Summary : Situated so close to the snowline, Dharmsala offers many possibilities for trekking and mountain climbing. The best seasons are April to June, and September to November.
Buddha Temple-Tibetan Library-Tibetan Children’s Village-Dal Lake-TCV Handicrafts Centre-St John’s Church
From McLeodganj bus-stand, walk for 10 minutes down Buddha Temple Rd to the Tsuglag Khang, central cathedral, situated opposite the Dalai Lama’s house. This is a lively, colourful temple draped with exotic thangkas (religious paintings on cloth) and housing a giant image of Avalokitesvara, the 100-armed deity of Tibet. Built on the lip of the ridge, it commands fine views of the valley. Prayers take place around 4 am and 8 pm, and there’s a Tibetan monastery and a small nunnery nearby.
Below the main temple, a steep hill-road leads down to the Tibetan Library. To get there, you can either follow the road (45 minutes) or cut across it using goat tracks (20 minutes). The library is open 9 am to 1 pm, 2 to 5 pm (except Sundays). It has an ancient manuscript room on the ground floor, where you can ask to see beautifully illustrated 1000-year-old volumes, containing the complete teachings of Buddha. Upstairs, there’s a small museum with a nice collection of Buddhist images, ritual objects and crafts. The library also arranges lectures and can advise on courses long-term visitors might like to undertake.
By the time you get back to McLeodganj, it should be time for lunch. But don’t sit down too long—lunch often turns into supper. Back at the bus-stand, a steep 15-20-minute hike up the hill-road (via Yeti Trekking) brings you to the Government Primary School, high up on the ridge. Here, you can either take the up-road to the pretty picnic spot of Triund (17 km, 4 hours’ walk), or stay on the route and take the down-road—following the water-pipe all the way—down to Dal Lake. This is a pleasant 15-minute ramble, occasional breaks in the tree line revealing spectacula r views over Dharmsala and the Kangra valley. Just before the lake, you’ll come to the Tibetan Children’s Village. This was established in 1960 to care for the numerous orphans, semi-orphans and destitute Tibetan refugee children who flooded into India. Today, it provides Tibetan-style education and upbringing for some 130(1 children, many of whom have individual sponsors from Europe and the US. The best time to visit is from 7.30 am to 1.30 pm, when you can drop in on classes and chat with the children and teachers.
Just below TCV is the small, scummy pond surrounded by cedars which is Dal Lake. It’s amazingly popular with local tourists—a local Hindu deity is supposed to have materialised here. Above the lake, a metalled road leads up to Mehr Ashram, the only Hindu ashram in Dharmsala. A lot of Westerners stay round here, studying yoga and meditation. Austerities start with the 4-km (2 1/2-mile) climb up there. From the ashram, you can walk across to Dharmkot, a popular picnic spot affording panoramic views of the Dhauladhar range and Kangra valley. Dharmkot has a lovely old-colonial British house, and a rabbit farm.
If you’re feeling lazy, take the main road (left) from Dal Lake back to McLeodganj. len minutes’ walk down the road, TCV Handicrafts Centre appears on your left. This was founded in 1974, to give crafts training and employment to Tibetan children who could not continue formal schooling, or who had a talent for manual trades. At present, the centre has some 200 workers, and is fast achieving self-sufficiency. It specialises in Tibetan hand-knotted woollen carpets, and there’s a good workshop layout where you can see them and other crafts being produced. A short walk below the centre, there’s the unexciting village of Forsyth Ganj. Here you have a choice of a bus-ride or a 45-minute walk back to McLeodganj. If walking it, you’ll pass by St John’s-in-the-Wilderness Church, a typical old-English church in a peaceful glade of deodar cedars, which has fine stained-glass windows and a cemetery with a monument to Lord Elgin, one of India’s viceroys. The pastor has a good sense of humour. He enjoys visitors, shows them his photo collection, and talks a lot about his plans to open a restaurant in the grounds. It’s largely thanks to him that the old Ntone church is in such good condition.
