Beyond the cliché in Dharamshala and around

Image courtesy: ©Sergey Tinyakov/Shutterstock

Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj together form the seat of the Tibetans in exile. They are more loved as hill towns of Himachal Pradesh and remain flocked by tourists all year round. Even though many travellers come here to imbibe the Tibetan spirit and calm themselves, very few know that the place offers a lot. Plan a good 3-4 days and indulge in activities and short trips listed below.

Yoga, Ayurveda & Massage

McLeod Ganj and neighbouring Dharamkot and Bhagsu have dozens of practitioners of holistic and alternative therapies, some reputable and some making a fast buck at the expense of gullible travellers. Talking to friends and other travellers is the best way to find good practitioners. Holistic Centre of Ayurveda and Universal Yoga Centre are quite popular.

Volunteering

McLeod Ganj has more volunteering opportunities than almost anywhere else in India, mostly geared to supporting the Tibetan community in one way or another. Some language conversation classes welcome drop-in participants. For other opportunities it’s ideal to make contact a couple of weeks in advance. Many volunteer opportunities are publicised in the free magazine, Contact. Experts recommend that volunteering should be at least a three-month commitment.

Also Read: Six interesting places to eat in McLeod Ganj

Also Read: Seven best Indian street foods and their origins

Trekking

It’s possible to trek to the Chamba or Kullu Valleys and even Lahaul, and several agencies in McLeod Ganj and in Dharamkot or Bhagsu can make the necessary arrangements for camping, guides and porters or pack animals. Apart from the demanding Indrahar La trek to the Chamba Valley, the most popular option is the easy three- to five-day loop to Kareri Lake. Guided treks with food, camping and porter(s) can cost anywhere from ₹1500 to ₹3000 per person per day.

Bhagsu & Dharamkot- Through pine trees north and east of McLeod Ganj lie the villages of Bhagsu (officially Bhagsunag) and Dharamkot, more rural and laid-back. These are the abodes of choice for many budget travellers and long-stayers, and especially popular among Israelis. Here you can take classes in tarot, Reiki, numerology, crystal healing and varieties of yoga you’ve never heard of, do sitar, tabla or flute lessons, get or learn to give a dozen types of massage, have your hair dreadlocked, dyed or extended, or just lounge in cafes and practise your juggling. Some of the area’s best and most serious yoga and meditation schools are here too.

Gallu Devi & Triund Hikes- The little Gallu Devi temple is located on the ridge above Dharamkot. A lovely trail winds up through the forest to emerge on a jeep track after 1km: go 500m to the right to reach Gallu Devi. Alternatively you can walk straight up from the top of Dharamkot in 20 or 30 minutes. A couple of cafes and guesthouses are set on the panoramic ridge where the little temple stands.

From here, one track leads gently west downhill to Naddi village (2.5km) and Dal Lake (3km), with the Tibetan Children’s Village nearby. Another track heads about 2km north down to a waterfall; and the main track climbs east through rhododendron woods towards the panoramic mountain meadow of Triund (2900m). You pass a couple of tea shops, and Triund has a few dhabas offering simple meals, tents, sleeping bags and beds. An overnight stop gives you the best chance of clear weather, and time to hike one hour up to the teashop and viewpoint at Laka Got meadow (3350m), sometimes called ‘Snowline’, before heading back down – or continuing upward if you’re on the Indrahar La trek.

Indrahar La Trek- This popular route crosses the Indrahar La (4420m) to the Chamba Valley, and can be done in either direction. The pass is normally open from June to early November. On the first day, trekkers pass through the mountain meadow of Triund, the alpine meadow of Laka Got (3350m) and then the rocky shelter known as Lahesh Cave (3600m). With an early start next morning, you can cross the Indrahar La – and be rewarded for the tough climb with astounding views – before descending steeply to the meadow campground at Chata Parao.

Short Trips

One can take short day trips from Dharamshala to the nearby towns like Kangra and Masrur.

Kangra- Once capital of the princely state of Kangra, this bustling town, 18km from Dharamshala, is a good day trip from McLeod Ganj, with a dramatic fort and a popular temple. You can combine Kangra with the impressive 10th-century temples at Masrur, 40km west.

Masrur- Winding roads through pleasant green hills lead 40km west from Kangra to the impressive 10th-century Masrur temples. Though badly damaged by the 1905 earthquake, the elaborately carved sandstone sikharas – very rare examples of rock-cut temples in northern India – bear a passing resemblance to the Hindu temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and to Ellora in Maharashtra. You can climb to the upper level for mountain views and the tank in front provides photogenic reflections.

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