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Dharamsala

Home of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader in exile


Dharamsala, sometime spelled as Dharamsala is a city in Himachal Pradesh. It is in fact the winter seat of the government of state of Himachal Pradesh and the district headquarters of the Kangra district.

Going up to Dharamsala Going up to Dharamsala
Going up to Dharamsala

Dharamsala consist of three area: Lower Dharamsala, also called McCloud Ganj, the middle Kotwali Bazar and the lower Kaccheri area. Tourist usually go directly to the part of town as this is where the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama lives. Although I have been twice to the town, both times, the Dalai Lama wasn't home.

Dharamsala street scene

Regardless what way you travel you will arrive in Lower Dharamsala and it's quite a climb up to McCloud Ganj. The road swindles up through thick forests of the hills. McCloud Ganj is even smaller then the lower part of town. Here you find many Tibetans. The whole atmosphere is like in Lhasa or Kathmandu, with Tibetan restaurants (even offering Tibetan pizza's and butter tea).

Dharamsala street scene Dharamsala street scene

You can easily walk through the town. The first time I visited it was merely a few streets and a walk away to the house of the Dalai Lama. Unfortunately during my both visits to the town, I didn't get a glimpse of the Dalai Lama. The first because he was in Europe, the second time because he was probably busy. Bad luck, Guess.

I still think the visits were worth the effort. The sceneries are beautiful, there's some excellent hikes in the area to do. You can arrange guides in town. Personally? I really liked it here, spend the first time a week, second time another week.

Tibetan murals in Dharamsala
If you can't go to Tibet or Ladakh, Dharamsala is as close as you can come to both places

Getting there

It is Upper Dharamsala, McCloud Ganj where most travelers want to stay. The lower part of town is nothing special, just another Indian town. However, if you travel by bus, it is here you have to. Air-conditioned, deluxe buses ply between Dharamsala and major cities such as Chandigarh, Delhi, and Shimla. You can also continue to Dalhousie, Manali or even Amritsar.

Street in McCloud Ganj

Where to Stay

McCloud Ganj has more guesthouses then hotels. Off season it is usually easy to find cheap accommodation. However, when there is something planned, a lecture of public performance of the Dalai Lama it will be difficult and prices (of course) go up. You may want to check some of our recommended hotels:

Except in periods that the Dalai Lama will give public readings, it's usually quite easy to find cheap accommodation in the village. However, you can have a look at these links to get some ideas where to stay. I've stayed in several places including in a monastery.

Hiking into the mountains around McCloud GanjHiking into the mountains around McCloud Ganj
Left: Hiking into the mountains around McCloud Ganj
Right: Street in McCloud Ganj

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