In the lap of the Kangra Valley and the shadow of the Dhauladhar mountains, situated in the Indian state of Himachala Pradesh, surrounded by a thick sheet of coniferous forest, domintated by Deodar Cedar trees, lies Dharamshala also called ‘Dharamsala’. The name leterally means ‘ a religious sanctuary’. Dharamshala is a city and a Municipal Council of the Kangra district. Nicknamed ‘Dshala’, the city holds The Dalai Lama’s residence, as well as the the headquarters of central Tibetan administration.
Resting 2 kms away from Kangra, the city of Dharamshala is situated at an acclivity of 1457 metres and covers an area of almost 8.51 sq km. The city is bifurcated into two distinct sections, Kotwali bazaar and the surrounding markets are called ‘lower Dharamshala’ or just Dharamshala, while the areas further up the mountain are called Mcleodganj or ‘upper Dharamshala’. One can commute between Mcleodganj and Dharamshala through small cars and taxis. Mcleodganj is enveloped in Pine, Himalayan Oak and Rhododendron. Dharamshala has a monsoon influenced humid subtropical climate. The times when the city is most inviting, are the Autumn and the Spring months, October and April respectively.
Digging deep into history…
The Katoch dynasty ruled over Dharamshala until the British Raj took over. The royal family still holds a residence there by the name of ‘Clouds End Villa’ and has been the oldest serving royal family in the world.
Dharamshala is inhabited by the Gaddis, the indeginous people, who are a predominantly hindu group, who traditionally lived a transhumant lifestyle. The lack of permanent settlement in the area, led to some Gaddis losing their seasonal pastures and farmlands, with the arrival of the British and the Gurkhas.
Dharamshala being made a subsidiary cantonement, hosted the 66th Gurkha Light Infantry, which was moved from Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, to Dharamshala. A perfect position for the new base was located on the slopes of the Dhauladhar hills. A hindu resthouse, stood on this plot of waste land, after which the new cantonement was named. This was hence the beginning of the Legend of the Gurkhas . They worshipped at the ancient shiv temple of ‘Bhagsunag’. The Gurkhas reffered to Dharamshala as ‘Bhagsu’ and themselves as ‘Bhagsuwalas’.Many places are still known by their former cantonement names such as the Tirah lines, Depot Bazaar etc. Dharamshala now began serving as a cool respite during hot summer months.
On 4th of April 1905, the city woke up to a trembling earth, that demolished a major part of the cantonement and the Bhagsunag temple. The Gurkhas rebuilt the town and also the temple.
Coming in of the Tibetans…When the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, H.H. The Dalai Lama, had to flee Tibet and take refuge in India, he chose to reside in Mcleodganj, along with his followers. They then established ‘the Government in Excile’ in 1960. Having been connected with Hinduism and Budhism, Dharamshala holds a number of Monastries. The library of Tibetan works, opened by the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, now considered one of the most important institutions for Tibetology and other resources related to the Tibetan history.
Presently a several thousand Tibetans, reside in Mcleodganj. Mcleaodganj, popularly known as ‘Little Lhasa’, after the Tibetan capital, hosts several monastries, temples and schools and has become an arresting tourist spot with hotels and restraunts.
Dharamshala International Film Festival..
In 2012 Dharamshala began hosting the Dharamshala International Film Festival, in Mcleodganj. Presented by the White Crane arts and Media Trust, established by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, DIFF hosts the showcasing of the recent Indian and world cinema, including Fiction, Documentries, short films etc. The main aim behind the establishment of DIFF, was to promote contemprory arts, cinema and independent media practises in the Himachal region.
The Trekking Tales of Dharamshala...
The trekking trails in Dharamshala, lead the trekkers across Dhauladhar, into the upper Ravi valley and Chamba district. En Voyage one crosses a thick jungle of Deodar, pine, oak and Rhododendron. The presence of streams, ocassional waterfalls and glaciers, makes the trail, picturesque, begging for photographic attention.