Situated so close to the snowline, Dharmsala offers many possibilities for trekking and mountain climbing. The best seasons are April to June, and September to November. The going is generally tough, but there’s a wealth of beautiful scenery to take your mind off tired muscles. And trekking in this region is far less exploited than at Manali. With a good pair of walking shoes and a supply of water and biscuits (refreshments are limited in the hills), you can head off in any direction and be alone. One warning: if you stroll off the beaten track, don’t go wandering into any dark caves where animals may be sheltering, even bears. For the best views, set out in the early morning. By around noon, the valley is often obscured by dense mist. For short walks—say, up to Triund at the foot of the snow-clad Dhauladhar—you don’t really need a guide. Beyond this point, however, you do. And any treks you make above 3400m, you’ll need to take it easy—altitude sickness is a common problem. For organised treks, contact Yeti Trekking just up from McLeodganj bus-stand, which offers year-round (except Jan/Feb) 4- to 5-day hikes to Karr Lake, and marvellous 7-day treks (May to November only) over the Dhauladhar range to Bharmour, via the high Inderhara Pass (4610 m). Charges are most reasonable: about Rs250-300 inclusive of food, guide/porter, and equipment.
MBcLeeodtgawnj ande Foersynth Ganj, TCV Handicrafts Centre (tel 2592, open 8 am to 5 pm except Sundays) had the best range and quality of Tibetan produce. Nice buys include handwoven shoulder bags, earrings, woollen jackets, brass-button schirtso), cotloutrfuol thanngkas on silk or cloth (Rs20 to 20), rice-paper prints, rostcards , semi-precious jewellery, hand or machine-woven cloth, and bright flag TCV yis eparrt-iclualarglys wel known for its Tibetan wolen carpets, incorporating attractive tantric or dragon designs. The ‘speciality’ carpet measures 9 x 9 metres, depicts the sacred Kalchakra mandala, and can only be made on special permission from the Dalai Lama. There’s another TCV shop in Temple Rd, McLeodganj. Like the main branch, it’s fixed-price. Shopping anywhere else, be prepared to bargain hard. Because Tibetans aren’t allowed to take jobs from native Indians, they can only sell handicrafts for profit—and prices are correspondingly high.
One of the more interesting shops in McLeodganj is Nowrojee’s Wine and General Merchants, a fascinating old-fashioned general store which is one of the few genuine relics of the Raj to be found in any hill station.
A few restaurants in McLeodganj, notably Shambala and Darjeeling Cafe, sell Tibetan music/prayer cassettes. A small group of government handicraft shops down in the lower town (below the tourist office) sell mainly Kulu produce at fixed prices.
WHERE TO STAY
To avoid disappointment, it’s not a bad idea to take rooms in Lower Dharmsala on your first night. McLeodganj is ridiculously popular, and there’s often a host of travellers sleeping on the floor of restaurants waiting for a room to come up. If you’re determined to stay here, arrive on a very early bus and ask around in the Shambala, Friend’s Corner or Passang restaurants—there’s nearly always someone about to check out, reluctantly. If nothing works, don’t fret. Staying in the lower town has one big advantage—you get an extra hour ‘s sleep when it comes to getting a bus out.
In Lower Dharamsala, the comfy option is HPTDC’s Hotel Dhauladhar (tel 2107-9, 2256), just up from the bus-stand. This has a nice restaurant/bar, a relaxing, garden patio (with views), tolerant staff, a cheap dormitory, and large clean doubled rooms with balconies from Rs200 to Rs375. A few minutes walk up the road, Rising Moon, Tibet United Association and Dekyipalbar are three cheap Tibetan-style hotels with rooms. A little less basic is the Sun-n-Snow, just down the hill from the, bus-stand.
