Hill station

Dharamshala Hill Station | McLeod Ganj

Written by Sudhir Kumar

Set against the backdrop of the dramatic Dhauladhar Mountains the hill station of Dharamsala is perched at the elevation ranges from 1,250 m to 2,000 m above the sea level in the upper reaches of Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh. The town is divided into two distinct and widely separated sections Upper and Lower Dharamsala differing by about 1000m in altitude. Today the hill station of Dharamsala become popular on the world map as it is the seat of His holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. It also houses a large settlement of Tibetan refugee. The hill station of Dharamsala also has number of monasteries and temples which serves as a major tourist attraction. Even if the Tibetan community dominates the town but it still retained its colonial lifestyle and British fervors.

About Dharamshala :

Dharamshala is synonyms to scenic beauty, serenity and calmness. This is one of the picturesque hill station which is located in the gorgeous Kangra Valley, which elegantly stands at the foot of snow wrapped lofty Dhauladhar ranges, in Himachal Pradesh. Shrouded in pristine beauty of nature truly this is one of the scenic place for an ideal vacation in India. This breathtakingly beautiful hill town of Dharamshala is popularly known as the home of Dalai Lama and a prime centre of Tibetan Buddhism. Mesmerizing Dharamshala is picturesquely bounded by the gorgeous streams and rivers, pine-clad hills, lofty snowy peaks, ancient temples and numerous pagodas -shaped monastries. This picturesque hill town is lovingly identified as the ‘Queen of the Hills’ which is divided into the Upper and Lower Dharamshala. The difference in the altitude between the upper and the lower Dharamshala is around 1000 meters. The colonial charm and the scenic atmosphere of upper Dharamshala and the lower part of this town are very popular for its scenic charm. The Lower part of this town is the commercial centre. Truly the cascading waterfalls, picturesque lakes, pine and deodar forests etc, truly make this place bliss for the visitors, Truly the beauty and charm of the place is beyond the imagination and is very hard to explain in words. Dharamshala is a scenic place which is full of life and yet very peaceful.

Places To See In Dharamshala :

  • St. John’S Church In Wilderness : 7-km upward from Dharamsala, between Forsyth Ganj and Mcleod Ganj lies the charming St. John’s Church. It was built in 1852 and is dressed in grey stone with some fine Belgian stained glass windows donated by Lady Elgin. The church is popularly known as the church of St. John in Wilderness.
  • Chamunda Devi Temple : Not far from Dharamsala is the famous temple of Chamunda Devi. It is an enchanting spot with glorious views of the mountains, the Baner Khud, Pathiar and Lahla forests. 15-km from Dharamshala a tiny village of Dadh on Palampur road is the famous temple dedicated to Goddess Chamunda Devi.
  • Maharana Pratap Sagar : Named in honour of the great patriot ‘Maharana Pratap’ (1572 – 97 AD), the Maharana Pratap Sagar was once known as the ‘Pong Dam Reservoir’. India knows the ‘Maharana’ as a man who struggled valiantly for his kingdom of ‘Mewar’-as for the principle of independence. In the words of the Chroniclers James Tod and William Crooke, “He spurned every overture that had submission for its basis”. Over the river Beas, the “Pong Dam” was completed in 1976. Its reservoir has an area of about 45,0000 hectares at maximum possible flooding – the level varies with every season and averages around 30,000 hectares. Over 2,000 villages with a population of over 85, people are lying along the wetland. THE WILDLIFE SANCTUARY In 1983, the Sagar was declared a wildlife sanctuary and over 2,20 species of bird belonging to 54 families have been sighted over the waters and the fringing mud-banks-these include black – headed gulls, plovers, terns, ducks, water-fowl and egrets. The first sighting in the region of the red-necked grebe, was made at the Sagar. The wetland’s location at the head of the Indian plains has made it a suitable habitat and stopover for migratory birds that enter India from Central Asia. The land portion of the sanctuary has barking deer, sambar, wild borars, nilgai, leopards and claw-less others. Twenty-seven species and sub-species of fish belonging to six families have been recorded in the Sagar’s waters. Some of the important commercial varieties are – Labeo dero (Gid), Labeo rohita, Labeo Calbasu, Tor putitora (Mahsir), and Mystus seenghala (Singhara). Since 1976, fishing has been a major economic activity in the areas and today, this provides employment to some 1,500 fishermen and the annual catch is valued at over a corore rupees.
  • Norbulinka Institute : Just 4-kms from Dharamsala is Norbulinka. This place has heavy Japanese influence. The Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan Culture was founded by the Department of Religion and Culture to preserve and promote Tibetan art and culture in exile.
  • Nurpur Fort : Orginally known as Dhameri, 66-km from Dharamsala and 24-km from Pathankot, Nurpur Fort was renamed by the Emperor Jehangir, son of the Great Moghul Jalal-Ud-Din Mohammad Akbar. The fort is now in its ruins, but still has some finely carved reliefs.
  • Tsug-Lag-Khang (Central Cathedral) : Though a plain and utilitarian substitute for its far more splendid namesake in Lhasa, also known as the Jokhang, the Tsug-Lag-Khang is nevertheless fascinating and peaceful. Situated opposite the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tsug-Lag-Khang is known to the local Indians as the Main Temple.
  • Andretta : Situated just 13-kms away from Palampur, lies this dwelling place of artist S.Sobha Singh. It houses a gallery of some of his major works and a pottery center.
  • Dall Lake : Surrounded by high and green Deodar trees is the lake, which fills a mountain bowl. Situated 11-kms away from the town, this lake is easily approachable by road and makes an enchanting and serene picnic spot.
  • Dharmkot : Just 11-km away from Dharamsala, located on the crest of a hill lie this attractive picnic spot, which presents a panoramic view of the Kangra valley and Dauladhar ranges.
  • Karanje : 37 kms from Mangalore on the road to Dharmasthala is the holy place of Karanje, well known for its medieval Shiva temple. Situated on a hill 1,500 ft high, it commands a panoramic view of the surrounding area.
  • Kunal Pathri : These are the rock temples from which the place derives its name. Kunal pathri is a 3 kms flat walk from Kotwali Bazaar.
  • Lord Elgin’s Memorial : After the honors of 1857, India’s First War of independence, Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India. Her Prime Minister, Lord Canning made the proclamation and the Governor General’s title was raised to that of Viceroy of India.
  • Moodabidri : Moodabidri, 23 kms from Venur described as Jaina Kashi, is known for the 18 bastis, the most famous of them being ‘Savira Kambada Basti’ (Basti with thousand pillars). Built in 1430 AD, this basti has beautiful monolith columns and priceless collection of jewel-studded metal images of Jain Tirthankaras.
  • Namgyal Monastery : In 1575 Sonam Gyatso, the Third Dalai Lama, officially founded a monastery, which later came to be known as Namgyal Dratsang (Victorious Monastery). Since its inception, the monastery has assisted the Dalai Lamas in their public religious activities for the welfare of Tibet.
  • Pong Lake Sanctuary : Pong Dam reservoir is 65-km from Panthankot and 115-km from Dharamsala on the Beas River. The Pong Dam Lake is significant for a wildlife sanctuary with wild life species like Nilgai, Sambar, Barking Deer, Wild Buar, Clawless Otter, and Leapord. The reservoir is developed on a large scale for promoting water sports for tourists.
  • Mcleod Ganj : Tibet has lent importance to Mcleod Ganj. The Buddha temple is situated opposite the present abode of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. This place is well worth a visit and around it is situated Tibetan monasteries and nunnery. A number of residential buildings, restaurants, antique and curio shops are present.