The various passes used for trekking include, the Toral pass, which is 4575m, nearly 10km away from Dharamshala. The Bhimghasutri pass, 4580m, laid on steep cliffs and dangerous gorges, is one of the toughest trekking trails and takes around 6 days to complete. Last but not least, the Bleni pass, measuring 3710m, is the easier one as compared to the others. One passes through Alpine pastures, streams and woods, while trekking on the Bleni pass, which takes around 4-5 days to complete.
Dharamshala Cricket Stadium..
One of the most attractive cricket stadiums in India, serves as a home ground to Himachal Pradesh cricket team and rarely the IPL team of Punjab, Kings Eleven Punjab. The first One day international held in DCS was played between England and India in 2013.
The alluring must-visits in Dharamshala…
- Masrur (or Masroor)- situated 15km south of Kangra, Masrur is one of the most attractive places in the city. These are the fifteen, impeccably carved monolithic rock temples, dating back to the 8th century. In the sanctum of the main temple one can find images of Lord Ram and Godesses Sita and Lakshmi. The catching point here is that the carvings on these temples is similiar to the Kailash Temple at Ellora.
- Bhagsunag Temple-devoted to Lord Shiva, is one of the oldest temples, built and worshiped by the Gurkhas. Situated 2km away from Mcleodganj, the temple is one of the major tourist attractions in Dharamshala.
- Bhagsu Waterfall- Lying behind the Bhagsunag temple, 2 km away from Mcleodganj, the Bhagsu waterfall turns into a 30 feet deluge during monsoons.
- Naam art gallery- is one of the most renowned tourist spots in Mcleodganj, that houses paintings by the famous German painter Elsbeth Buschmann and English painter A.W. Hallett. The gallery is situated in the sidhbari village, on the main Dalhousie-Chamunda road.
- Kangra Meuseum- housing items back to the 5th century, the Kangra meuseum, is one of a kind, displaying artefacts of Tibetan and Buddhist cultures. If history facinates you, Kangra meuseum is the ideal place for you, since it is rich in crafts, arts, coin memorabilia, embroidered costumes, sculptures, jewellery, carvings and much more. The meuseum consumes 30 minutes or maximum 1hr of your day and can be reached easily by taxis or buses.
- Kunal Pathri Temple- situated 3km away from Kotwali bazaar,the temple is dedicated to goddess Kalpeshwari. The temple was built with the belief that a part of goddess Sati’s skull fell here at the time her charred body was being carried by Lord Shiva.
- Chamunda temple- 15km away from Dharamshala, on the right bank of the Baner river, on the Mandi-Pathankot highway, the temple is supposed to have been the very spot where goddess Kali killed demons chand and mund.
- Dal Lake- spread over an area of 1km, the lake is bounded by Rhododendrons, deodars and Juniper forest. One needs to walk 2km westwards from Mcleodganj bazaar to reach the lake that has become a tourist spot due to the annual festival held at the Kali temple and another temple dedicated to rishi Durvasa.
- Triund- a trekking destination resting at the foothills of Dhauladhar, around 17km away from Dharamshala, is a paradise for nature lovers. One is offered a brilliant panorama of mountains and valleys, served on a platter. The trekkers take nighthalts in small time caves, used by Gaddis as shelters during rains.
- Naddi- a picturesque picnic spot, situated 5 km northwest to Mcleodganj, offers a spectacular view of the Kangra valley. One can trek to Guna devi, Triund and Kareri lake from here.
Other tourist spots include, Mcleodganj bazaar, Sidhbari village with its temples and educational institutions, the Jama Masjid and the Thaneek Pura hill station.
Dharamshala can be reached by Gaggal airport, which is 15 km south of the town and 10 km north to Kangra. One can also take a train to Kangra, by Kangra valley railway lines from Pathankot 94 km away and then take a bus or a taxi. Several buses each night connect Mcleodganj with Majnu ka tila, the Tibetan settlement in Delhi.
Take a break, forget the city, become nature’s ally and embrace divinity.. visit Dharamshala !