Dharamshala is located in the state of Himachal Pradesh in India. The suburb of McLeodganj lies in the upper reaches of Dharamshala and is home to the Dalai Lama. Dharamshala became the centre of the Tibetan government-in-exile in 1960 when the refugees from Tibet followed the Dalai Lama to India. It is the largest Tibetan settlement in India today.
Do not limit your trip to the Dharamshala and McLeodganj alone; there are many beautiful places to visit nearby. Be it history, art, food, volunteering, adventure or just a rendezvous with nature, Dharamshala should be your travel next destination.
Let us take you on a Dharamshala tour as we explore things to do in and around Dharamshala.
The Tsuglagkhang Complex: For Spirituality
The complex includes Tsuglagkhang – the Tibetan temple and the Namgyal Gompa. Inside the temple are gilded statues of the Sakyamuni Buddha, Avalokitesvara and Padmasambhava, as well as a wooden statue representing a starving Buddha. The Namgyal monastery is the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama. Do plan to be near the monastery between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. (except Sunday), when the monks engage in lively debates and theatrics at the courtyard.
Prayer wheels at Tsuglagkhang /CC BY 2.0 / Liz Highleyman
Pilgrimage to Chintpurni
For the devout
This shrine (or Shakti – Peeth) is dedicated to Sati, Lord Shiva’s consort and the goddess of marital felicity and longevity. It is believed that a part of the burning body of Goddess Sati fell here. An important shrine, it celebrates the worship of the goddess as a source of energy and power. The idol is in the shape of a headless goddess.
St. John in the Wilderness Church and Tibet Museum
For those looking for history
Dedicated to John the Baptist, this Church was built in 1852. Make a trip to admire the scenic setting in the midst of a cedar forest, the lovely Neo-Gothic architecture, Belgian stained glass windows and an old British cemetery. A great spot for photography, but please do not click selfies at the graveyard!
To appreciate the history and culture of Tibet, as well as understand the resistance to the Chinese occupation, a visit to the Tibet Museum (in the Tsuglagkhang complex) is a must. Over 30000 photographs chronicle the story of the government in exile.
St. John in the Wilderness Church at McLeodganj / CC BY 2.0 / Koshy Koshy
Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts and Men-Tsee-Khang
Explore Tibetan heritage
This institute was among the first to be set up the Dalai Lama after his arrival at Dharamshala in 1960. The intent was to preserve the artistic heritage of Tibet, particularly music, dance forms and opera. Students are taught ‘Ache Lhamo’ or Tibetan opera as well as the use of traditional folk instruments. Visit the folk museum here; you can also ask for a tour of the institute. Donations are welcome.
Men-Tsee-Khang, the centre of Tibetan medicine and astrology, is an interesting place to visit. Register for the astrological consultation session here a day in advance! There is a museum here as well, with Buddhist paintings showcasing nature-based cures, medical instruments and the tenets of Tibetan medicine.
Workshop at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts / CC BY 2.0 / ptwo
Triund Peak and Kareri Lake
For trekking and camping in the Himalayas
Embark on an easy trek to the Triund Peak through wooded trails, oak forests, a temple and pleasing vistas of the Kangra valley. There are several cafes on the seven km-long trail from Dharamkot, do try out Bodhi Greens – The Organic Vegan Café. You can even camp at Triund, stunning views of the night sky are worth the adventure!
Another great option is the trek to the glacial Kareri Lake. The moderate trek starts at Kareri village and lasts for two days. It is regarded as among the most beautiful alpine treks in India, through dense forests, meadows, orchards and streams.
View from Triund Hill / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Alok Kumar
Paragliding in Bir Billing
For those who want to fly, but ain’t got wings
About a two-hour long drive away from Dharamsala is Bir Billing – a top destination in the world for paragliding. It was chosen to host the Paragliding World Cup in 2015. You can try solo or tandem paragliding flights.
Paragliding at Bir Billing / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Okorok
For instant karma
You can register for a 10-day long volunteer work period at Dharmalaya Institute learn and practice the arts and methods of sustainable living in the Himalayas. Other programs include Meditation Retreats, Earthen building explorations, Compassionate Living workshops etc.
Tibetan food at Mcleodganj
No trip to McLeodganj is complete without feasting on momos and thupkas. Try the mutton momos at Chonor House and the Spinach Cheese Momos at Namgyal Restaurant. Tibet Kitchen at Jogiwara Road offers excellent Bhutanese and Tibetan food – try kewa datshi, shamu datshi and shapta. Stop by at Woeser Bakery for delectable desserts and cakes and at Lung Ta if you are up for some Japanese cuisine.
Momos at Mcleodganj / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Lillottama
Shopping in Dharamshala
There are a number of interesting street markets to explore – the Kotwali Bazar, Jogiwara road and McLeodganj Central Square. Pick up Buddhist paintings, idols and prayer wheels.
Feature Image: CC 2.0 / Shark Shots