Dharamsala & Mcleod Ganj
Many travelers come here, and the atmosphere is like that in Kathmandu. This is where the Dalai Lama lives with his followers. It is located at an altitude between 1200m and 1800m, so it is a pleasant place to come in the summer, but the winters gets very cold. Located in a beautiful area, it is a nice place to take a walk around the countryside.
The town is divided into a lower part and upper part, which is called McLeod Ganj, 10km above Dharamsala. Most visitors stay in McLeod Ganj. The Tibetan Government in Exile is located at Gangchen Kyishong, four km from Dharamsala.
The accommodations in Dharamsala are not so good, and the only reason to stay here is that you have an early morning bus or you arrive late. Most people immediately head up to McLeod Ganj. The busy season is from March to June. It is especially crowded in late Feb or early March during the Tibetan New Year.
The useful HPTDC Tourist Office is close to the Dhauladhar Hotel and the bus stand. Open Mon to Sat 10 am to 5 pm.
Himachal Pradesh Tourism has two luxury bus tours daily (during the season) from Dharamsala. One goes to McLeod Ganj, Jawalamukhi, Kangra Temple and the Fort in Kangra (10 am to 7 pm, Rs 100). The other tour goes to Bhagsunath, Dal Lake, Tapovan, Talnu, and Chamunda (9 am to 5 pm).
Kangra Art Museum
This museum has Kangra style paintings and embroidered outfits worn by tribal people of Kangra. Open daily except Mon 10 am to 5 pm; free.
Air There is an airport at Gaggal (15km), from where there are flights to Delhi via Kullu.
Train The nearest broad gauge railway station is at Pathankot (4 hr).
Bus Buses to Shimla (11 hr) depart in the morning and late afternoon. There is a deluxe bus to Delhi (14 hr) and Shimla (7 am). There are buses to Mandi (6 hr), Kullu (10 hr), Manali (13 hr), Dehra Dun (one daily at 9 pm), Chandigarh (9 hr), Dalhousie (6 hr), Chamba (8 hr), and Pathankot (4 hr, hourly). From Pathankot you can get a bus to Amritsar (3 hr).
Norbulinka, 4km from Dharamsala, was established to preserve Buddhist teachings and traditional Tibetan art. Done here is thangka painting, carving and embroidery. It is set in a nice garden. Courses in the Tibetan language and Buddhism are offered at this place.
McLeod Ganj is a popular place with travelers. It is the home of the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, and is where the Tibetan Government in Exile is located. It is a friendly and good place to spend some time. You will need warm cloths here at night, even during the summer. It rains heavily during the rainy season from July to the beginning of September. During the winter is can get very cold.
The main area of the town is where the bus stand is located. From there, roads extend in different directions. Two roads go south, parallel with each other, one going past St John in the Wilderness Church to Dharamsala. Just south of the bus stand is the Temple and Prayer Wheels. From the bus stand a road goes east to Bhagsu and a road heads north to Dharamkot and the Tushita Retreat Meditation Centre.
South of the bus stand is the main bazaar. Temple Rd goes south to Tsuglagkhang (the Dalai Lama’s Temple) and another roads goes south to Gangchen Kyishong, about 3km south, pass the village of Jogibara.
Every year in February or March the Dalai Lama usually gives classes, which are open to the public. I was told he also may give classes in June. You may request to have a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama by contacting his secretary, whose office in next to his residence in McLeod Ganj. You are supposed to ask for an appointment at least four months in advance, because his schedule is so busy. Very few people are granted a private audience, as the Dalai Lama’s secretary receives many requests every day.
Most people can only count on attending a public audience, where he personally greets and shakes the hand of up to one thousand people at one time. It is difficult to know in advance when an audience will be, because they are usually only announced several days in advance. To come to a public audience, you have to fill in a form and present you passport in advance at the Branch Security Office on Bhagsu Rd near the Hotel Tibet, above the Welfare Office in McLeod Ganj. I was told that he gives a public audience once a month when he is in McLeod Ganj.
When I went to a public audience, I was told the day before that it would be at 10 am. I came at 9.15 am and there was a line. At 9.30 am everyone started to go through a security check. You are not allow to carry anything in for the audience, including a camera or a cigarette lighter. Anything you are carrying has to be checked in with security. When you enter, the audience takes place in front of the Dalai Lama’s residence, directly in front of you as you come up the hill, not to your right. When I went for audience, it began around 10.20 am. The Dalai Lama shakes hands with everyone, but I did not see him talk to anyone. I highly recommend the experience.
Regional Mountaineering Centre
This place, on the road to Dharamkot, about a 15-minute walk north of town, can give information on mountain climbing and trekking in the Kangra and Chamba Valleys. They have a book with a detailed description with basic maps of the treks in the area and Survey of India trekking maps. The people here are serious and helpful.
