As a groupie and fellow passenger with Delhi’s most favourite band Trippy Sama, this particular visit to Dharamshala, home to the Dalai Lama was a childlike delight in the most freeing andadventurous manner. The ‘trippy sama’ started out as a very musical and inspiring bus journey with flutes and melodious vocals from our beloved musicians echoing through the colour-laden winding roads.
The journey steered all of us to such a momentum that on reaching Dharamshala, our inert gusto to explore the best sightseeing places in Dharamshala for possibilities of live gig cafes and local outlets for new attires, cuisines, and arty ventures only grew stronger.
This beautiful picturesque city is well known for its magnificent diversity owing to its rich heritage and age-old sentiments of freedom and peace. The city of Dharamshala is home to a very interesting lifestyle of nomadic seasonal people known as Gaddis following the Hindu religion.
McLeod Ganj or Upper Dharamshala is occupied in its stead by a large population of Tibetans, following Tibetan Buddhism. Being the present abode of the holy Dalai Lama- the Tibetan government-in-exile along with a number of holy Hindu and Tibetan shrines, Dharamshala is a most sought after destination for spiritual tourists and peace lovers.
Also, the warmth of the local people and the lush greenery and freshness fortified air offered by Dharamsala lures a lot of travelers and backpackers, both Indian and foreign, who’d take up residence in this humbling abode for days and days towards sacred cleansing and new adventures among strangers of the world.
This serene city lies 1457 meters above sea level and reflects an illusion of resting among floating clouds on the edge of the Himalayan range. With the thick cedar and deodar forests in the Dhauladhar ranges as a backdrop, the scenic beauty of Dharamshala encased by snow-clad mountains is the perfect getaway from the bustling city life, offering a large range of simple and creative ventures in the midst of pure nature.
The only way to take in the essence of this jaw-dropping scenic beauty is to go out and explore the places at will without searching for any one venue in particular. You will discover a tremendous number of hidden gems and workshops on your way that can infuse your being with the much-needed breath of fresh air to lifestyle as you know it.
Here is a small list of fascinating and noteworthy places that you may check up on as top things to do in Dharamshala while you’re strolling through this soul-touching milieu:
Tsuglag Khang Center
Being a first time visitor to this spiritual abode, my first go-to was the Tsuglagkhang Complex, which holds the 14th Dalai Lama’s abode and monastery. This place of grandeur was first built in 1959 when His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to India for the first time after the Tibetan uprising during this period.
This magnificent complex holds public and private sessions of the Dalai Lama and is beautifully adorned with the stunning works of Buddhist art and sculpture, colorful prayer flags, shrines and prayer wheels accompanied by meditation grounds to provide spiritual travelers with silence in the midst of ancient knowledge and beauty.
This monastery encompasses the largest Tibetan Tsuglagkhang outdoor temple, Tibet Museum, and the most striking Namgyal Gompa monastery where we witnessed a peculiar custom of very enthusiastic monks debating passionately amongst themselves with fervent hand claps and feet stomps.
There are also small outlets for relaxation including a cafeteria, souvenir shop, lawn and vast expanse of library space holding books of Buddhist understanding where silence reverberates like a charm! On this cool afternoon, this complex filled our spirits with a memorable peace that is found in the rarest moments of acceptance in our own selves.
Among the top things to do in Dharamshala, a visit to the Norbulingka institute is a must as it would give you a real glimpse of Tibetan religious art and culture at its best. Established in 1990, this ‘Jewel Park’ in Kangra area of Himachal Pradesh is an endeavor to nurture and keep Tibetan traditional arts and crafts alive to the world.
Norbulingka Institute in Dharamshala caters to many worthwhile and interesting activities such as wood carving, thangka painting tailoring, metal work weaving, painting etc. These are taught to young enthusiasts to maintain the Tibetan culture whilst providing tuition-free classes to chosen aspiring artists as well.
For guests, the Norbulingka institute offers a variety of beautiful sensory experiences. The setup is made in such a way that you can relax and feel cozy amongst Tibetan style institute buildings, colorful, extended gardens, with flowering plants, trees, fish ponds, pools, water channels and paved stone pathways.
To top this magnificience, you can also be privy to a beautiful backdrop of the lush green mountains. Walk on ahead to be glorified by a fourteen feet tall gilded Buddha statue standing with the utmost grace on the highest shrine and along with an assorted variety of beautiful thangkas, murals and detailed religious sculptures spread across the grounds.
There is a quiet calm about this place which fills you up with a natural vigor and boosts your mind in the company of young students and smiling faces. Most of these workshops are free of cost and you can partake in any one of these delightful activities.
A must-see in this awe-inspiring institute is the Losel Dolls Museum, which hold a beautiful series of traditionally attired Tibetan cloth dolls arranged in a way to provide guests with a glimpse of the Tibetan way of life. You can also read text translations provided beneath the dolls about their origins and storis.
Entering the complex at a nominal fee of Rs. 50, the leisurely exploration of the entire grounds took us to a pure world of exquisite beauty and peace. The architectural beauty of the place simply will undoubtedly take your breath away! You can also take a quick peek at the Norbulingka Shop, which is full of beautiful handmade exhibits that are just ideal as souvenirs and gift material.
Apart from these, the institute is also accompanied by the Academy of Tibetan Culture, a pristine garden cafe and restaurant, Literary and Cultural Research Center, Seat of Happiness Temple, and Center of the Arts which is adorned with more than thousand paintings of the Buddha, paintings of all the Dalai Lamas and graphic images from the life of the 14th Dalai Lama.
