Dharamshala is situated in the lap of Dhauladhar Mountains just above the beautiful valley of Kangra. Being a close proximity to Pathankot, Dharamshala always remain an easily accessible destination to me. Since, I am a regular visitor to the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Katra, I normally club my visit to Kangra Valley with that trip. It also provides a great chance to enjoy the Himalayan Mountain Railways from Pathankot to Kangra Temple.
Once, I got a golden chance to stay in Kangra for approx. 20 days. Although, I was engaged in other works, but 20 days period was good enough to explore the villages, temples and hills of the Kangra Valley. I visited the famous temples like Baijnath, Jwala Devi, Kangra Devi, Chamunda Devi, (Read: The Famous Temples in Kangra Valley ) beautiful tea gardens of Palampur, Taragarh, scenic villages like Chetru, Sarah, Sakoh, Baddi etc in addition to the Little Lhasa McLeodganj and Dharamshala.
Dharamshala is the seat of the district headquarters of the Kangra. It is a city in the upper reaches of the Kangra Valley and is surrounded by dense coniferous forest consisting mainly of stately Deodars. The name literally is the combination of two Sanskrit words, Dharam meaning religion and Shala meaning dwelling place, giving it a meaning “religious dwelling for the pilgrims”.
Enclosed by dense coniferous forest holding major stately Deodars, the town is split into three parts namely Upper Dharamsala called McLeod Ganj (Read, A Day in the Little Lhasa: McLeodganj) (British and Tibetan site), the middle Kotwali Bazar, and the Lower Dharmsala or Kaccheri area (commercial site). Upper Dharamshala is at nine kms from Lower Dharamshala and is at a height of 460 m from Dharamshala. Further carrying the distinct points, Lower Dharamsala is the abode of Indians, while the Upper one is that of the Tibetans. Rather than confusing it with Lower and Upper Part, let us call only Dharamshala (for lower) and McLeodganj (for upper).
Most of the tourist activities are centred around McLeodganj and beyond to the popular trekking trail of Triund. Dharamshala mainly serves as the transit point for McLeodganj, because the main bus stand is situated here. Most of the time people arrive in Dharamshala and take another bus to McLeodganj. Dharamshala looks very crowded from the bus stand, but when you spend some time in the city to explore its hidden treasures, it is as beautiful as McLeodganj or other popular hill stations in India. (Read: Some Beautiful Places in The Spectacular Kangra Valley)
It is better to just roam around in the city to find some beautiful spots, rather than planning to visit some popular attractions. I roamed around in the streets of Dharamshala many times and enjoyed every corner of this city. However, Dharamshala and McLeodganj are now the victim of too much commercialization. A lot has been changed since my first visit (nearly 14 years ago) to Dharamshala. In the last 14 years, I visited this city many times and with every passing year, the main tourist areas are becoming overcrowded and uninteresting. I only go there because I have a nostalgic memory with Kangra Valley. It is the first Himalayan destination, that I explored properly, when it was not on the list of every North Indian’s weekend trips. It has some famous goddesses temples as well as beautiful tea gardens, another driving force behind multiple visits.
Some nice places to visit in Dharamshala are:
Martyr’s Memorial (War Memorial): This is situated well before the main bus stand near Government College. Himachal Pradesh has a reach history to serve the nation through armed forces. This garden is dedicated to the all those martyr’s who fell while defending Bharat Mata, our homeland, during aggressions by Pakistan, China and during some peace operations under United Nations. The name of Martyrs are written on the walls of the memorial.
HPCA Cricket Stadium: It is a cricket stadium of international reputation, which serves as home ground to the Himachal Pradesh state cricket team. By virtue of its setting in nature, it is one of the most attractive cricket stadiums in India.The snow capped mountains can be easily viewed throughout the year.
Tea Gardens: Dharamshala is situated on the mountain ranges and there are many roads connecting it with the lower places in Kangra Valley. Once such road connects Dharamshala with other places like Mata Kunal Pathari Temple, Sarah Village etc. The beautiful tea gardens are approx 3 kms away from the bus stand on this road going towards Mata Kunal Pathari Temple. Nearly two kms of almost level walk passes through the urban settlement of Dharamshala and after that stretch you find yourself in the lap of nature.This place is surrounded by dense tea gardens and is a perfect place to have a natural walk.
Gandhi Park: Gandhi Park is a small park adjacent to the main road. It is a small park and nothing is there in particular to interest a tourist. However, if you want to view a beautiful sunset, it is the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset view in Dharamshala.
Government College, Dharamshala: There are plenty of food options available in the city, but, if you want to enjoy some gol-gappe and chat, then no one can beat the thelawala, near the entry gate of Dharamshala College.
Where to Stay in Dharamshala? There are many hotels available in Dharamshala, but many people prefer to stay in either McLeodganj or Kangra, because Dharamshala doesn’t appeal them to spend few days. That is true also. If you don’t have any intention to explore the street of Dharamshala without any particular interest, then this is not a place to waste your precious travel time. In this case, it is better to explore Dharamshala on a day trip only. Good thing is that after the construction of the cricket stadium in the beautiful surroundings, Dharamshala is again on the must visit list of many travellers. (Read, Chetru : A Beautiful Village in Kangra Valley)
How to Reach Dharamshala?
By Air: The Gaggal Airport (Kangra) is approx 13 kms away from the city centre of Dharamshala. It lies on the main highway, going from Kangra to Pathankot. Gaggle Airport is approx 6 kms away from the Kangra City. The flight operations at the airport is very nominal. There are two daily flights from Delhi to Gaggal operated by Spice Jet and Air India Regional (Alliance Air). However, it’s advisable to book the tickets early, since the prices are expected to be very high on the closer date of travels.
How To Reach Dharamshala from Gaggal Airport: Cabs are available outside the terminal in case you want to hire a private vehicle. No shared vehicle is available.
For public transport, just walk outside the airport premises on the main highway. Catch a local bus to Gaggal town T-point, that is approx. 2 kms away from the airport. From, T-point catch a public bus to Dharamshala. The buses are frequently available from 0500 AM to 0700 PM.
By Train: A narrow gauge Himalayan Mountain Railway Train connects Kangra to Pathankot. Pathankot is a major railway junction on Jammu Railway Route. Some trains don’t pass through Pathankot Junction, but they stop at Chakki Bank Railway Station, which are only 5 kms apart from Pathankot.
From Pathankot, you should catch a Himalayan Mountain Railway Train to Kangra Mandir Railway Station. This line further goes upto Joginder Nagar. Journey on the Pathankot-Kangra Train with the splendid view of Pong Dam in the background is one of the most memorable experiences. From Kangra Temple station, an auto can be hired to reach at Kangra Bus Stand.
By Bus: Dharamshala is connected to the major cities in the North India by road networks. The public government buses are easily available from all the major cities, but frequency may remain very low. If you are travelling from other parts of India, better to get a bus from Delhi or Chandigarh, where frequency of the buses are relatively good. From Pathankot also, buses are available at regular intervals to Kangra. From Kangra, buses are available at every 15-20 minutes to Dharamshala.