Turning 30 is a milestone. You just cannot let it pass by without celebrating in whatever way catches your fancy. At least that has been the explanation for my numerous travel plans in 2017, as it is the year for most of my friends, including me, hitting the 30s. Like the wise say, travel is the only thing that makes you richer, and so for a new beginning, it was only apt that we chose a destination from our wishlist and planned a holiday. So one such ‘turning 30’ option was Dharamsala, probably in the pursuit of some inner peace. Dharamsala, the exile town of the Dalai Lama, is a popular tourist destination for various reasons. Be it to soak in the Tibetan culture, spend time at the monastery, indulge in Himalayan food with the likes of Momos and Thukpas, trek up to gorgeous spots to catch a glimpse of The Himalayas or just laze around tuning into the gentle swaying of the Deodar Cedar trees, it’s a hill station for all kinds of travellers. Bustling with modern cafes and interesting restaurants, food lovers have much to explore too besides the local fare – Italian, European, Asian, Indian, Israeli and more! Our agenda for the trip was clear right from the start and it was to stay away from the town and the hustle bustle. Therefore, we decided to spend less time in Dharamsala and Mcleodganj, and instead made our way further up towards a little village called Dharamkot, also known as the Israeli hub. Dharamkot is about six kilometers uphill of Mcleodganj, and offers plenty of stay options for budget travellers. Once you are there, you don’t really feel the need to venture out. You can make your way to one of the many laidback cafes, pick a quiet spot in their floor seating (with mattresses!) and completely relax and not be bothered at all. Then there are flavour-packed Israeli dishes like Shakshuka, Hummus, Falafel, Shawarma and others to keep you company.
Quaint and clam, Dal lake is filled with greenish water. The lake is shielded by the rugged mountains and luscious forest of deodar trees. On the bank of the Dal lake, tourists can see the famous Shiva temple. Dal lake is mostly visited by tourist during the month of September as a fair is organized on the bank of the lake which is attended by the people of the Gaddi tribe in a large number. The fair is celebrated to mark the presence of Lord Shiva. Dal lake is a perfect site to laze around with picnic baskets as one can enjoy boating and many other activities. Flanked by lush greenery and blooming trees, the placid Dal Lake is counted amongst the major tourist attractions of McLeod Ganj.
St. John in the Wilderness Church
St. John in the Wilderness, built in 1852, is one of the most important churches in Himachal Pradesh. Located near Dharamshala and on the way to Mcleodganj, this neo-gothic church was built in dedication to John the Baptist. Set amidst lush deodar forests, this peaceful edifice is known for its Belgian stained-glass windows. The eccentric church was built in dense woods which is why it is famous as 'St John in the Wilderness'. One of the oldest built structure of Dharamsala, this is also the final resting place of Lord Ergin, one of the governor generals and also viceroy of India during the British Raj. This St. John in the Wilderness Church should not be confused with the church of the same name located in Nainital, Uttarakhand.
Library of Tibetan Works and Archives
With artifacts and manuscripts that date back to the 12th century, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives is one the pioneering institutions in the study and research of Buddhism. With as many as 80,000 manuscripts, 600 Buddhist artifacts including beautifully crafted silk applique thangkas and a three dimensional, wood carved mandala of the Avalokiteshwara, one of the most revered and compassionate Bodhisattva in Buddhism. With an air of peace and serenity descending upon people who visit the museum, it is indeed a calming experience to visitors of this offbeat museum in India.
The War Memorial in Dharamshala, seating ideally in the in forests of the hill town, is created to commemorate the memory of those who fought for saving our motherland. During the Indo-China War of 1947-48, 1962, 1965, and 1971, and UN Peace Operations, many brave soldiers of Kangra lost their lives as war heroes, and the War Memorial in Dharamshala, made of three huge panels of black stone (each 24 feet high), preserves their memory in stone. The War Memorial is surrounded by poetic pine forests of Dharamshala, leading to the lush gardens through a quaint walkway. Look out for the names of the martyred soldiers etched on the stone panels. You can have some refreshments from the nearby cafe serving snacks, and visit the GPC college which is situated closeby.
