The town of Dharamsalalies in the northern regions of Indian the state of Himachal Pradesh. Situated on the top slopes in the higher reaches of Kangra Valley, Dharamsala is a holy tourist spot for the Buddhists. In the background are the Dhauladhar Mountains that present a truly scenic view. The town is a proof of the British colonial atmosphere that prevailed here, once upon a time. Dharamsala has come to be, as the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile. Dharamsala is also the seat of His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama in India. This makes it an ideal Buddhist travel site.
Dharamsala is divided into two parts, the Upper Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj) and the Lower Dharamsala, varying by approximately 1000 m in altitude. The former is the abode of Tenzin Gyatso, the present Dalai Lama. It, also houses a large community of Tibetan exiles.
Dharamsala or Dharmshala literally means "Rest House". A large settlement of Tibetan refugee resides in Dharamsala. Adorned in their robes, monks and old Tibetans can be seen walking with rosaries or the prayer wheels rotating in their hands. This is a predominant sight in this little town. It is one of the most sought after Buddhist pilgrimage sites.
In Dharamsala, the major attractions for the tourists are monasteries and temples. There are also several institutes that have been established to preserve the art, culture and traditions of Tibet. Many foreign devotees of the religion of Buddhism thus, make a pilgrimage tour to India.
Dharamsala came into being in 1849.It served as subsidiary cantonment for the British troops stationed at the Kangra Valley. As the town was fully occupied by its garrison there was no space for the civil station. The slopes of the Dhauladhar mountain became an alternate location.
In Dharamsala, Hinduism and Buddhism have had a fair share. Many monasteries had been established by Tibetan immigrants in the 8th century but are believed to have declined. There was a revival of the Hindu customs and traditions. Now, the local Gaddi people are mostly Hindus worshipping mainly Durga and Shiva.
In 1848, the British annexed the area and established a military garrison. In 1852, Dharamsala became the administrative capital of Kangra District. It also became a popular hill station for the British, giving them a cool respite during the hot summer months.
In 1960, the Dalai Lama had to leave Tibet in exile. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru offered to extend a helping hand to him and his followers to establish a "government in exile" in Dharamsala. From then on, many Tibetan exiles have settled in the town, establishing monasteries, temples and schools. These form part of prime pilgrimage sites in India.
Tourist Attractions in and around Dharamsala:
- Namgyal Monastery: It is the personal monastery of The Dalai Lama. It houses huge statues of the Buddha, Avalokitesvara and Padmasambhava. There is also an institute for futures Lamas, to learn higher Tibet studies.
- Gangchen Kyishong: The offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives are located here.
- Monastery of Nechung Oracle: Situated within the complex of Gangchen Kyishong, the official oracle of The Dalai Lama sits here.
- Men-Tse-Khang: Located very near to Nechung, it is the center for Tibetan Medicine
- Norbulingka Monastery: This beautiful monastery has a rich collection of art, paintings, handicrafts and thankas.
- Rewalsar: The cave temple of the great Indian Tantrik Guru Padmasambhava is located here.
During the months of December and January, snowfall and hail is common. In winter,
Dharamsala is very cold. The Dhauladar range of hills, at over 15000 feet, is covered with thick snow during winter and sometimes in Autumn and Spring also. Thick forests of Pine and Deodars offer a natural sight around the town.
How to reach Dharamsala :
The nearest railway station is that of Pathankot, approximately 85 km away from Dharamsala. The nearest Airport is at Gaggal, approximately 13 km away from the town. There are also regular bus services from Manali, Delhi and Shimla to Dharamsala.