The Best Places To Visit In Dharamshala For A Refreshing Experience
Dharamshala is at a height of 1475 meters above sea level and located in the upper reaches of the Kangra valley in Himachal Pradesh. Dharamshala is famous as the home of the Dalai Lama. In fact, he actually stays in Mcleodganj which is 3km further up from here. Famous among spirituality seekers and adventure seekers alike, Dharamshala is a good place to get a glimpse of Tibetan culture, amidst a place with breathtaking scenery which boasts of colourful monasteries, temples, natural delights of the snowy mountain peaks and gushing waterfalls. There is even a fort and museum here to add to the mix. Both Indian and foreign tourists abound here. If you wanted to know about the best tourist attractions in Dharamshala, dive right in.
16 Best Places To Visit in Dharamshala
- Tsuglagkhang Complex
- Namgyal Monastery
- Kangra Fort
- Kangra Art Museum
- Gyuto Monastery
- Dal Lake of Dharamshala
- Kareri Lake
- Bhagsunag Temple
- Bhagsunag Waterfalls
- Tibet Museum
- Men-Tsee-Khang and the Men-Tsee – Khang Museum
- St John in the Wilderness
- Dharamshala Cricket Ground
- Library of Tibetan Works & Archives
- Norbulingka Institute
1. Tsuglagkhang Complex
If for some reason you have only a couple of hours and you need to understand the Tibetan culture in Dharamshala, the Tsuglagkhang complex In McLeodganj would be the best place to do so. The Tsuglagkhang complex is a religious center that was built in 1959 when His Holiness the Dalai Lama reached India in 1959 and needed a place to stay. Today, the complex is the residence of the Dalai Lama as well as a monastery. Don’t be put off if you see that the outer architecture of the center is not very impressive, it is what is inside that intrigues most people. Once inside you’ll see the different areas such as the central courtyard where monks are engaged in lively debate every day at 1.30 pm except on Sundays, the pilgrims’ prostrating area and the Kalachakra ‘Wheel of Life’ temple with its impressive mandalas and statues. Finally, once you are past the monastery kitchens you will come to the main temple room where you can see the throne where the Dalai Lama sits when delivering teachings. There is no entry fee to enter here and it is open on all days from 5 am to 8 pm.
2. Namgyal Monastery
Another important learning centre and one of the most famous tourist attractions in Dharamshala is the Namgyal monastery with more than 200 monks. It was established by the 3rd Dalai Lama in Tibet in 1575 but had to be relocated to Dharamshala after the Chinese invasion in 1959. The monastery attracts visitors round the year with its beautiful air of serenity around it. Worth watching here is the prayer rooms and the meditation sessions of the monks. The monastery is open for visitors every day, from 6am to 7 pm. Entry is free here.
Masrur is not exactly in Dharamshala but it is difficult to exclude Masrur from any mention of places to visit in Dharamshala because of its uniqueness. Ancient rock cut temples dating back to the 8th century are found here and are second to none in terms of finesse and details. Some of the deities carved on the rocks are Lord Ram, Sita, Lakshmana and others from the Ramayana. It is wonderful to note that even in the 8th century man had tamed nature at such high altitudes and constructed such awe-inspiring constructions here. Masrur is at a distance of 47 km from Dharamshala and is a 1.5 hour ride away.
4. Kangra Fort
A fort in the Himalayas sounds like an oddity and even more so when you come to know that is one of the oldest forts in India. Kangra fort is an ancient structure whose origins are shrouded in legend and the fort is supposed to date back to the times of the Mahabharata. The fort is believed to have been built by the rulers of the Katoch dynasty (A royal Rajput family of Kangra).
In the present day, the fort covers an area of around 4 km and consists of three ancient temples – Ambika Devi temple, Shitalamata temple and the Lakshmi Narayan temple. The fort also contains sever well-preserved halls and watchtowers, which date back to the 9th century A.D. Do not forget to visit the Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch Museum here which will give you more details about the fort. The fort is a 40-minute drive from Dharamshala and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region. The fort is open for visitors from 9 am to 6 pm. The entry fees are INR 150 for Indians and INR 300 for foreigners.
5. Kangra Art Museum
The Kangra Art Museum is near the Dharamshala bus stand and is a repository of everything significant in Buddhism and the culture of the Kangra valley. There are statues, weapons, rare collection of coins and pottery here that date back to the 5th century and there is a library here as well which houses precious books, manuscripts and poems. The museum is open all days except Monday, from 10 am to 1.30 pm and 2 pm to 5 pm. The entry fee is INR 10 for Indians and INR 50 for foreigners.
6. Gyuto Monastery
Another monastery that offers an up close and personal look at Tibetan culture and history after the Dalai Lama and his followers were forced to flee to India, the Gyuto monastery was built in memory of those who sacrificed their lives in Tibet’s war for freedom.
With the majestic Dhauladhar mountain range as its backdrop, the monastery exudes an aura of serenity and beauty. The monastery is famous for research on Buddhist philosophy, Tantric rituals and Tantric meditation and thus this is also a great place for any scholar who is pursuing Buddhist studies. There is no entry fee here
7. Dal Lake of Dharamshala
Not to be confused with its eponymous counterpart in Jammu and Kashmir, this lake resembles the lake in Kashmir and is a popular place for a picnic. It is surrounded by thick deodar and juniper forests and is home to a much loved annual fair. You can trek, go for boat rides and pay your respect at the Shiva temple on the shore of the lake. Photography and nature buffs will have a field time out here. There is no entry fee and visitors can visit anytime between sunrise and sunset.
