Dharamshala travel guide, beautiful Himachal, majestic Himalayas part 12

Always be there cradling Dharamshala

More on Dharamshala—beautiful Himachal

Standing on the rooftop of his house at Dharamshala my friend, Tej kishen Koul, dispelled my doubts regarding tourist worthiness of Dharamshala, “Don’t underestimate this place as a tourist spot. In fact this is one of the major tourist destinations in Himachal. Look at the Dhauladhar. You won’t get such a close view from the comfort of your room from many other places.” I had to agree. Though the view taken was through medium zoom, even then it looked very close as if I could touch it.

Dhauladhar at touching distance

Dhauladhar at touching distance

At normal view itself the high elevation makes Dhauladhar looking down on you. Later in front of his house I stood watching it wondering, perhaps I could place a reclining chair here lounging lazily with a book and occasionally looking up at the majestic view in front of me. Here, the heavenly Dhauladhar will always be there cradling the fortunate little men. I felt a tinge of envy towards my friend.

Always be there cradling

Always be there cradling

My friend continued, “See over there—that is the International Cricket Stadium where IPL matches are hosted and remember—altitude of this place is near about 5000 feet. Add to that McLeodGanj where Dalai Lama had relocated his official residence. It is an international tourist attraction; and McLeod Ganj is actually a suburb of Dharamshala a little further up the hills.”

“But still, excluding Dhauladhar, these are kind of civilization attractions, isn’t it? You can say Dharamshala is a sprawling sparsely populated town under the shadows of Dhauladhar.” I was relentless. My preferences are always with pure nature.

My friend shook his head, “No, you may very well undertake more than one trekking trips from here, you know. And forests? Though the tree cover has thinned over the years, still Dharamshala has some good tree covers around it. While coming, you had stopped at one such stretch.” Well yes, I remembered. That was a good spot. Dhauladhar looked absolutely majestic over the tall tree tops. I really didn’t expect such a breathtaking view after a relatively dreary drive from Jammu.

Breathtaking Dhauladhar

Breathtaking Dhauladhar

This is but natural. Dharamshala is an old place. When it grew, ground was cleared to build accommodations. But even when we visited three years ago, it was not a crowded city. The relatively wide expanse helped.

On one side of the house of my friend was uninterrupted cropland with no visible human habitation. Multistoried buildings could be seen only on the low gently sloping hills further away. This place is large with undulating hills and valleys. It is difficult to imagine upper Dharamshala ever becoming crowded in future.

Open cropland and low hills Dharamshala

Open cropland and low hills Dharamshala

Dharamshala was important once, lost the prominence in between, but again regained it now. It is the district headquarters and also the Tibetan center. It has the only airport in this region. Naturally it would grow, but having the expanse and multiple suitable locations at various altitudes, it is growing without diminishing its natural beauty much.

At last when I said, “Okay I agree. I think there will be enough for me to request your hospitality in future,” my friend smiled.

Location & Description

Dharamshala is under Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh in the Western Himalayas. It is about 18 kms from Kangra and is its district headquarters. Its name originated from a pilgrim’s resting place situated on the way to Dhauldhar.

Over the years it has grown to a city that is spread out in the upper reaches of long and beautiful Kangra valley. Though it has an operational airport with daily flights from Delhi, an International Cricket Stadium and modern market place in lower Dharamshala, it still is surrounded by relatively dense forests of tall Himalayan Deodar and Oak in its outskirts.

The range of Dhauladhar surrounds the valley adding grandeur to it. The nearness of Dhauladhar lends Dharamsala with the unique distinction of being the only hill-station in India from which one can access the snowline in about a day’s trek.

How to reach

To Dharamshala by Road

Being a major city and hill-station in Himachal Pradesh, by road you can reach Dharamshala by bus or by car from many cities in North India such as Pathankot, Jammu, Chandigarh, Delhi, Amritsar, Manali, Shimla or Chamba.

Pathankot to Dharamshala by road

By Pathankot Mandi road it is about 95 kms to Dharamshala from Pathankot and the road condition being generally good it should take you about two hours to reach Dharamshala by car. Himachal State Transport buses and taxis for hire are available at Pathankot.

Jammu to Dharamshala by road

From Jammu to Pathankot it would be NH-1A, rest you know—total distance would be about 200 kms. NH-1A being a national highway average speed on this stretch should be higher and you should be able to reach Dharamshala by about three and a half hours by car. We had traveled this way. You would also get regular bus service for Dharamshala from Jammu.

Chandigarh to Dharamshala by road

You can approach Dharamshala from Chandigarh also as it is about 250 kms and four and half hours drive away by car. That is comfortable as the way is mostly along national highways. You would get Haryana State Transport buses from Chandigarh as well as cars for hire.

