care for years and was eventually declared a protected monument by ASI.
Tibetan theatre
The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts plays a vital role in enhancing and preserving the cultural heritage of the Tibetans in exile. The Unique perfor-mance art would have disappeared unless immediate steps had not been taken by the Dalai Lama. According to local stories, music and opera was saved in a unique fashion.. An old carpenter was the only man among the refugees who was able to make the pivotal musical instruments for the opera - the draynen (a cross between a violin and guitar). He was put to work teaching others his skill. Likewise, all those who could sing or dance or design the hundreds of costumes and shoes that go into a production volunteered their services to teach others the art bring it back to life. In less than a decade, TIPA became the centre of social life for Tibetans’ and the locals. The Shoton Festival reflects the craze in people for the same, it attracts people at large to celebrate spirit of the traditional theatre, music and dance.
Namgyaima Stupa
The Namgyaima Stupa with its rows of prayer wheels represents life, and it goes in sync with the marketplace where it stands. The Stupa is a memorial to the Tibetans who died fighting in their homeland. It is built in a hybrid Indo-Tibetan style.
Dal Lake
Surrounded by rhododendrons, deodars, and junipers forest, it is spread across an area of 1 km. Annually, a very popular fair is held at the Kali Temple near the Lake. It is a 2 km walk westwards from McLeod Ganj bazaar. People of the past decade say that the old Dal was a different lake altogether, blue-green water created a miasma, boating on the blue bed was an experience worth gaining. Now, due to extenuating circumstances, it has reduced to a pond. Nonetheless, the lake is sacred spot as there is small Shiva Mandir (shrine) on its bank.
Dharamkot
This village, 20 minutes walk further up the hill from McLeod Ganj, is a favourite picnic spot with a panoramic view of the Kangra Valley. It is possible to rent houses from local Indians if you are planning a long stay. Dharamkot looks like mini-Israel. Shalom in blue and white greets you in many places. Blaring music and Hebrew fill the air. Gleaming 350cc motor bikes manoeuvre their way in and out of the potholed roads.

March-April is the festival season associated with Buddha Purnima, which is celebrated with grand religious functions and cultural performances.
August-September adorns beautiful colors with the festivities of Drukpa Teshi.

"Saka Dawa", is one of the Buddhists’ most important festivals. The festival has a special significance for the followers of Lord Buddha as all three stages of his life - birth, enlightenment and death - are witnessed in the period known as Saka Dawa. These three events form the key to Buddha's life.

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Season Min. Temp. Max. Temp.
Summer 20 °C 38 °C
Winter 2 °C 15 °C
Summers (March to June) are warm with temperatures between 22 °C to 38 °C. Monsoons (July to September) with heavy rainfalls. Winters (December to February are chilly and freezing during Januray with minium mercury level is goes below 4 °C. Snowfalls in winters are some time quite heavy.
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