Dharamshala with ‘dharma’ and ‘shala’ put together and translated literally from Hindi means ‘spiritual sanctuary’. The city, which is more of a town, definitely lives up to its name. Dharamshala is located in Himachal Pradesh, in the northern part of India. It is the winter seat of the Government of the State of Himachal Pradesh and lies within the Kangra District.
The city, located between the mountains is a small piece of heaven in itself. I belong to a metropolitan city where fresh air and a break from technology and the treacherous monotony of everyday life are difficult to find. Located at an altitude of 1250-1550 metres, this was the perfect break I could ask for; small simple buildings, simple people and lots of cold and fresh air.
I visited Dharamshala in the month of June and found it pleasantly cool with patches of rainfall every now and then. The best time to explore Dharamshala is from January to June and from September to December. You will need light woolens all the time and if you decide to go during the winters, you will need heavy woolens to protect yourself from the cold. The best way to get here is by hiring a car from one of the major cities in the state or from Chandigarh. My advice is not drive on your own because of the tricky roads. The safest bet is to hire a driver who knows the place and has driven through many times.
The best part of being in Dharamshala, is waking up every morning to the sight of the majestic mountains from your window. Being from a city along the sea, mountains were extremely refreshing. I would gaze at the vast openness for hours just taking in all the beauty.
The major attraction in Dharamshala is Mcleod Gunj, the residence of the His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. The place is a haven for all the refugees from Tibet. The monastery Tsuglagkhang is at the peak where The Dalai Lama prays every day. It is located away from the hustle and bustle of the market place and is the perfect place to relax and get in touch with the self. It gives a divine feeling to sit there while the monks pray and sing their hymns. The hymns get deep into you and make you relax and feel one with yourself. Being perfectly calm and peaceful you can think more clearly and find answers to all your problems.
Just besides the monastery is the Tibetan history museum. This museum shows how China conquered the peaceful country of Tibet and how they mercilessly slaughtered its people. It tells the story of the blatant violence which the people of Tibet had to face. There are many photos and videos of accounts of the refugees who had managed to escape the Chinese brutality by entering India or Nepal. After leaving this museum, you will truly feel for the cause of Tibet. You will almost feel their pain.
Besides this, there are several places to shop in Dharamshala such as the Kotwali Bazaar where you can get genuine Tibetan handicrafts. Another advice is to avoid eating at your hotel as they will only serve you the food which is suitable for everyone. If you want genuine local food, just hit the markets like I did. Though I warn you, if your stomach doesn’t agree with spices, it is best left alone.
Other places you may want to visit are St. John’s church which is a beautiful church surrounded by greenery, The War Memorial located in the pine forest which is a tribute to all those who fought and died for their motherland and the Dal Lake which unfortunately had dried up by the time I reached Dharamshala.
Besides being the home of the Tibetan revolt, the city is peaceful and spiritual. Even if you aren’t religious, you will not be able to keep away from the spirituality of this place. Therefore plan a trip for Himachal Pradesh rather than the city itself. Spend 2-3 days in Dharamashala and then explore the rest of Himachal.
For me, Dharmshala was an amazing holiday, a much needed break. It had everything I needed. From fresh air, some time to think by myself, sometime to catch up on reading and simple living and finally long walks. Spend some time alone in Dharamshala and you may just rediscover yourself. If there is something on your mind, which you wish to get rid of it or if you simply want a break, I would suggest Dharamshala is the place to visit.
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