New Delhi to Dharamshala by road

It is a long drive of 500 to 550 kms from New Delhi to Dharamshala that would take you nine to nine and a half hours by car. There is not much point in wasting so much time traveling through the plains when your destination is a prime hill-station in the Himalayas unless under special conditions. You would get regular bus services from New Delhi to Dharamshala.

Amritsar to Dharamshala by road

Amritsar and Jammu are nearly at similar distances of about 200 km by road from Dharamshala. To come from Amritsar you need to take first NH-15 and then from Pathankot take Pathankot Mandi route as before. It should take you three and half hours by car.

Manali to Dharamshala by road

Shorter route is by NH-21 and then Highway 154 through Naggar, Kullu, Mandi and Palampur. You won’t have to come through Pathankot as Manali is on east of Dharamshala whereas Pathankot is on the west. The distance is about 250 kms and it should take you about four hours by car.

Shimla to Dharamshala by road

From Shimla to Dharamshala by the shortest route it would be about 250 kms and it should take you about four and a half hours by car. Bus service is also available.

Chamba to Dharamshala by road

Chamba is near Dalhousie and it is only about 140 kms away from Dharamshala by the shortest route. You should reach Dharamshala from Chamba by about three and a half hours.

Bus service is also available from Chamba to Dharamshala.

To Dharamshala by Rail

The nearest railway station is Pathankot. It is a major railway junction in North India and is connected to most of the major cities in the country. You would get State Transport buses as well as cars for hire from Pathankot.

To Dharamshala by Air

The nearest airport is Gaggal about 13 kms away. But being a small airport in a hill-station, only smaller aircrafts ply in this route and flights are few. You might decide to come by air to either Jammu or Amritsar. Both, being major airports, have more flights.

Where to stay—hotels and Guest houses

Dharamshala commanding a large spread out area with a number of suburbs and also being the headquarters of Kangra district, it boasts of quite a large number of hotels spread out all across. Because of its all-seasons nature and many attractions, tourist traffic is heavy here. We have listed here 63 government run and private hotels from information collected from public domain. The list has no specific order and we are not in a position to say anything good or bad about any of the entries. Even we would like to say that the list is only an indicative one and may not be fully accurate or totally exhaustive.

Himachal Tourist Development Corporation

Website: Himachal Tourist Development corporation: hptdc.in: The new website is very well made and rich with information and guidelines. It contains Trip planning and Hotel booking facilities as well. It has its own hotel chain with very good facilities.

  1. The Dhauladhar, Kotwali Bazar, Dharamsala (H.P.) - 176215. Tel: (01892) 224926, 224927 Fax: 01892 - 22492
  2. The Bhagsu, Mcleodganj, Dharamsala (H.P.) - 176219. Tel: (01892) - 221091, 221092
  3. The Club House, Mcleodganj, Dharamsala (H.P.) - 176219. Tel: (01892) - 220834
  4. The Kashmir House, Dharamsala (H.P.)-176215. Tel: (01892) – 222977
  5. The Kunal, near bus station, Dharamsala (H.P.) - 176215. Tel: (01892) - 223163

