01st September to 03rd September, 2016.
What do you do when you end up in a place that is intensely scenic, historically significant and all too diverse? What is the best approach to understanding, or at least getting a feel of this place if all you have is 2 days? This is our attempt at bringing you a flavor of Dharamshala from what we have experienced over the last couple of days.
1. The thing that shouts the loudest is certainly the natural beauty of the place. The Dhauladhar mountain range of the Himalayas is certainly breath taking. The staggering height also gives rise to some amazing waterfalls.
The most accessible one is probably the waterfall behind Bhagsu Nag temple. A 1 km walk is the only way to reach the falls. There are goats on this trail who can put the best rock climbers to shame, and a cafe named “No Name” cafe (seriously) serves decent tea and very good omelets while letting you enjoy an amazing view.
We were hoping to trek Triund, but rains played spoilsport and we weren’t even able to reach the Guni Devi temple. Alternatively, we went to Naddi village above Mcleodganj and walked to the Sahaj yoga centre there. A primary school is located just below the centre and it arguably has the best view any school can ever hope to have.
Another worthy idea is to travel down from Dharamshala to Kangra valley. The very green valley with its many glacial rivulets and rice terraces make for some amazing scenery. In fact, our highlight experience was getting lost in some village road in this region. The forested agrarian landscape is the kind that reminds you of poems and the people are extremely friendly. Do take a long drive and spend some time next to a rivulet. Or hike up the Kangra fort and look down at the incredible view.
2. The cultural and political significance of Dharamshala is well known. It is home to thousands of Tibetan refugees and the seat of the 14th Dalai Lama since the China’s invasion of Tibet. The place is filled with posters of the 11th Panchen Lama, who is also known for being the youngest political prisoner in the world. Most visitors explore the Dalai Lama Temple complex at Mcleodganj.
However, a more personal and in depth understanding can be gained by visiting the Norbulingka Institute, some 5 km away from Dharamshala. This institute houses nearly 500 Tibetan refugees and aims at imparting free vocational training to these people in Tibetan arts and crafts. The institute extends the same facilities to people from some Indian communities as well. Here, we are introduced to the various art forms of Tibet ranging from wood carving to Thangka paintings. The guided tour is completely free except for a nominal (Rs. 40) entry fee. The institute also has a gift shop that displays and sells the works of the students. Buying your souvenirs here is an excellent way to contribute to this institute which is aimed at keeping these arts and crafts alive.
3. Dharamshala is today a melting pot of various cultures. This gives rise to a very interesting food scene. We had limited time, but of the items we sampled, here are a few favorite. For some Tibetan cuisine, head to Pema Thang near the temple complex. We strongly recommend the cheese momos (yes it is a cliche for a reason). Also, Tingmo, a steamed Tibetan bread goes very well with Shabtak dry, a dish made of deep fried mutton and vegetables. If you are into very spicy food (if it seems spicy to a malayali, it is indeed spicy) do try the Botoman. This noodle based dish is a complete meal with enough vegetables and protein. Finish off the meal with a honey ginger tea.
Honestly, we have barely scratched the surface of what makes Dharamshala unique. These are just bits and pieces we collected along the way. The best we can hope for is that it gives you a whiff of what awaits you at Dharamshala. Also, we are happy to report that our Dzire has earned her prayer flags.
PS: If you are driving to Dharamshala, please remember that finding parking is not going to be easy. There is paid parking near the Dalai Lama temple complex, but most hotels do not have dedicated parking. Driving up the slopes to Mcleodganj is an experience worth having. Most local drivers use the reverse gear for managing traffic jams on these narrow roads. So keep your jaws shut while they negotiate hairpin curves with staggering falls in reverse without as much as a second of hesitation. Please note that most roads in Mcleodganj are one way to control the traffic flow. These keep changing from time to time. Do ask around before proceeding as getting stuck on one of those roads would result in the loss of a couple of hours.