If hills are on your mind, choose Dharamsala, the Head Quarters of Kangra District in Himachal Pradesh, as your travel destination. When I tell you about the best places to visit in Dharamsala, you will see that this place is a perfect fit for any kind of travel experience you are looking for. Being easily accessible from Pathankot, Chandigarh, and Delhi and with its own airport, Kangra Airport, Gaggal, Dharamsala tops the chart of favourite Himalayan towns.
Set at the foothills of the Himalayas, with the sparkling white snow-capped peaks of the Dhauladhar range in the backdrop, Dharamsala is an ideal holiday destination to rejuvenate and re-energize one's mind and body. There are numerous wellness centres in and around Dharamsala.
Even if you are not looking for a quiet holiday, do not worry for there's a lot of things to do in Dharamsala. The buzz at McLeod Ganj, in upper Dharamsala (7kms away), is an experience in itself. Here, besides food for the soul, there's too much food for the belly too. If food and shopping are integral parts of your travel, please do not give a second thought about Dharamsala. Let me tell you about the places to visit in Dharamsala.
McLeod Ganj is also known as ‘Little Lhasa' due to tremendous Tibetan influence. His Highness, the Holy Dalai Lama (14th), Tenzing Gyatso, who along with the exiled 85000 Tibetans, took shelter in McLeod Ganj, during a Chinese invasion in 1960. The focal attraction here is the Tibetan Temple Complex (Tsuglagkhan Complex) with the Namgayal Monastery and the abode of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. People from all over the world travel to see the abode of His Highness and for his teachings. The complex houses the Kalachakra Temple with frescos of 722 deities of the mandala, the Shakyamuni Buddha, and the central Kalachakra image, painted under the personal direction of the Dalai Lama, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives and the Norbulingka Institute, the Dolma Ling Buddhist nunnery and the Gyato Monastery, temporary residence of the 17th Karmapa and restores some precious scriptures, thangkas, and manuscripts.
McLeod Ganj Chowk or Main Square
McLeod Ganj Chowk or Main Square must be explored on foot. The area around the Tibetan settlement is bustling with life and joy – with cool cafes, colourful prayer flags, souvenir shops, curios, and Buddhist monks chanting and roaming about the streets. Buy junk and/or silver Tibetan jewellery and other artifacts, woollens and/or other souvenirs like magnets, prayer wheels and key chains.
Try out the pastries and pies at ‘Tibet Quality Bakery', ‘Woeser Bakery', ‘Pastry Den' and Jimmy's Bakery. The first two uses yak milk to make their products. Pizzas at ‘Namgayal Café' are worth trying. For authentic Tibetan, Thukpas and momos (mutton) visit ‘Kalimpong', a very small restaurant. Do not miss Mclllo, a favourite of the cricketers who come to play at the Dharamsala Stadium. Speaking of the stadium, let's get back to the places to visit in Dharamsala.
The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) Stadium/ Dharamsala Stadium
The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) Stadium/ Dharamsala Stadium is a picturesque stadium with the green ground, the red conical roofs on the gallery, against the shiny white Himalayan peaks in the backdrop. The entry timing is 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and the entry ticket costs Rs.20.
Dharamsala War Memorial
Visit the Dharamsala War Memorial to pay homage to the martyrs of Indian Armed Forces. It remains open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, on all the days of the week and the ticket costs Rs.5. It is a well maintained and elegantly decorated park surrounded by tall pines and deodars, with names of the unsung heroes, the Indian soldiers, inscribed. There are war tankers and MIG-21 and other war machinery on display.
St. John in the Wilderness Church
St. John in the Wilderness Church is one of the significant places to visit in Dharamsala. The neo-gothic church, built in 1852, is famous for the beautiful Belgium stained-glass windows and the surrounding deodar forests. The place is cool from the shade provided by the surrounding trees and you can hear birds sing. The charm and tranquillity of the place take you back in time.
The churchyard is the final resting place of many with numerous gothic graves out of which the grave memorial of James Bruce, one of the Viceroys of India (1862-63) is the largest. You can try out the roadside hot smacking ‘Aloo Tikki' outside the Church compound.
Bhagsunag Temple and water fall
Visit Bhagsunag Temple and waterfall and trek to the top of the waterfall and beyond, to Shiva Café. It is an easy trek of 2kms. If you are looking for some peace, nature, food, and fun at the same time, this is one of the best places to visit in Dharamsala.
Nestled in the lap of Mother Nature, on a hilltop with greenery around, the café stands with paintings and murals on the walls. Sit outside, look down below at the panoramic view, feel the floating clouds, listen to the birds chirping and the sound of the gushing water of the Bhagsunag fall below. At times there are live jigs inside the café by the travellers. Order from the moderately priced menu with a plethora of choices. When you come down to Bhagsu, do visit ‘German Bakery' for their special ‘Bhagsu Cake'.
Bhagsunag and Dharamkot
Bhagsunag and Dharamkot, 6 and 8 km away from McLeod Ganj respectively are hippie villages and base for the moderate Triund trek. Indrehar Pass trek from Triund is, however, a difficult trek route.
If time permits visit Dal Lake, a small green lake amidst tall pines and deodars. Kangra Fort and Museum, Palampur tea estates, Chamunda Devi Temple and Masrur's 8th-century monolithic rock-cut temples are significant places to visit around Dharamsala.
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