ADD TO LISTOnce an old British Hill Station, Dharamsala is a popular destination for travellers seeking spiritual salvation. It is located in northern India in the Kangra Valley, and is the closest point in India to to Tibet.
Travel Tips from people who've been to Dharmsala
The other travel tip is severely lacking.
For one, I have never experienced hatred between the local Gaddi people and the Tibetans. If anything, everyone seems to live rather harmoniously with each other. The Tibetans are often a bit annoyed with the Israeli backpackers that often find their way to this mountain town, but won't easily let onto their distaste unless you ask them.
There are many beggars in town, many of them afflicted with leprosy, and it can be quite shocking for someone not used to this. Many of them will position themselves along the kora, the circumambulation around His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple, and the Tibetans will give money to the beggars, believing it to grant them merit.
It is well worth getting into McLeod around 6 am in order to perform kora with the many Tibetans of all ages. There are many beautiful prayer wheels, stupas with burning juniper, and prayers being held by monks.
There is a movie theatre in town, but it is small and only foreigners seem to visit it.
The Kashmiri shop keepers are usually the most pesky out of all the shopkeepers, but they are the ones that you should really bargain with. Tibetans usually have already good prices on their items, and many of the shops give their profits directly to groups like the Tibetan Children's Village.
There is more to see than just the temple of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Right now there are many posters regarding the situation in Tibet, and a 24-hour chain hunger strike going on across from the temple.
A one kilometer walk down from McLeod, in between McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj, is a beautiful Catholic Church called Church of Saint John in the Wilderness. Many Indian tourists stop here, and it is worth the walk (or the rickshaw ride; I prefer walking). Be careful though; it's often misty and slippery.
A short distance away you can find the Norbulingka Institute, an art institute modeled after His Holiness's summer palace, which trains Tibetans in the art of making thangka paintings, wood carvings, etc. It's worth a visit, and the cafe at the institute is very good.
Food places in McLeod are fairly plentiful but be careful-- you are very likely to get sick, especially if you are staying for a long time. There are many snack shops as well.
There is also the city of Kangra, unused to Westerners but still very pleasant, where the Kangra Fort is, a ruined fort that is still impressive in its ruins. It costs 50 rupees for foreigners to gain access.
McLeodganj (hereafter referred to as McLeod) is the best place to stay in Dharamsala.
You need at least 4-5 days to enjoy this place.
How to get there:(cheaply):
From ISBT bus stand in Kashimiri gate in Delhi , take the night 7:45pm bus to McLeod. Make sure to take tickets of McLeod and not Dharamsala (although McLeod is in Dharamsala; the bus stops are different).McLeod is often referred to as Upper Dharamsala.
Good places to stay in Mcleod::
Within McLeod, you can live at Main McLeodganj, Bhagsu, Dharamkot or on wat to Dharamkot.
Many like Bhagsu (especially the Israelis living in McLeod for months). Some feel its kinda dirty.
Main mcLeod is central and you can find quite places; but this comes with a price.
Dharamkot is LOVELY but 30 mins walk from main market (Rikshaw Rs.30...this was in 2006; now with 8% inflation in India, it would be Rs. 35...lol)
Room typically Rs. 100; clean room; rented by families living there.
The place has only one main place to visit- Dalai Lama Monestary.
So what can keep you busy in McLeod:
1) The Tibetan people (the local Himachalis hate them)
2) The Himachalis (the local Tibetans hate them)
3) Good food; Italian, Israeli and Lovely Himachali food
4) Clubs, yes..This place is like Goa on the hills.
5) Yoga classes; loads of them
6) Meditation classes (yes loads again)
7) Movie shows ; no theatres, its not uncommon to see a shop arranging a movie show (no big screens) and 30-40 people glued around. Cost: Rs 2-10 depends on the movie. I have been to McLeod around 5-6 times and each time have noticed "Monsoon Wedding" being screened.
A lot of travellers travel to McLeod alone; so you are sure to catch up with good company there.
BEWARE: Beware of carpet shop owners trying to arrange Kashmir Tours for you! Its better to manage it urself if you dont want your pockets to be empty!!!
When he's in town, HH the Dalai Lama often gives lectures on Tibetan Buddhism to visiting groups. If you are on your own you may be able to request to join one of these pre-arranged lectures, if the group doesn't mind. After the lecture, HH may take a moment to bless each of the attendees in Tibetan. If you have bought some of the red satin cords from one of the gift shops and hold them in your hands, he will also bless those, which you can then give to Tibetans you meet in Tibet, who will appreciate them greatly, without drawing the attention of the Chinese government police. (Pictures of HH or the Tibetan flag are illegal in Tibet.)
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