- Located in the state of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamsala is a small city of ~19,000 people.
- Home of the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
- The center of exiled Tibetans in India, Dharamsala and contains the headquarters of the Central Tibetan Administration.
- Currency: Indian Rupee (INR)
- Spoken languages: Tibetan, Punjabi, Hindi, and English.
- Best time to visit: from March to October. Perhaps the most interesting time to visit is when the Dalai Lama delivers his teachings (usually in June). Cold winters.
- Arriving via airport: The best way to reach Dharamsala is to fly to Delhi and take an overnight bus to McleodGanj from the Majnu Ka Tilla bus stand in New Delhi. The AC Sleeper Volvo will cost around Rs. 900 and take approximately 12 hours to arrive. The nearest airport from Dharamsala is Gaggal DHM (Kangra Airport), is 20 km away from McLeodGanj.
WHERE TO STAY
McLeodGanj offers a wide range of accommodations, most of which are located near the bus station. For those who want to find a quieter stay, look for accommodations in Bhagsu or Dharamkot (small towns within walking distance). Jogiwara Road has plenty of budget options – with some great views!
- McLeodGanj can be easily navigated on foot. The nearby points (e.g. Bhagsu and Dharamkot Village) are within walking distance. Dharamkot is a short but steep hike of approximately 3 km from McLeodGanj Bus station.
- Chartered Auto Rickshaws are available from the bus station at McLeodGanj. They charge around Rs. 60-Rs.100 to the nearby points.
- Taxis can be booked by calling +91 1892 221034 – the Bhagsu Taxi Operators Union. Taxis can be booked for the local tours. While rates may change from time to time, they are approved by the Regional Transport Authority and are reasonable.
- Drinking age is 18, last call is 12:00 AM (midnight).
- Hip/local scene: The Mcllo Restaurant and Bar is the hippest bar in McLeodGanj, and is where local and international visitors prefer to hang out after an evening stroll around the mountains.
- Trendy scene: Jam night at Khana Nirvana Café, Open Mike Jam Sessions at Carpe Diem once a week and parties at Xcite nightclub.
- College crowd: The Mcllo Restaurant and Bar near the bus station in McLeodGanj, where food and drinks are reasonably priced. Also, the occasional open night jam at Khana Nirvana Café.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- The Naam Art Gallery is a permanent exhibition of acrylic paintings by Elizabeth Buschmann, and oil paintings by Alfred W. Hallett.
- Tsuglagkhang Complex – located on the Temple Road (in front of the Dalai Lama’s residence), this is the largest temple outside of Tibet. Contains a large meditation hall and beautiful murals. Also, check out the Tibet Museum (just opposite the complex).
- The Tibetan Library, a small but interesting museum containing precious Tibetan literature.
- Bhagsu town can be easily navigated by foot from McLeodGanj. The area contains some beautiful ancient temples and waterfalls. Look for the Bhagsunag Fall.
- Dharamkot Village – a 3 km hike from the McLeodGanj bus station, this is a quiet village located within a coniferous forest. Here you will find the Dhamma Vipassana and Tushita Meditation centers. Tushita offers a 10-day Introductory course on Buddhism from March till October (Tushita is closed from November to February).
- Walk around the Kotwali bazaar – the main shopping area.
- Head to Bhagsu – a 3 km walk from Dharamsala, followed by a 1 km hike up to the waterfall.
- Walk along the mountain paths to Dharamkot Village for a quiet and peaceful forest retreat.
- Triund Trek – if you are into trekking, climb the hill beyond Dharamkot to Triund for a beautiful view the Himalayan peaks. The summit is 2,875 meters up, and is a fairly long hike. There are overnight accommodations available at Triund.
- Hindi is the national language of the country, and knowing some basic phrases will help greatly in interactions with locals. You may get lucky – English is also used extensively by the local Tibetans.
- Where to find good cheap eats: just about anywhere, as most cafes and restaurants in Dharamsala offer quality meals at a reasonable price. Mandala Coffee Shop on Temple Road has great coffee and baked food (as well as wi-fi). Check out the Vegan Japanese restaurant Lung Ta (on Jogibara Road), which offers elaborate vegetarian meals at very cheap prices.
- Dangerous areas: consisting of small villages with friendly and accepting locals, Dharmasala is very different from the (often chaotic) other Indian cities. Locals are very used to Western tourists. In any case, avoid wandering around the Dharamkot or Bhagsu area late at night as most of the mountains do not have any street lights on during the late hours.
RECOMMENDED DHARAMSALA GUIDE BOOKS
- Dharamsala: A Travel Guide to Tibetan Culture, Buddhism, Monasteries, Meditation and Yoga in the Indian Himalaya
Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days