Under British India, the district of Kangra was one of the largest in the country and soon after the end of the Anglo-Sikh Wars in 1852, Dharamshala became its headquarter. Kangra is considerably smaller now, but is still packed with immense natural beauty, several travel destinations, places of pilgrimage and a variety of adventure activities; the district still has its headquarters in Dharamshala. Higher along the same set of hills in McLeodganj which remains in the international limelight as the residence of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. The atmosphere is cosmopolitan and a visitor is likely to encounter a dozen of different nationalities within a short walk in the bazaar. The variety of cuisine on offer is substantial and ranges from traditional Himachali food to Italian to kosher Jewish. Just under the heights of the Dhauladhar Mountains, Upper Dharamshala is close to the snowline which begins at Illaqua (3200 m) while the lower part of town flows into the warm low rolling valley of Kangra.
Height: From 1300 m to 1770 m
Climate: Lower Dharamshala is warm in summer and cottons are adequate during the day; in Upper Dharamshala, light woollens may be required. In winter, heavy clothing is necessary. During the monsoons, Dharamshala is one of the wettest places in the country.
Getting There & Away: How to reach Dharamshala
Road: Dharamshala is 514 kms from Delhi, 235 kms from Chandigarh, 252 kms from Shimla and 85 kms from Pathankot.
Rail: Pathankot is the nearest railhead at a distance of 85 kms. The narrow gauge rail track from Pathankot to Joginder Nagar passes through the middle of Kangra valley and nearest station is at Kangra, 18 kms away.
Air: The Kangra Airport at Gaggal is 12 kms from Dharamshala.
Tourist Attractions in Dharamshala
War Memorial: Located in Lower Dharamshala, this solemn monument commemorates the war heroes of Himachal Pradesh. Their names are inscribed on three large slabs of black marble. This is set in a serene grove of pine trees and is criss-crossed by meandering paths. At different points of year, homage is given to these brave men who sacrificed their lives for the country. As many of these martyrs belonged to the area, the Memorial is often visited by their families.
The Kangra Art Gallery: This is located just above the Kotwali Bazaar that passes through Dharamshala. The Gallery has artefacts that date back to fifth century. The displays include the area’s famous miniature paintings. The gallery also houses sculptures, pottery, anthropological artefacts, coins, jewellery and manuscripts. ‘Shaminas’, canopies and dresses used by the local royalties, old carved doors, intricately carved ‘jalis’ that once served as windows or railings, lintels and ‘pandals’ are also on display.
The Namgyal Monastery: This is named after the original Namgyal monastery in Lhasa, Tibet and is where novice monks are trained under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The monastery has nearly two hundred monks and the younger ones study the major texts of the Buddhist Sutras and Tantras. The Tsuglakhang is the main hall where prayers are conducted. This is encircled by prayer wheels. Within are large images of Shakyamuni Buddha, Avalokiteshwara and Padmasambhava. Just off this, is the Kalachakra Temple whose architecture and murals serve as a representation of Tibet’s rich spiritual and artistic tradition. The residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is also located here.
Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), McLeodganj: In 1959, within a few months of arriving in India, His Holiness the Dalai Lama established the TIPA. To prevent ancient traditions and skills from vanishing and also to strengthen them, TIPA preserves and develops the skills of trasitional Tibetan performing arts like dance, music and opera. Performances are also held at McLeodganj and other places.
Tibetan Library of Works and Archives (TLWA), McLeodganj: Created in 1970, the TLWA is one of the most important Tibetan libraries in the world. The core of the collection is formed by the books and manuscripts that were carried to India during the Tibetan exodus of 1959. The Library, the Gangchen Kyishong, has around eighty thousand books, manuscripts, photographs and numerous papers and documents. Opposite the Library, is the Men See Khang, the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute that was founded in1961.
Dal Lake (1775 m): This lies between McLeodganj and Naddi. The lake is backed by thick woods of majestic deodar trees and there is a small temple dedicated to Lord Shiva along its northern bank. Every September, this is also the site of a major local fair that is attended among others, by large number of migrant Gaddi people.
Church of St. John in the Wilderness (1770 m): This lies between McLeodganj and Forsythganj on the road to Dharamshala. This small dressed-stone church was built in 1852. The interior walls of the church are also of exposed stone. This has fine stained glass windows and several memorial tablets. On both sides, the church is flanked by a well tended cemetery over the grassy slopes. The most notable memorial and one which adjoins the church, is the elaborate one that was erected over the body of the British Viceroy, Lord Elgin who died at Dharamshala in1863.
Bhagsunag (11 kms): A climb from McLeodganj past small cafes and shops and then through cedar woods leads to this old temple that is said to have been in existence since the time of the ‘Mahabharata’. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and to the local version of the serpent deity, Bhagsu Nag. In its present form, the temple owes much to the Gurkhas who had captured Kangra in the early 19th century and this was rebuilt by them. A mile or so from Bhagsu village, are the Bhasu falls. The waterfall is about 20 metres high.
Dharamkot: Above McLeodganj, this is an attractive spot that presents a wide view of the Kangra valley and the Dhauladhar ranges. Dharamkot also has the Vipassana meditation centre, Dhamma Shikara, as well as the Tushita Meditation Centre which is a centre for the study and practice of Buddhism in the Tibetan Mahayana tradition.
Triund (9 kms): Past Dharamkot along a steady climb, Triund is at the foot of the Dhauladhar ranges and is at a height of 2827 m. The snow line, which is considered to be the most easily accessible in the entire Himalayan range starts from Illaqua, 4 kms from Triund.
Chinmaya Tapovan, Sidhbari (10 kms): This is an ‘ashram’ that was established by the late Swami Chinmayananda, a noted exponent of the Gita. The complex includes a 9 m high image of Lord Hanuman, a magnificent Rama Temple, a meditation hall, a school and a health and recreation centre.
Norbulingka (12 kms): In Tibet, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama, Norbulingka was constructed according to the foundation proportions of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, known as Avalokiteshvara. The same guiding principle underpins both the philosophy and architecture of the Norbulingka Institute located at Sidhbari. The temple is an impressively tall one and enshrines a gilded copper statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha. It also has a centre for arts and culture and an academy.
Kangra Fort (28 kms): This was the largest fort in India north of Delhi. The earliest reference of the fort is in 1009 AD in the chronicles of the invader, Mahmud of Ghazni. Built on a rocky hill, its ramparts and walls have a circumference of approximately four kilometres. It was heavily damaged in the earthquake of 4 April 1905, nut several gates, the shrines of Ambika Devi, Adinath and Lakshminarayan, and the remains of its palaces are still there. There is a small museum near the entrance gate that has been established by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Maharana Pratap Sagar: This is in the director of Sansarpur Terrace. With the backdrop of the Dhauladhar mountains, this water body came into being when the Pong Dam was built over the river Beas. It has an area of about 45,000 hectares at maximum flooding. As a wildlife sanctuary and this water body acts as a stopover for a range of migratory birds – especially from Siberia. 220 species belonging to 54 families have been sighted. The waters hold twenty-seven species and sub-species of fishes. The land portion of the sanctuary that adjoins the waters holds deer, ‘sambar’, wild boars, ‘nilgai’ and leopards. The Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports has a branch at the Sagar and offers water sports and conducts courses too. A boat trip to Ransar island can be a delightful experience.
Other attractions: Kunal Pathri, Khaniara, Haripur-Guler and Nurpur.