Located in the northern Indian state of Himichal Pradesh, Dharamsala received little attention from the outside world for most of its history.  It served as a British hill staion for a short time in the 19th century, but a severe earthquake in 1905 sent most residents to safer ground.  Things changed however in 1959, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet accepted Indian Prime Minister Nehru's offer to use this area as a base of operations for the Tibetan Government in Exile. His Holiness and 80,000 Tibetans fled their homeland when the Chinese army moved into Lhasa, began shelling the Potala Palace,  and announced its intention to 'liberate' Tibet.  Since that time, a steady flow of Tibetans have crossed the Himalayas and made their way here in search of freedom and being close to their much revered leader.  The presence of His Holiness and the appeal of Tibetans and their colorful culture have drawn 
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tourists to this town from all over the world. While there are the normal trappings of tourist 'hotspots' here, there is something different about this community.  Perhaps, it is the extent to which travelers can become part of the community.  Whether it is teaching English to newly arrived monks or nuns from Tibet, studying Buddhism or yoga at one of the retreat centers, or volunteering at one of the Tibetan organizations here, there is an abundance of ways to feel connected to this place and its people.  His Holiness often speaks of the importance of kindness and compassion  and that sentiment seems to resonate in this town.
Dharamsala FYI
  • Altitude:   1250 -1982 meters
  • Temperature:  hi 38 C in June low 0 C in January
  • Monsoon Season:  July - mid September
  • Most Popular Season:  March - June   October - November
  • Population Total:  19,200
  • Tibetan Population 5000 refugess
  • Telephone Code:  01892
  • Postal Code:  176219
  • State:   Himachal Pradesh
  • District:   Kangra

  • Landscape/Geography of state: 
    The lower Kangra valley has wide and hilly plains and is covered with tea plantations and rice and wheat fields.  The upper valley is covered with pine forests, Himalayan oak, rhododendron and deodar forests.  The region lies on the edge of the Dhauladhar mountain range - the Pir Panjal region of the outer Himalayas with peaks rising to 5,200 meters (17,000 feet).

    Geography of Dharamsala:  Dharamsala has two sections.  Lower Dharamsala includes the Kotiwali Bazaar and is primarily an Indian community.   Upper Dharamsala includes McLeod Ganj, where most of the Tibetan community lives, and the Tibetan Government in Exile is based.

    Namesake:  David McLeod, Lieutenant Governer of Punjab
    (of McLeod Ganj)

    Original peoples:  Gaddi tribe - a nomadic people; Dasa tribe - a warrior people

    Next Settlers:  The area became a British hill station in the mid-1800ís.

    Tibetan Settlement: In 1959, nearly 80,000 Tibetan refugees followed His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Dharamsala when the Prime Minister Nehru offered the location to Tibetans in exile. 
    Transportation around Dharamsala
    McLeod Ganj to Lower Dharamsala: 

  • Public bus - 5 rupees -  every 30minutes at  busstand
  • Public taxi - 5 rupees - every 15-30 minutes at busstand
  • Private taxi - 80 to 100 rupees - anytime at busstand

  • Mc Leod Ganj to Tibetan Govít in Exile: 
  • Private taxi - 30 to 50 rupees - anytime from busstand

  • McLeod Ganj to Baghsu: 
  • Private taxi - 30 rupees - anytime from bus stand
  • Rickshaw -  20 rupees - daytime from bus stand

  • McLeod Ganj to Dharamkot: 
  • Private taxi - 50 rupees - anytime from bus stand
  • Rickshaw - 30 to 40 rupees - daytime from bus stand

  • McLeod Ganj to Dal Lake/TCV area: 
  • Private taxi - 80 rupees - anytime from bus stand
  •  Rickshaw - 50 rupees - daytime from bus stand

  • Transportation to and from Dharamsala:

    Air: As of December 1999, flights from Dehli to Gaggal Airport (40 minute taxi ride to Lower Dharamsala) resumed - 5500 rupees one way

    To Dehli: 10-14 hours
          Private 'deluxe' bus - 350-450 rupees - 6:pm & 7:pm
          Public bus - approx 190 rupees
          Government 'Super Deluxe' - 550 rupees - 7pm

    To Agra (via Delhi) - 
    Delhi to Agra - 90 rupees/2nd class sleeper train

    To Pathankot (a major stop over for forwarding places) -
    via public bus - 35 rupees

    To Varanasi(via first going to Pathankot) - 350 rupees/2nd
    class sleeper train

    To Manali - via public bus only - 110 rupees

    To Bombay (via first going to Delhi) - 350 rupees/2nd class
    sleeper train

    To Rishikesh - via public bus from Dharamsala to Haridwar -
    170 rupees.  Public bus Haridwar to Rishikesh - 11 rupees.
    McLeod Ganj Bus Stand