Private hotels

  1. Hotel Sapphire, McLeodGanj
  2. Hotel Upper City Heart, Naddi
  3. Hotel Clouds End Villa & Cottages, Naroji Road
  4. Una Comfort Nandini-Dharmshala, Naddi
  5. Leisure Vacations Karnika Resort, Khaniyara Road
  6. G K Conifer, Civil Lines
  7. Imperial Heights Resorts, in the village of Khaniyara
  8. Udechee Huts, near Dal Lake
  9. The Exotica, Khanyara Indru Nag Road, Near Paragliding Point
  10. Victoriya Palace, Dal Lake, Naddi
  11. Hotel Asian Plaza, main Chowk, McLeodGanj
  12. Hotel the Origin, Khaniyara Road, McLeodGanj
  13. Villa Paradisso on Jogiwara Road, McLeodGanj
  14. New Varuni House on Temple Road, McLeodGanj
  15. Greenwoods Inn, Green Valley, DharamKot Road, McLeodGanj
  16. McLeodGanj Homestay, McLeodGanj
  17. Hotel Sahiwa, McLeodGanj
  18. Dharamshala -The Sanctuary – A Sterling Holidays resort, Molhi, Near Norbulingka Sidhpur-Khanyara Road
  19. Hotel Holiday Hill, Dharamshala
  20. Bob’n Barley, near Sunset point, Dharamshala
  21. UNA Comfort Great Himalayan Adventure Resort, McLeodGanj
  22. Snow Crest Inn, near Dal lake
  23. Aveda Dharmshala, overlooking cricket stadium
  24. Hotel Oak Valley, McLeodGanj
  25. Hill Queen, McLeodGanj
  26. Asia Health Resort, Dharamshala
  27. Moon Walk Residency, McLeodGanj
  28. Surya McLeod, McLeodGanj
  29. Hotel Gandhi’s Paradise on Dharamkot Road near starting point of trek route to Triund
  30. Spring Valley Resorts, near Bhagsunag Temple
  31. Hotel Country Lodge, Ramnagar
  32. Hotel Pong View, Cantt. Road, with a view of Pong Dam
  33. Hotel Morainic Hills in Bhgsunag
  34. The Horizon Villa South, McLeodGanj
  35. 9 Chimes, near Bhagsu Park
  36. Staywell Hotel, Kirpu More, Kotwali Bazar
  37. Snow Crest Inn, near Dal lake
  38. Hotel Valley View Crest, Naddi
  39. Himgiri Resorts, Naddi
  40. Pema Thang Guest House, McLeodGanj
  41. Bella Heights, McLeodGanj
  42. Hotel Deodar Villa, McLeodGanj
  43. Hotel Amandeep, McLeodGanj
  44. Hotel Pink House, McLeodGanj
  45. Pause Dwelling Place, McLeodGanj
  46. Hotel Highland, Bhagsu, McLeodGanj
  47. Hotel Centre Point, near Dal lake
  48. Aakriti Hotel, Cantt. Road
  49. Hotel Anand Palace, McLeodGanj
  50. Hotel Grand Hill, McLeodGanj
  51. Hotel Sahima, Naddi Road
  52. Vikrant Hotel & Restaurant, Bhagsunag, McLeodGanj
  53. Hotel Eco Nest, Bhagsunag, McLeodGanj
  54. Ess & Bee Resort, Dal Lake
  55. Pawan Guest House, McLeodGanj
  56. Hotel Anuj Residency, Bhagsunag, McLeodGanj
  57. Hotel Whispering Pines, Village Kalapul
  58. Sky Pie Guest House, Bhagsu

Most of the private hotels and a few government run hotels are located in the upper reaches of Dharamshala and locations are usually chosen to offer a grand Dhauladhar view or valley view from the hotel.

Climate, Altitude and best time to visit Dharamshala

The altitude of Dharamshala is between 4000 and 5000 feet with its famous suburb McLeodGanj lying at about 6500 feet. Because of proximity of snowline, temperature falls below zero degree C during winter but during June temperature rises as high as 38 degrees C. During winter it snows and heavy woolens and jackets for protection from wind are needed.

Rains are heavy here and this region records reportedly the second highest rainfall in India. With such variation in weather conditions and proximity of snow peaks, Dharamshala is a specially endowed hill-station in the Himalayas to visit.

This is a kind of all-season hill station with snowy winter from December to February for snow lovers, comfortable with flowers blooming from March to June for most tourists, heavy rains in the hills during July and August for the romantic and fresh green valley with temperature dipping for trekking, paragliding and other sightseeing during September to November.

Predictably, March to June is the tourist season not only for Dharamshala but for most hill-stations in Indian Himalayas and so is the most crowded period of the year.
To me highlight of March to June would be the blooming flowers but I would miss the heavily snow-clad mountains so near in winter and also the freshly washed air and sparkling green of the forests of post-rains pre-winter period. Though heavy rains in such environment might feel romantic for a few days, but you would miss most other attractions of the place as also moving amongst the hills as road condition would be unpredictable.

What to see at Dharamshala

Outsiders visit Dharamshala for tourism and for work. But even if a person had come for work he may find some time to go around and relax. Dharamshala has markets for shopping, temples for religious minded, Tibetan Center has a special attraction for all. Adjoining attractive scenic spots, comfortable trekking routes, adventure sports such as paragliding and other natural attractions should keep you pleasurably ocupied. If you go for an outing or work, you would have something for you in and around the city to give you pleasure.

Places of tourist interest at Dharamshala

Dhauladhar 

In suitable weather, preferably between March and June, one could undertake a day-long trek to Dhauladhar snow point from Dharamshala.

Triund

This is a hill point about 9 kms from McLeodGanj and is called the Crown Jewel of Dharamshala because of its great view. It is one day’s trek from McLeodGanj through very scenic route. There are a number of good quality staying places at Triund, and it is most frequented by groups of trekkers, though with its high and unique location, you can just relax enjoying the magnificient mountain view all around.