Up at McLeodganj, HPTDC’s Hotel Bhagsu (tel 2290) has rooms from Rs225 and one cottage for Rs550. Far better is Hotel Tibet (tel 2587), behind the bus-stand. This has spacious, spotless ‘super-deluxe’ doubles at Rs350 (cheaper rooms from Rs550 ), a classy restaurant, pleasant roof-top patio, friendly staff and good information. It’S always full. Good cheaper places include Om Guest House (below the main street), Green Hotel, Koko Nor Hotel, Tibetan Himalayan Restaurant, and Namgyal Guest House (all above Tibet Hotel), Toepa Hotel (on the main street), and Ashoka Lodge below the bus-stand (ask for Dr Ashoka’s clinic). Glenmoor, a 20-minute walk the hill from St John’s Church, is McLeod’s old residence—where he lived when was Collector for the region. In its heyday, this vast Scottish-style villa was the social hub of the hill station, the scene of many balls and tea-parties. Today, it’s divided tip into four sections, ranging in price from Rs45-100. The best section (which can 1w shared between 3 couples) takes in the drawing room, lounge, verandah, sunroom (with French windows) and bathroom. Round the back, there are a few cosy cottages (originally servants’ quarters). They are beautifully located in the forest.
Down in Lower Dharmsala, Hotel Dhauladhar has memorable Continental food mid forgettable Chinese food. The viewpoint patio is good for sunrise breakfasts and sunset beers. The Rising Moon and Dekyipalbar hotels are okay for cheap CThiinbesee tmaeanls,¬ bu!the service is notoriously slow.
In McLeodganj, the favourite recreation is eating. A regular favourite, Shambala Cafe, is a second home to many travellers. It’s just below the bus-stand, and has a Sony sound system, a microwave, a small book exchange, a useful noticeboard, hot apple pie, fresh doughnuts, great muesli, curd, shakes and chips. Tapoe Hotel, right next door, plays soft classical music and has soft seats. Come here for delicious chocolate cake and lemon tea. Hotel Tibet has good Tibetan-Indian food and there dSn7iszhees ocnr hits 6wChcinaesne menu. It sels alcoholic drinks and runs popular Saturday night discos. So does Friends Corner by the bus-stand, well known for its lethal Thunderballs beer. Cheaper Punjab beer is available from the off-licence at the bus-stand. Om Restaurant is good for Chinese food, Cafe Kangra does tasty Swiss rostis, and Yak Restaurant is where to try momo soup and other Tibetan specialities.
HP Tourist Office (tel 2363) is just up the steps from the main bus-stand in Lower Dharmsala . It’s open 10 am to 5 pm (except Sundays) and is only worth visiting for the current bus/rail timetable. Tibet Hotel in McLeodganj has far better Information.
Main post office, open 10 am to 5 pm Monday to Saturday, is 1 km ( 3/4 mile) below the tourist office. There’s a small sub-post office in Kotwali Bazaar, near the tourist office. Foreigners’ Registration Office, open 10 am to 5 pm weekdays, is 1 km below Dharmsala bus-stand. It’s apparently a good, quick place to extend your Indian visa.
Taragarh Approximately mid-way between Dharmsala and Kulu and set in a 15-acre estate, surrounded by tea gardens is the beautifully located Taragarh Palace Hotel. Built in the 1930s as a private resort the hotel now belongs to the royal family of Jammu & Kashmir. The 12 rooms are all well-furnished and facilities provided include a swimming-pool, a tennis court, fishing in nearby rivers for mahseer (the greatestfresh- water game fish in the world), pony trekking through the foothills of the Dauladhar range and hang-gliding for the truly adventurous. Or you can just laze in idyllic surroundings. In short, Taragarh offers everything one needs to escape from the bustle of city life—but for those who need to stay in touch with the world, the hotel has 24-hour BBC World Service TV. The rate for room and full board is approximately Rs1500 per person depending on the room booked. Bookings can be made direct to Taragarh Palace Hotel, PO Taragarh, Dist Kangra (tel 3034) or at 3 Nyaya Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi (tel 3015291, 3011744, tlx 031-61635, fax 011-343703).