Trek, Pray, Eat & Shop: What To Do When You Are In Dharamshala
Do A Trek Or Go Paragliding
Easily one of the most memorable and easiest trek routes in Himachal, a trek to Triund must be on every squad and solo traveller checklist. The Triund trek is one of the easiest and most stunning treks in Himachal Pradesh. Starting from McLeodgang, you hike up higher than Dharamkot and Bhagsu Nag to reach the hilly climes of Triund. The landscape offers an alluring view of the snow-capped Dhauladhar Range, namely Mun, Rifle Horn, Arthur’s seat and Slab. Normally safe (even during most of the winter), Triund is accessible in all the seasons, in fact it looks like a wonderland when covered in a blanket of snow. In the summer, it is all about lush meadows and bright flora.
Another place to hit up if you are seeking thrills is Bir Billing, which lies just 8 km away from Dharamshala. One of the best places to go paragliding over the valleys, gorges and peaks, this one will give you an unforgettable experience. To sign it off on a beautiful and serene note, hike up to Naddi and stay there to catch the sunset as the sun paints the sky in a multitude of colours.
Pray With The Tibetans
Dharamshala is the seat of the exiled Tibetans, and the main temple of Tibetan Buddhism lies right at the centre of McLeodganj - the beautiful edifice of Tibetan Buddhism or the Tsulagkhang Temple. Also, known as the seat of the Dalai Lama, this is the place from where he delivers his sermons when in town. The temple with its open porches and balconies overlook the majestic hills and deciduous forests, and is a great place to catch a few peaceful moments.
The other important gomphas to check are the Kalachakra temple (located in the main street of McLeodganj and the Gyuto Monastery (a 10-minute drive from Norbulingka). Up ahead in the village of McLeodganj lies another popular Hindu temple, Bhagsu Nag, that is worth a visit too.
What you can't miss though is the Bhagsu Nag waterfall that is a popular site for a chilly, shivering dunk. Downhill stands the decrepit St. John’s Church in wilderness. Built in the 1800s, it’s one of those gothic edifices that still stand as a reminder to the bygone British era.
Quaint Cafes To Chill & Eat
A quaint place that is heavily frequented by foreigners, Dharamshala - especially McLeodganj - has several charming eateries lining it. The Illiterati Cafe is its most famous joint. You can sit by the hanging balcony that overlooks the hills and sip on your Tibetan tea while working on your laptop or reading a book picked from the cafe. Don’t miss a visit to the shabby old Tibet Kitchen for authentic Tibetan fare. Hit up the Woeser Bakery and the matchbox-sixed Peace Café for a good breakfast. Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen and Korean Café Ri are some other popular haunts that you may not want to give a miss. And there are all those the momo stalls that crowd every nook of McLeodganj.
Local Markets For Shopaholics
The Jogiwara Road in McLeodganj is lined with street stalls and small curio shops selling Tibetan jewellery, clothes and knick-knacks. A great place to pick traditional Tibetan attire and beautiful beaded wristbands, these are totally worth a bargain. If you've the eye for it, you'll also find artefacts made of amazing semi-precious stones that are otherwise rare to find. The best place to check out for assured quality is of course the government curio shop that is tucked at the corner towards the end of the Jogiwara Road.
Read Your Stars At Men Tsee Khang
Established to preserve the traditional arts of Tibetan medicine and astrology, Men-Tsee-Khang is a college, clinic, museum, research centre and astrological institute rolled into one. The astrological folk can do a 45-minute oral consultation (for around INR 2,000 - register in person half a day ahead with your birth date, time and place), or a detailed life-horoscope online, which you'll receive by e-mail and also get a hard copy within four months.
Explore Tibetan Books & Arts
Hike down about two kilometres downhill from the Tsuglakhang Complex, and you get to the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives which began life as a repository for sacred manuscripts saved from the Cultural Revolution. Today it has over 120,000 manuscripts and books in Tibetan, and over 15,000 books on Tibet, Buddhism and the Himalayan region in English and other languages. Upstairs is a fascinating cultural museum with statues, old Tibetan artefacts and books, and some astonishing three-dimensional mandalas in wood and sand.
This flourishing arts school keeps traditional Tibetan dance, music and colourful folk opera - lhamo - very much alive among the exiled community. You can visit the folk museum and ask at the office for a tour (donations are welcome for both).They stage Tibetan cultural performances including a 1½-hour show of folk and ritual dance and song and concerts by the popular electric folk fusion group, Aa Ka Ma.
Stay At The Tibetan Sanctuary Of Norbulingka
The Norbulingka Institute in Lower Dharamshala (Sidhpur) is a sanctuary preserving Tibetan cultural anthropology, this was built in 1988 by Kelsang and Kim Yeshi. Designed in the traditional Tibetan architectural style, resembling the thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara, this institute is named after the summer palace of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa, Tibet. At the heart of the institute lies the Deden Tsuglakahng Temple (Seat of Happiness Temple). The temple houses one of the largest copper statues of Shakyamuni, and is surrounded by beautifully manicured and prayer-flag adorned gardens.
Around the temple are the art studios dedicated to Thangka painting, wood painting, weaving and tailoring and metal sculpting. The studios also offer workshops and apprenticeship programmes. You must check out the Losel Doll Museum here. It houses over 150 Losel dolls which depicts the rich cultural diversity of Tibet — its diverse tribes, customs and livelihoods. Nestled in this tranquil surrounding is a quaint eatery, the Hummingbird Café. One of the other popular haunts for visitors inside the institute is the Norbulingka Shop that sells the products made by the artisans in the institute.