Dharamshala Cricket Stadium
Nestled in the lap of the majestic Himalayan mountain range lies the quaint little Dharamshala Cricket Stadium. Located at the height of 1,457 meters above sea level, it is one of the highest sports grounds in the world. Visiting a cricket stadium while in Dharamshala may sound like a strange thing to add to one’s itinerary, but the magnificent natural backdrop and the cool winds constantly drifting across the grounds is what makes a trip to HPCA Stadium (as it is also known) worth it. Indigo skies, an eternal stream of the fresh mountain breeze, and the vast expanse of lush green field offer a sensory experience like no other. With a view comparable to the Adelaide Oval or Newlands, this stadium competes with the best in terms of its magnificence. Operated under the auspices of Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, the Cricket Stadium of Dharamshala situated amidst the Dhauladhar mountain range in Kangra valley often serves as the practice ground for the Indian Cricket Team, Himachal Pradesh state-level cricket team, as well as Indian Premier League (IPL) team Kings XI Punjab. It has several modern-day amenities for hosting national and international level cricket matches, with the capacity to seat a crowd of approximately 23,000. The atmosphere is fused with a serene Tibetan aura, as seen in the architectural style of the main stand. This would be an expected scenario, considering the stadium has been set up in Dharamshala, the Indian home of Dalai Lama. Perhaps the best part of attending a match at the majestic Dharamshala Cricket Stadium would be that there is no fence in front of the seating area, providing an unobstructed view of the match. The administration is polite, and the area is quite well-maintained, which makes for a pleasant, hassle-free visit. A constant internal battle is what will tear you apart – shall I look at the mountains or the match? If you are simply visiting the attraction as part of an extended tour, you are in luck! The stadium is open for tourists even when no matches are scheduled, so do make sure to stop by and soak in the beauty.
The little hippie village of Dharamkot is located near Dharamshala and Mcleodganj, but unlike these places, Dharamkot is a quaint town not visited by a lot of tourists. Popular as the Yoga Village, it is ideal to spend some time away, meditating in peace. The tiny hamlet is blessed with astounding views of the nearby Kangra Valley the mighty Dhauladhar ranges. Home to the Dhamma Shikhara Vipassana Meditation Centre and Tushita Buddhist Meditation Centre, Dharamkot manages to maintain a fine balance between a serene yoga retreat town, and an adventurist's oasis. Trekking is one of the most popular activities at Dharamkot as it is the base to some of the popular hikes in the region including the Triund and Indraprahar Pass trek. This is probably why the tiny town is said to be a haven and a must-visit for backpackers and travellers. However, if you are someone who is looking for a relaxed holiday and prefer not to hike or walk around, avoid visiting Dharamkot. There is a single narrow pathway connecting the entire town, leading to and ending at the "Trek and Dine Cafe"
Shopping in Mcleodganj
McLeodganj is famous for its culture, crafts, etc. and tourists flock in from different parts of the world to experience it and be a part of it. The shopping experience in McLeodganj is worth remembering, provided you know how to bargain and purchase the local items of the place such as Tibetan mats and carpets. If you're planning a visit there, see the sights, soak in the scenery, sample the local food and before leaving, grab some souvenirs and gifts from the local markets to carry the feeling and memories of Mcleodganj home with you. As a bonus point, many of the stores on our list give part or all of their proceeds to local relief organisations.
Surrounded by lovely pools and lush greenery, the Bhagsunag Temple is one of the oldest ancient temples located about 3 kilometres from Mcleodganj. Also popularly known as Bhagsunath Temple, it is highly revered by the local Gorkha and Hindu community. The two pools around the temple are believed to be sacred and are considered to contain miraculous powers of healing. The grand temple is also surrounded by major tourist attractions, such as the Dal Lake and the Kotwali Bazaar. In fact, the Bhagsunath Temple is situated on the way to the famous Bhagsu Waterfalls, and thus tourists make it a point to stop by at the temple and seek the blessings of the Almighty before they proceed further on their journey According to popular legends, Nag Devta or the Snake God was enraged when King Bhagsu dared to steal water from the sacred Nag Dal Lake that is located in Mcleodganj. Later, King Bhagsu repented his deeds and built the temple to seek forgiveness from the Snake God. The Bhagsunath Temple, thus, is built in reverence of the Nag Devta. According to certain other legends, it is widely believed and accepted that the Bhagsunag Temple is a result of the patronage that was offered by a specific Gorkha community that is known by the name of Bhagsuwala, after the name of the God Bhagsunag. It is also believed that the community members built the two pools of water that are located here with tiger-head spouts. The construction of the double-storey wooden house that is located here for the pilgrims to stay is also credited to the same community. Things To Do at Bhagsunath Temple -Take a dip in the chilly waters of the holy pond, which is also known as the 'jalkund'. -There is also a well-maintained swimming pool for the general public in front of the sacred pond, where you can enjoy a swim. -After offering prayers, you can either proceed to the Bhagsunag Waterfalls or merely sit back and enjoy the stillness and tranquillity of the temple and its vicinity.