    The bus stand.  It is the center of McLeod Ganj and a spot that absolutely everyone passes through at least once per day, probably more.  It is the place where people meet, where people arrive and where they leave from.  The bus stand is where you get a bus, taxi or rickshaw.  It is where you can buy anything from peanuts and cigarettes to the newspaper and prayer beads.  To take in the atmosphere of the bus stand is to feel the pulse of this community.  At any given moment you will see Tibetan monks walking to a puja, Indian men intensly chatting arm in arm, colorful sari clad Indian women doing their marketing, Tibetan men and women turning their prayer beads, children playing with each other. You also see the westerners - coming and going, taking in this stimulating culture.  All of this is backdropped by the screaching of bus, taxi and rickshaw horns. All of  McLeod Ganj's major roads meet at the bus stand.  Jogibara Road leads to lower Dharamsala.  Temple Road to the Main Temple, Tsuglag Khang.  Tipa Road to the village of Dharamkot and Bhagsu Road to the village of Bhagsu.  The Dharamsala Road heads down to lower Dharamsala and finally the Tushita Road to the Tibetan Childrenís Village.  

    Click here to see a photo guide to the streets of Upper Dharamsala.

    Tsuglag Khang - Main Temple
    Tsuglag Khang, otherwise known as the Main Temple, is the most important Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet.  Tsuglag Khang is the temple of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his private residence is just opposite this holy structure.  It is located about one kilometer out of the center of McLeod Ganj down the Temple Road.  The temple is one of the first structures built when His Holiness arrived in India in 1959.  Today, as well as being the site of public worship, it is also the place where the Dalai Lama holds his public and private audiences and his public teachings.  There are many religious festivities and dances held here throughout the year also.  It is a place that is often bustling with prayful activity.

    Named after a 7th century temple in Lhasa, Tsuglag Khang is simple in comparison, yet still fascinating and extremely peaceful.  The temple enshrines three main images:  a three meter high gilted bronze stature of the Shakyamuni Buddha; one of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion of whom the Dalai Lama is considered an incarnation; and Padmasambhava, the 8th century Indian who introduced Buddhism to Tibet.  Both Avalokitesvara and Padmasambhava are facing Tibet.

    The image of Avalokitesvara has a powerful history.  During the cultural revolution in China the original Avalokitesvara image, which was in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, was discarded into the streets with may other sacred Buddhist objects.  Some Tibetans managed to salvage a wrathful face and a peaceful face image of the Avalokitesvara.  In 1967 these pieces made it to India via Nepal, having been passed through thousands of hands in the process.  In 1970, these faces were encased in the new Avalokitesvara which stands at Tsuglag Khang.  It is silver crafted and has eleven faces, one thousand arms and one thousand eyes. Also at Tsuglag Khang is a collection of sacred texts known as the Khagyur and the Tengyur.  The Khagyur are the direct teachings of Buddha.  The Tengyur are commentaries on the Khagyur by Indian and Tibetan scholars.  Both texts have been translated from original Sanskrit.
    Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts
    Located about a 15 minute walk from the center of McLeod Ganj, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) was the first institute created in exile.  It exists to preserve and perform the colorful Tibetan culture of music, dance and theatre.  TIPA is a school as well as a center of performing arts.  At the school, a mix of modern and traditional Tibetan education is provided to Tibetan children who are also trained in their traditional music, dance and theatre.TIPA also trains individuals who are sent to Tibetan settlements and schools throughout India and Nepal to teach music and perfoming arts.   Performers from TIPA have also entertained all over the world.

    Every April TIPA holds an annual Folk Opera Festival.  It is an exciting time of year and many folk operas, dance performances, plays and concerts are presented.  At other occasions TIPA also holds performances, for example during Losar, for visiting dignitaries and other important dates. 
    Reception Center
    The Reception Center in Dharamsala was opened in 1990 in response to the increasing number of new refugees escaping from Tibet to come to India to live in exile.  It is located near the center of McLeod Ganj and is always bustling with much activity. 

    After crossing through Nepal, refugees make their way to Dharamsala via Dehli where their first stop upon arriving is the Reception Center.  Every day dozens of refugees flood the Reception Center and are given medical care, food and lodging.  After spending a few weeks at the center they are directed onward to a Tibetan Settlement, often in South India. 

    In addition to assisting new arrivals from Tibet, the Reception Center helps fresh refugees in their search for employment or to enroll in school or monastaries.  The center also provides training and financial assistance to help refugees start their own small businesses.
    Tibetan Childrenís Village
    The Tibetan Childrenís Village (TCV) program includes 15 schools that are spread throughout different parts of India.  In Dharamsala, the TCV programs educate approximately ten thousand children.  Three thousand of these children are also raised and looked after as many of  are orphans or newly arrived refugees from Tibet. 

     There are two TCV schools in the Dharamsala area.  The main school, known as upper TCV, is situated on 43 acres about two kilometers away from McLeod Ganj.  Here there are thirty eight homes, four hostels, a baby room, modern school building, sports grounds and a handicraft center all serving about three thousand children from infancy to age 18.  Lower TCV has about one thousand children.