You can take a Vipasana course at the Dhamma Sikhara Himachal Vipasana Meditation Centre in Dharamkot. You have to be silent during these courses and follows all the rules and programs. They are very popular in the spring and summer, so they should be booked in advance. You have to apply in person between 3 and 4 pm, or you can fill in the application form by e-mail. The address is Dhamma Sikhara, McLeod Ganj 176219, Dharamsala, Dist Kangra, HP. The courses are free, but a student can give a donation after they finish the course.
The Tushita Retreat Centre, past the Regional Mountaineering Centre in Dharamkot, a twenty-minute walk from town, offers Buddhist residential courses. They should be booked in advance. There is a library, and books on Buddhism can be purchased here. The office is open Mon to Sat 9.30 am to 11.30 pm and 1 to 4.30 pm.
You can study Tibetan performing art at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), a 15-minute walk from town.
Tsuglagkhang (Dalai Lama’s Temple and Residence)
This is the most important Buddhist place in McLeod Ganj. It has a 3m high statue of Shakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha), and a statue of Avalokiteswara (the Tibetan deity of compassion), of whom the Dalai Lama is considered to be an incarnation. There is also a statue of Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche), who came to Tibet in the 8th century and established Buddhism there. Each afternoon Buddhist monks come here and engage in philosophical discussions.
There is a new museum called the Tibet Museum at the Tsuglagkhang Complex, which exhibits the Tibetan problems with the Chinese, starting in 1950 until the exile of the Dalai Lama.
Located here are sacred texts known as the Khagyur (translated from Sanskrit), which are based on the Buddha’s teachings. Also there is the Tangyur, which are translations of commentaries of Buddha’s teachings that include works of philosophy, medicine and astrology.
The Residence of the Dalai Lama is next to the temple.
There is a nice path that goes around the temple and the place where the Dalai Lama lives. It has some prayer wheels, prayer flags and mani stones. This walk should be done clockwise.
To get here follow the road to Dharamsala and look for a sign that says Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, when the roads bears left and down.
Dip Tse-Chok Ling Gompa
This interesting gompa is located down a road past the Om Guest House. Located here is a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha and two gigantic drums made by monks here. There are some excellent butter sculptures, which are made during Losar (Tibetan New Year) and then destroyed the next year during Losar.
St John in the Wilderness Church is a little south of McLeod Ganj on the road to Dharamsala. Open 8 am to 5 pm.
The Library of Tibetan Works, at Gangchen Kyishong, south of town, has a good collection of Tibetan literature and manuscripts. It has original Tibetan manuscripts, Buddhist statues, Mandalas, photos, and a reference library about the Himalayan area. Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy courses can be taken here. Open Mon to Fri 9 am to 5 pm.
The Tibetan Medical & Astrological Institute is at Gangchen Kyishong, just south of town, about a five-minute walk from the Tibetan Library. There is a museum and a library. Tibetan medicine and astrology are taught here. You can have a lifetime horoscope done. Medicines are made from herbs, semiprecious stones and sometimes animal products.
Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) promotes the Tibetan performing arts. There is a three-day festival beginning on 27 May, the anniversary of the foundation of the Institute. In April, the TIPA has a festival with dancing and drama.
There are many nice walks in the area and the views are very good. The walk to the village of Dharamkot is good and there are some nice views from there. You could then walk to Bhagsu and then back to McLeod Ganj. The walk to Bhagsu is good and there is a Siva temple and a small waterfall there.
The 8km walk to Triund (2825m) brings you to the foot of the Dhauladhar range. There are some great views from Triund. It is a fairly steep walk to get there. From this place you can walk another 6km to Ilaqa.
From Jogibara, a village between McLeod Ganj and Gangcehn Kyishong, a path leads to the end of the ridge, from where there is a good view of Dharamsala and the area.
The shops here have a good selection of Tibetan items.
The Office of Tibetan Handicrafts, opposite the State Bank of India, has Tibetan bags, hats and chubas (Tibetan dresses). The Tibetan Handicrafts Society, opposite, makes Tibetan carpets.
The Green Shop, on the road to Bhagsu, sells natural products, rechargeable batteries, hand-painted T-shirts, environmental books and filtered and boiled water.
Tara Herbal Gift Shop, near the bus stand, has Tibetan incense and books on Tibetan medicine.
Where to Stay
Dharamsala is very popular and many hotels are often full, especially in May and June, and in March when His Holiness the Dalai Lama gives classes.
There are buses from the bus stand every half-hour to Dharamsala between 4.30 am and 8 pm.
Air The closest airport is in Gaggal, 15km south of Dharamsala, from where there are flights to Delhi via Kullu.
There is a railway station in Nagrota (20km south) that is on the narrow gauge line going between Pathankot and Jogindernagar. It takes five hours to get to Pathankot and it is much faster to take the bus. The four-hour ride between Nagrota and Jogindernagar is an interesting ride through the Kangra Valley. It gives you a good view of the Dhauladhar Range in the north. It stops in Palampur (1 hr) and Baijnath (2 hr). Trains from Nagrota to Jogindernagar depart at 7 am and 2 pm.