8. Kareri Lake
Perched at a height of 1775 metres, Kareri Lake is not easily accessible by roads and thus not the usual tourist haunt. It is a place for thrill seekers and hikers as it serves as a base camp for further trekking towards the Dhauladhar range. The stunning surroundings of thick deodar carpeted forests and snowy peaks in the distance make it an ideal spot for a getaway for all and also a nice picnic spot.
9. Bhagsunag Temple
As big is the Buddhist influence in Himachal Pradesh, the state has more than its fair share of Hindu temples and Hindu people too. One such much frequented temple is the Bhagsunag temple, in the town of Bhagsu, which is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Every year, thousands of pilgrims flock to the temple and take a dip in its freshwater pool which is considered to be auspicious. The temple is open to devotees from 6am to 7 pm and there is no entry fee. It is located 1km away from Mcleodganj and you’ll need to walk to reach the temple.
10. Bhagsunag Waterfalls
The namesake of the temple, this waterfall is located a few kilometres above the Bhagsunag temple. It is 20 metres in height and the continuous surge of milky white water flowing down the rocks with tremendous force is a sight to behold. This is also a stopover for hikers who trekking further up ahead. As with any other natural spot, there are no entry fees for visiting this location.
11. Tibet Museum
Among the places to see in Dharamshala, this must-see museum tells the story of Tibet’s history as an independent nation that was taken over by the Chinese since 1949. The striking photographs here tell this story and there is also accompanying English language explanation. There is no entry fee to visit the museum and you can visit on all days of the week between 9am to 5am.
12. Men-Tsee-Khang and the Men-Tsee – Khang Museum
Men-Tsee-Khang is an organisation in Mcleodganj that deserves your attention as a tourist. Devoted to the preservation of Tibetan medicine and astrology, this organization has a college, clinic, research centre and astrological institute along with a museum.
The museum has samples of medicines, their plant and mineral sources and instruments used for treatments. There are illustrative Thangkas too about these things and unique instruments such as a brass hammer which was used for treating insanity, body-ache and tumours. Everything is explained well in English.
If you’re really curious and willing to learn about Tibetan medicine, there are short courses here on the basics of Tibetan medicine. Similarly, for the more mystically inclined among you, you can schedule consultations with astrologers who can give you a detailed horoscope about your life. You can receive these horoscopes either by mail or email.
Men-Tsee-Khang is open from 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5 pm and closed on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month. The entry fee is 20 INR.
13. St John in the Wilderness
If you head west of McLeodganj for around 1.5 km in the middle of a forest of tall cedars, you will come across this Gothic church which is one of the few existing reminders of the time when the town used to be a British town.
This gloomy looking church dates from 1852 and was partly destroyed in 1905 during the great earthquake. It contains the tombs of the Earl of Elgin, the second viceroy of India, along with the graves of many victims of 1905. The church is still active and prayer service is held every Saturday and Sunday.
14. Dharamshala Cricket Ground
One of the highest cricket grounds in the world and host to international matches as well, you’ll always have a constant dilemma while watching a match here. The dilemma is –whether you should look at the match or the mountains? One of the biggest draws of watching a match here is that there is no fence around the sitting area which means that there are no obstacles while watching the match. The stadium is open to tourists even when there are no matches so just go there and soak in the beauty of these picturesque surroundings.
15. Library of Tibetan Works & Archives
Located at a distance of 2 km downhill from the Tsuglagkhang complex, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives started as a collection of sacred manuscripts saved from the Cultural Revolution. Today, more than 120,000 manuscripts and books in Tibetan, and more than 150000 books on Tibet, Buddhism and the Himalayan region in English and other languages are conserved here. This is one of the very interesting places to see in Dharamshala if you’re a history buff.
On the upper floors of this building is a museum which is small but interesting. A couple of complex three-dimensional mandalas in wood and sand along with old Tibetan artefacts and books are available here.
You can become a temporary member of the library by paying 100 INR for reading and if you want to borrow books you need to pay 300 INR with a deposit of 1000 INR. Along with this, a photocopy of your passport is needed if you are not an Indian, to access the foreign-language collection.
16. Norbulingka Institute
Norbulingka Institute is named after Norbulingka, which used to be the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa in Tibet before they were forced to flee to India. The Norbulingka Institute is one of the must-see tourist attractions in Dharamshala and was established in the year 1988. It was established by the Dalai Lama for conserving Tibetan culture, literature and art.
The institute is built in traditional Tibetan style and is famous for the 1000 murals of Buddha, frescoes of all the Dalai Lamas and drawings from the life of the 14th Dalai Lama.
Along with the preservation of Tibetan culture, the institute works towards providing employment, training and education to Tibetans in the region. Short-term workshops are also held here for those interested in learning about the Tibetan arts which include – Tibetan statue making, Thangka painting, screen-painting, woodcarving, metal craft, papermaking and wood painting. Guided tours are also available for free on all days except on Sunday.
This, in a nutshell, is the list of best places to see in Dharamshala. Take a break from the hectic schedule and the bustle of your city life and head to the hills. We are sure you’ll come back changed.
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