Dharamshala Cricket Stadium
The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium infused with a distinct Tibetan architecture in its main stand stands proudly as one of the most attractive and striking touristattractions of Dharamsala hill station inviting revellers from both far and near. This scenic stadium is nestled amidst the bountiful Himalayan range and holds a peaceful lure that is extremely impactful to one’s imagination.
This breathtaking stadium is the home ground for the Kings XI Punjab team and can be visited between 9:00 A.M till 6:00 PM in the late afternoon. At a height of roughly 1,500 meters above sea level, this well-maintained open stadium is one of the highest cricket grounds in the world. This quaint stadium holds a pictorial charm about its surrounding and locality and has hosted a great many famous national and international level cricket matches in its expansive grounds. We entered the grounds at an entry fee of Rs. 20 per person and took seats in the empty audience benches while sitting back and taking full pleasure in its glorious natural backdrop with fresh mountain winds drifting continually across the grounds. Our trip to the Dharamshala Cricket Stadium was worth the sensory experience, which served to last as a sweet aftertaste throughout our stay in Dharamshala. If you’re lucky, you may also witness a vivacious match being played at the HPCA stadium and even come across your favorite sports star!
St. John in the Wilderness Church, Dharamshala
This pretty gothic looking church dedicated to John the Baptist lies at one-kilometer distance from McLeod Ganj & eight kilometer from Dharamsala hill station.St. John in the Wilderness Church set amidst a thick backdrop of deodar trees is one of the remaining few Anglican churches posing as an important historic monument of Dharamsala. The grey stone church featuring an old-fashioned hanging bell from its 300 feet tall high tower with pretty Belgian stained-glass windows was originally built during the 1852 British period in Neo-Gothic style of architecture. This quaint little church accompanied by a Christian style cemetery is maintained well by the locals as an important piece of history that seems to have assimilated quietly amidst dense woods amidst a quiet and natural beauty. On this warm red afternoon, this eccentric church awakens poems of longing residing deep within our hearts and ushers in a quiet peace in the wake of bygone yore times.
Commonly known as the “Little Lhasa” or “Dhasa”, the suburb of McLeod Ganjlies at close proximity from Dharamsala hill station. It is a well-known spot for tourists owing to its famous Tibetan sites of culture, handicrafts and temples along with the renowned Dharamshala International Film Festival that is held every year. Owing to this location hosting the Tibetan government-in-exile headquarters and a large number of Tibetans residents, McLeod Ganj offers a unique cultural diversity which is simply delightful to be a part of. We took a short taxi ride to this cosy site and were welcomed with much gusto of enthusiastic vacationers with colorful flags blowing throughout the windy roads. Once we reached the commune, the local cuisine, Tibetan woollens and funky designs drew us in and we were soon laden with bags of new and colorful attires and accessories that would serve well in the coming days filled with gigs to come. While strolling through the vicinity, one can also be a part of the Triund hill trek and the famous Dal Lake which lie in close proximity.
Without doubt,Bhagsu waterfall proved to be one of the most enjoyable and serene places that we encountered upon in Dharamsala hill station.The Bhagsu waterfall drew us closer to a bountiful and joyous nature that refreshed our tiring bodies and enlivened our exploratory spirits.Bhagsu waterfall is situated some few kilometres upslope from the renowned Bhagsunag Temple, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This heavenly picnic spot is indeed one of the most stunning sites in Dharamshala and is visited by many sightseers for its calming and serene location.
Owing to its delightful beauty, Bhagsu waterfall has been strongly recommended by Lonely Planet especially during the monsoon time. As unharnessed cool and crystal clear water cascades in gushes and drops 20 meters from the Dauladhar ranges, one must make sure to take a dip in this serene location. Being this close to nature in her pristine innate beauty, one can feel troubles and qualms melting away and being at peace with pure aspirations. The Bhagsunag trek is one that is surely worth taking as the view in itself leaves the admirer feeling immense content and peacefulness. For waterfall lovers, this mesmerizing beauty of milky cascading waters is a must-visit among the most gorgeous locations around Dharamshala. If you are lucky, you may even come across gipsy girls selling handmade colorful jewellery that can strike memories of dreamy love affairsand far-flung loved ones.
The land of Dharamsala speaks of a charming and vivid culture in which one must be present and thriving to truly feel the age-old magic. Take a long break from the bustling city horns and pollution and reside in this charming and idyllic home of the Holy Dalai Lama and the ‘land of the exiled Tibetans’. If you peek closely into the lifestyles of the locale and befriend one,you in turn will also be taken in by mesmerizing stories and banished dreams of a home far away. The hours simply flew by in one such encounter with a local Tibetan boy while chitchatting over tea and cookies and looking beyond the afternoon sun.
Dharamsala in winter and Dharamsala in summer have their own natural ventures and perks to offer. The rhythmic waves of prayer bells and chirping birds have atranquilizing effect on the soul that resonates far beyond present realities. The cultural diversity in Dharamsala hill station summons beauty beyond one’s imagination and makes for excellent camera captures. Visit Dharamsala with a loved one and spin the prayer wheels while taking in the glorious stupas and ever-present colorful prayer flags that liven up the lush greenery around it. While meditating and ng your inner chi in the lap of nature around cheerful monks, monasteries, world music, and authentic cuisine you might even find the answer you seek blowing in the quiet wind.