Wooded with Oak, Deodar and Rhododendron trees, Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh is surrounded by snow capped Dauladhar Mountain Range of outer Himalayas on the three sides and sweeping Kangra Valley on the remaining. Dharamshala owes its global acclaim owing to the fact that McLeod Ganj is home to the Tibetan Government in Exile and their Spiritual guru Dalai Lama. Pastoral setting, Tibetan Monasteries and a distinct nonchalance that permeate the environs of this hill retreat has ensured that Dharamshala has never failed to live up to its name which literally translates to rest house for pilgrims. Besides spiritual factor, an array of challenging mountain treks into Dauladhar range to various lakes and mountain pass draw many adventures to this cozy little hamlet in Himachal Pradesh.
Encounters with different faith, cultures and religions during its long history, the potpourri of beliefs add to the secular ambience of Dharamshala. There are various anecdotes narrating the origin of this place and the name Dharamshala. According to one such legend a Rajput warrior king once took refuge in this hamlet he was named Bhagsu. And there is an ancient village still named after him and a temple too. Years later, when King Dharamchand ruled the place he had a chance encounter with this prince in his dreams. Dharamshala is said to be named after King Dharma and a village and temple in memoriam of warrior prince Bhagasu.
Before the arrival of Tibetan Government in Exile, there were no set prescriptions for travelers in Dharamshala. Nowadays, McLeod Ganj and the area in the vicinity of the of the government seat have become a hub of cultural and religious studies. McLeod Ganj of today is same as most of the popular tourist destinations around the world. Sprinkled with hotels, markets, parlors et al, it is hub of the tourists, students and pilgrims alike.
Notwithstanding the fact that Dharamshala is now one of the developed – read commercialized – destinations in India, there are gems to be discovered when you dig deep in and around this bucolic retreat. Of the many things which you can do – including doing nothing and yes it is a most rejuvenating activity in some hill stations – there are two which remains popular among travelers. One is cultural studies and volunteering and the other is trek to various passes and lakes in Dauladhar.
Among the famous mountain passes in Dauladhar are Indrahar pass, Beleni Pass and Gaj Pass. There are several lakes along these treks which draws adventurers not just from India but from across the world. Some famous lakes along these trekking trails include Lam Dal and Kareri Lake. Vast stretches of snow capped peaks and mountain passes sprinkled with azure lakes and coniferous tree forests make for a mesmerizing and spiritual experience.
Major attractions from the tourist point of view in and around Dharamshala include Tsuglakhang (residence of Dalai Lama), Namgyaima Stupa (a memorial to Tibetan who sacrificed their life for freedom), Church of St John-in-the-Wilderness (the only surviving monument built during British Raj) and Bhagsunag (The shrine, whose origin revolves around a myth about a great fight between the demon king Bhagsu and the snake god Nag). Besides there are some theaters, museums and libraries which are also worth your time and effort should you choose to go there to acquaint yourself with the hubbub of local culture and art.
To say that Dharamshala’s treasure trove consist of an array of gems to suit the taste of a variety of travelers will not be an overstatement. Be it the cultural aspect of the town or the mélange of trekking options available in Dauladhar range, Dharamshala is a veritable oasis far from the din of the city in the tranquil environs of the outer Himalayas. And as the saying goes, there is nothing as spiritual and rejuvenating as being footloose in Himalayas.
- Deoria Tal: Trekking in Himalaya
- Ladakh on Bike: Travel Tips