  • Venur : Venur 30 kms from Dharamsala, is famous for the Gomateshwara statue built in 1605 AD by an Ajila Prince.
  • War Memorial : It is a very beautiful place to visit. This memorial is built near the entry point to Dharamshala. It was built to commemorate the memory of those who fought in defense of the motherland.

  • Bhagsunath : 11 km. It has an old temple, a spring, slate quarries and a small yet beautiful waterfall. A popular picnic spot.

Climate of Dharamshala :

As Dharamsala is situated in the Himalayas, the climate of this hill station is very pleasant during the summers but in winters the cold is very bad. Temperature can drop below the freezing point during the winters and heavy woollen cloths are required. During the summers the weather is mild and pleasant. Best time to visit Dharamshala is between March and October. Avoid coming here during the monsoon months.

Geography of Dharamshala :

Dharamshala is located very close to the perennial snowline and surrounded by deodar forests and the Dhauladhar range, the mighty snowy mountains of Dharamshala. These mountains rise about 4000 m above the floor of the valley, and follow you wherever you go. Their sides are covered with fields of mustard flowers and daisies, red roofed houses, garlands of colourful Tibetan prayer flags that wave to the heavens.

Popular Shopping Centres in Dharamshala :

Dharamsala offers mainly the handicraft items, which are manufactured by the local artisans. The Kotwali Bazaar is one of the main shopping areas in the town. The main attraction of the town is Tibetan carpets. These carpets are delicately woven and are decorated with vivid colours. The Motifs on these carpets are either inspired from nature or from the monuments or carry a description of some folk story of the Tibetan cultural heritage. Over all, these carpets carry a totally different style and attraction from their counterparts in Kashmir or the Persian carpets. Further the local handicrafts are also available in the market. Tibetan Textile can be purchased from the office of Tibetan handicrafts. One can always bargain items like the traditional hat, the Chubas, the traditional wear for the Tibetan women, bags, trousers etc.

Travel Information :

By Air : Dharamsala can be approached by air from Delhi and the nearest Airport is at Gaggla, just 13-km away from the town.
By Road : From Manali too bus services are available to this place. One can drive from Delhi via Chandigarh, Kiratpur, Bilaspur and it’s an 8-hours journey. From Delhi and Shimla, luxury buses ply to Dharamsala.
Rail : Pathankot is 85-km and is the nearest railhead for Dharamsala. Trains from all over the country make a stop over at Pathankot and from here it is a three-hour journey to Dharamsala.

Distance from Dharamshala to Major Cities :

  • Kangra : 22 Km
  • Pathankot : 90 Km
  • Delhi : 520 Km
  • Chandigarh : 252 Km
  • Manali : 235 Km
  • Dalhousie : 127 Km
  • Shimla : 270 Km

Area  : 5739 sq. kms.
Location : Himachal Pradesh.
Population : 1,149,744 
Altitude :
Between 1250 m to 1550 m (Dharamshala) 
Languages :
Hindi, Punjabi, English and Pahari 
Temperature Max.
38 C in June: Min. 0 C in Jan. 
Best Season  :
March to June  & September to December 
Winter Clothing  :
Heavy Woollens 
Summer Clothing :
Light Woollen and tropical

About the author

Sudhir Kumar

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