Triund trekking is a short distance one and said to be tranquil and easy except for the last 1 km where you may need to go slow with occasional stops and hot tea from roadside tea shops. 

McLeodGanj 

This suburb of Dharamshala is about 5 kms from Dharamshala and is situated in the upper reaches of the Dhauladhar spur. Its altitude being higher the British preferred this place for stay. Old constructions still exist here. The scenic beauty from here is also excellent. But the most important factor making McLeodGanj an international tourist destination is the 14th Dalai Lama who moved Tibet in exile administration from Mussorie to this place and subsequently influx of Tibetan refugees and Tibetan language students made McLeodGanj the Little Lhasa.

Kangra art museum

This is in Kotwali Bazar and an important tourist attraction. Here rare artifacts dating back to 5th century are displayed along with Kangra’s famous miniature paintings and sculpture.

Kunal Pathri

It is a 3 km walk from Dharamshala to a temple through picturesque tea gardens. The major attraction in Kunal Pathri is the temple of Mata Kunal Pathri.

International Cricket stadium 

The International Cricket Stadium is beautifully positioned with a grand view of the Dhauladhar range.

Dal Lake

This lake, about 11 kms from Dharamshala and surrounded by Deodars is a beautiful scenic spot popular for picnickers. The name of Dal lake is taken from its more famous cousin in Kashmir.

Bhagsunath 

Bhagsunath is popular for its waterfall and temple. It is an ancient temple with nearby fresh springs and famous slate quarries. This place is only 11 kms away from Dharamshala and a favorite picnic spot with a waterfall straight ahead with a spectacular view.

Chinmaya Tapovan 

Chinmay Tapovan is an ashram complex established by late Swami Chinmayananda. It is 10 km from Dharamshala on the banks of the rivulet Bindusaras.

Temples 

The old temples of Jwalamukhi, Chamunda Devi and Brijeshwari Devi are close to Dharamshala.

Nurpur 

66 kms away are the old fort of Nurpur and the famous temple of Brijraj.

Bir and Billing 

Bir has Buddhist monasteries and fine Tibetan handicrafts. Billing is 14 km from Bir at a higher altitude. Billing is the take-off site and Bir is the landing site for paragliders. Bir has an arena of 200 km for high altitude and cross country paraglider flying, and is considered one of the best in the world for paragliding. Bir and Billing offer spectacular scenic beauty.

Local People

The local people are accommodative and helpful. Generally the city of Dharamshala is easygoing, though due to modernization, typed characteristics are creeping in.

What to do at Dharamshala - Activities

Trekking 

Apart from 1 day’s snow line trekking to Dhauladhar, there are other trekking routes. One can trek to McLeodGanj, Chamba, Bharmour, Indrahar pass and Kareri Lake among others.

Rock climbing 

During May June, rock climbing can be done in Dhauladhar.

Paragliding 

Dharamshala is famous for paragliding and the Bir Billing paragliding locations earned world fame for this adventure sport.

Walking & sightseeing 

Most tourists won’t undertake though the adventure sports and rather enjoy the scenic beauty while walking on the mountain roads or occupy themselves with sightseeing.

Nearby places

Kangra, Chamba, Dalhousie, Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary, Bharmour, Kareri lake are all nearby places with tourist attractions. Some of these are popular and some not so much, but all are accessible easily by car, or on foot.

Ideal for

Summer holiday visits, family visits, adventure sports, winter sports, or plain relaxing away from the madding crowds. There are times and places in Dharamshala for tourists of all inclinations including honeymoon couples of course.

Parting words

When you approach Dharamshala by road, a little before entering the city you would be struck by the breathtaking view of Dhauladhar range over the tall Deodars and soon you would notice on the right first signs of Dharamshala on low hillsides.

Dharamshala shows up

Dharamshala shows up

Within a short time you would be traveling along city roads lined up by multistoried buildings and well-stocked shops. That is Kotwali Bazar at lower Dharamshala. Most of the offices are located in this area and the major bus terminus is also here only. But this is the central Dharamshala so to say. As you move nearer to the Dhauladhar along a rising and turning road you would start to feel less crowded with space around opening up and majestic Dhauladhar coming nearer enchanting you.

Wherever you decide to stay, you would be able to see Dhauladhar and within ten to fifteen kms you would reach the suburbs peaceful amidst pristine nature. The nearness of the snow line, massive peaks clad in snow in winter and places to stay and see at various altitudes nearby along with its unique all-season climate make Dharamshala a more than one visit destination.

 

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Trip time: 
February 2011
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Dharamshala HP
India
32° 13' 8.5512" N, 76° 19' 24.2544" E
Himachal Pradesh IN