Dharamsala: Man, Religion and Nature – Behold

It is a known fact that Delhi can be unbearably hot in the summers. However, fortunately Delhi is geographically located in the northern part of India, neighbored by the hilly states of Himachal and Uttaranchal. On one such hot and sultry day in Delhi, my friends and I had a sudden urge to break the monotone of life and head towards the hills. Next day, we boarded the Kalka Express. The destination being, the capital of Himachal Pradesh, Shimla.

After a train and bus journey, we found ourselves amidst the hills of Himachal. We were all looking for a change and Shimla was the perfect answer. We travelled all around the hill station and had lots of fun, but one question kept nagging me all the time. Why is Shimla so crowded? Shimla was bustling with tourists of all shapes and sizes. It was crowded to the hilt and the point of going to a quiet and serene place was lost. Going through the Himachal Pradesh tourism brochure we came upon a place called Dharamsala. Dharamshala looked like a dream getaway for us. The next day at day break we all headed for Dharamshala, in search of the much needed serenity and tranquility.

Shimla to Dharamsala is about 230 kms by road, but the path is laden with treacherous routes, steep slopes and a picturesque valley. It was early in the morning when we reached and the place was chilling. When the first rays of sun fell on the land, we  knew this was the place we wanted to be in. The hills are enshrouded with a thick cover of dense deodars, pine and Himalayan oaks. We decided to take a walk towards the hotel so that we could do some sight-seeing as well. One thing that amazed us was how efficiently the melts from the mountains were used by the people there. A narrow stream of melted ice flowed across the houses which were used for house-hold purposes. The place was very clean and there was a general civic sense prevalent. Far into the mountains, we could see the Dhauladhar Mountains with fading ice peaks. The previous night’s rain had covered the area over the Kangri Valley with a thick fog. As the fog faded and the sun’s rays perforated through the holes, it was a scene to behold.  The green vegetation, the chirpy hilly birds, all added to the overall experience.

Dharamsala is located in the Kangri Valley in the Dhauladhar Mountains, in the lower Himalayas range, in the northern part of Himachal Pradesh. Dharamsala is also the summer capital of Himachal Pradesh.  Dharamsala is divided into the Upper Dharamsala and the Lower Dharamsala. Upper Dharamsala is called McLeodGanj, the abode of The Holy Dalai Lama after he fled Tibet. He has been living there since 1959. Lower Dharamsala is the commercial centre of the town and is well-connected by road to the rest of the country. Situated at a height of 1457 m above sea level, the place offers tranquility from the daily chores of life.

Any trip to Dharamsala is incomplete without a trip to McLeodGanj. This place still has an air of Colonial Raj about it. With wooden roofed houses and Buddhist monasteries, this place gives a European feel to it. McLeodGanj is the home for exiles from Tibet, foreign tourists and students alike, who come here to study and understand Buddhism. There are a number of Buddhist monasteries, temples and libraries where one can feel the spirituality and serenity. The Bhagsunag Temple, Shakyamuni Buddha Temple, Masrur and the Library of Tibetan Woks and Archives are such attractions. The whole place has some mystic charm about it which gives a surreal beauty to it. The place is littered with handicrafts and Tibetans art forms which make for interesting souvenirs. One thing that one cannot miss in all shops and commercial houses is the open declaration that they do not sell ‘Chinese goods’. Politics has touched the lives of even the common people here who stand united in their cause for a free Tibet.

A Trip to the Upper Dharamsala is also complemented by some delicious Tibetan cuisine. Momos, Thupkas and Thentuk alike are so irresistible that even the staunchest of vegetarians would take a plunge into binge eating of Tibetan food. The place has a high number of foreign tourists, which makes it an exotic locale. Motor cycles are easily available for those with a rush for mountain riding: this surely makes for some exciting and adventurous sight-seeing. Dharamsala does not attract a large number of tourists as places like Shimla or Darjeeling; hence the place can be travelled around without much ado. Dharamsala also has its share of rapids for adventure enthusiasts. Treks are also carried out from Dharamsala to the Chamba district.

Dharamsala is connected by both air and road. Gaggal Airport is an hour drive from Dharamsala and AC/Non-AC buses ply between Dharamsala and Delhi, Shimla and Chandigarh. The nearest railway station is near Pathankot, which is well-connected to most parts of North India. It has hotels and accommodations of varied price ranges. People are amiable, friendly and courteous. English and Hindi are easily understood by most of the residents of the place. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit this place.

All in all, an experience I would cherish for the rest of my life, but I do plan to visit this beautiful place again sometime soon.

Ravish Prabhakar

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