Located in the suburban district of McLeodganj in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, is the famous Tibetan Museum which is very popular. Regarded as the official museum of the Central Tibetan Administration Department of Information and International Relations, is located very close to the popular temple of Dalai Lama, popularly known as Tsuglagkhang, where His Holiness resides. The Tibet Museum is purely a work of Tibetan workmanship which incorporates history reports, earthenware, handiworks and various canvases. Built in a traditional yellow and white Tibetan style of engineering, the exterior of the museum radiates positive energy which compels people to visit and explore what the museum has to offer. Regarded as the official museum of The Central Tibetan Administration Department of Information and International Relations, the Tibetan Museum aims to raise awareness about the occupation of Tibet, human rights abuses committed by China and how Tibet overcame all other struggles put before them. The interior of the museum is filled with various exhibitions, documentary screenings, talk series, photographs and workshops along a single line and it is always buzzing with people who visit them. A video is also shown which highlights the journey of Tibet into the Himalayas which is very interesting to watch. Due to the exhibitions and workshops conducted, the Tibet Museum teaches children a lot about the Tibetan culture and is thus, an ideal place for them to enhance their knowledge and have fun at the same time.
Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, is believed to have his abode at Namgyal Monastery in Mcleodganj which is also the largest Tibetan temple outside Tibet. The serenity and ambience that this place creates in the minds of its visitors are enough to attract even those who are not inclined towards this religion. The Namgyal Monastery is often referred to as "Dalai Lama's Temple" as it is the personal monastery of the 14th Dalai Lama. The foundation of Namgyal Monastery was laid down in the 16th century by the second Dalai Lama and was set up for the monks to help Dalai Lama in religious affairs. The monks residing here in the monastery carry out practices for the well-being of Tibet and work as a centre of learning and meditation on the Buddhist philosophical exposition. Also known as Namgyal Tantric College, it currently houses 200 monks who work towards protecting the practices, skills, and traditions of the monastery. The study of the languages Tibetan and English, texts of Sutra and Tantra, Buddhist philosophy, sand mandalas, ritual chanting, and dances are all included in the study of Buddhism.
The Bhagsu Waterfall is perhaps the most famous tourist spot in Dharamshala and attracts tourists who wish to revel in the glories of nature and spend some quiet moments in peace and serenity. The Bhagsunag Waterfall is located on the main road which connects Mcleodganj and Dharamshala and is an ideal location for picnicking with family and loved ones. The prime attraction here is the famous Bhagsunath Temple. The waterfall starts at the base of the Dhauladhar Valley, which is also considered to be a religious spot. Before cascading down, the stream also passes through the famous Bhagsunath Temple. The Bhagsu Fall reaches the peak of its glory and majesty during the monsoon season when the water falls from a height of around 30 feet and looks captivating and breathtakingly beautiful. The cafes and coffee houses nearby serve lip-smacking food and light refreshments, and tourists especially love to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee, while viewing the gorgeous Bhagsunag Waterfall. Bathing in the waterfall is also possible, but the water is freezing at times for the normal human body to handle. The trek that leads up to the waterfall is yet another unparalleled experience.
Kareri Lake Trek
Kareri Lake is located approximately 40 kilometers North of Dharamsala and in the Dhauladhar Range. The route is filled with beautiful green vegetation and flora unique to the Himalayas. To get here, you need to start trekking from Ghera village. Ghera is easily accessible from Dharamshala as you get regular buses to Ghera. From Ghera, the trek to Kareri Lake takes about 8 to 9 hours. The route is narrow and tough at times. It’s not as popular as Triund or Bhagsu Nag treks thus making it more of an untrodden path. There are a lot of camping places in Kareri to spend the night here and you can return to Dharamsala next morning. Best time to participate: Summer because the trail will be less tough to trek through.
The beautiful contours and the hilly terrain make for an incredible camping experience in and around Dharamsala. The clear skies and the fresh air enrich the camping experience and make it more enjoyable. A lot of shops provide camping equipment in Dharamsala or you can opt to carry your own. The trail between Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj makes for a great camping spot and one often encounters scores of campers here. You can also camp a little after McLeod Ganj which is less populated and more peaceful. However, it does restrict the amenities one can avail nearby. Best time to participate: Summer and spring because the terrain will be easier to camp in.
Triund is located north of Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj is often termed as the crown jewel of Dharamsala. Triund hill offers a stunning view of Dhauladhar Mountains on one side and Kangra Valley on the other side. The trek requires one to reach McLeod Ganj and hire a taxi from there to Galu. You can also go to Bhagsu Nag and start the trek from there. The trek takes you through stunning forests that are lined with various trees that are unique to high-temperature areas. You will also cross steep mountains and curves as you brave your way to Triund summit. Along the way are a lot of establishments that serve beverages and light snacks making your trek much easier. This is a trek not for the faint of heart and should not be taken lightly either. The trek is worth it though as the view from the top makes up for the hardships of the way. Best time to participate: Summer because the trail will be less tough to trek through.
Though not many people are aware of this attraction earlier, it is only from the past few years that Dharamkot Waterfalls has gained much fame. Considered to be a haven for the adventure enthusiasts who love trekking and hiking, one can reach this waterfall by trekking from the point of Gallu ka Mandir in Dharamkot. Yet to be explored by the world full of travelers, it is indeed one of the serene waterfalls in Himachal Pradesh. Location: Bounthu, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh 176218
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