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
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
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.
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
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.
- The Dhauladhar, Kotwali Bazar, Dharamsala (H.P.) - 176215. Tel: (01892) 224926, 224927 Fax: 01892 - 22492
- The Bhagsu, Mcleodganj, Dharamsala (H.P.) - 176219. Tel: (01892) - 221091, 221092
- The Club House, Mcleodganj, Dharamsala (H.P.) - 176219. Tel: (01892) - 220834
- The Kashmir House, Dharamsala (H.P.)-176215. Tel: (01892) – 222977
- The Kunal, near bus station, Dharamsala (H.P.) - 176215. Tel: (01892) - 223163
- Hotel Sapphire, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Upper City Heart, Naddi
- Hotel Clouds End Villa & Cottages, Naroji Road
- Una Comfort Nandini-Dharmshala, Naddi
- Leisure Vacations Karnika Resort, Khaniyara Road
- G K Conifer, Civil Lines
- Imperial Heights Resorts, in the village of Khaniyara
- Udechee Huts, near Dal Lake
- The Exotica, Khanyara Indru Nag Road, Near Paragliding Point
- Victoriya Palace, Dal Lake, Naddi
- Hotel Asian Plaza, main Chowk, McLeodGanj
- Hotel the Origin, Khaniyara Road, McLeodGanj
- Villa Paradisso on Jogiwara Road, McLeodGanj
- New Varuni House on Temple Road, McLeodGanj
- Greenwoods Inn, Green Valley, DharamKot Road, McLeodGanj
- McLeodGanj Homestay, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Sahiwa, McLeodGanj
- Dharamshala -The Sanctuary – A Sterling Holidays resort, Molhi, Near Norbulingka Sidhpur-Khanyara Road
- Hotel Holiday Hill, Dharamshala
- Bob’n Barley, near Sunset point, Dharamshala
- UNA Comfort Great Himalayan Adventure Resort, McLeodGanj
- Snow Crest Inn, near Dal lake
- Aveda Dharmshala, overlooking cricket stadium
- Hotel Oak Valley, McLeodGanj
- Hill Queen, McLeodGanj
- Asia Health Resort, Dharamshala
- Moon Walk Residency, McLeodGanj
- Surya McLeod, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Gandhi’s Paradise on Dharamkot Road near starting point of trek route to Triund
- Spring Valley Resorts, near Bhagsunag Temple
- Hotel Country Lodge, Ramnagar
- Hotel Pong View, Cantt. Road, with a view of Pong Dam
- Hotel Morainic Hills in Bhgsunag
- The Horizon Villa South, McLeodGanj
- 9 Chimes, near Bhagsu Park
- Staywell Hotel, Kirpu More, Kotwali Bazar
- Snow Crest Inn, near Dal lake
- Hotel Valley View Crest, Naddi
- Himgiri Resorts, Naddi
- Pema Thang Guest House, McLeodGanj
- Bella Heights, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Deodar Villa, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Amandeep, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Pink House, McLeodGanj
- Pause Dwelling Place, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Highland, Bhagsu, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Centre Point, near Dal lake
- Aakriti Hotel, Cantt. Road
- Hotel Anand Palace, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Grand Hill, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Sahima, Naddi Road
- Vikrant Hotel & Restaurant, Bhagsunag, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Eco Nest, Bhagsunag, McLeodGanj
- Ess & Bee Resort, Dal Lake
- Pawan Guest House, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Anuj Residency, Bhagsunag, McLeodGanj
- Hotel Whispering Pines, Village Kalapul
- 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
In suitable weather, preferably between March and June, one could undertake a day-long trek to Dhauladhar snow point from Dharamshala.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Chinmay Tapovan is an ashram complex established by late Swami Chinmayananda. It is 10 km from Dharamshala on the banks of the rivulet Bindusaras.
The old temples of Jwalamukhi, Chamunda Devi and Brijeshwari Devi are close to Dharamshala.
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.
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
During May June, rock climbing can be done in Dhauladhar.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.