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Dharamsala

Set in India's Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamsala literally means "a spiritual dwelling" and it attracts many visitors for this reason. Dharamsala (also spelled Dharamshala) is one of the 80 hill stations established by the British between 1815 and 1847.

It has a spectacular setting, close to the perennial snowline and built along a spur of the stunning Dhaula Dhar range. The town varies in height from 1,250 metres at the bazaar to 1,768 metres at McLeodganj. Dharamsala is surrounded by deodar forests and provides a superb view of the great granite mountains that almost overhang the town and the dramatic monasteries dotted along the mountainside. 

The town is separated into Upper and Lower Dharamsala. Lower Dharamsala is the busy bazaar town centre, which today is rather touristy. Upper Dharamsala, or McLeodganj, is the headquarters of His Holiness Dalai Lama, who settled here following the Chinese invasion of Tibet in October 1959. McLeodganj is named after the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab, Sir Donald Mcleod, and the area was developed as a potential summer capital, but this was not to be after the disastrous earthquake of 1905 destroyed much of the town.

The Tsuglagkhang Complex is the largest Tibetan temple outside of Tibet and it is the main site for visiting pilgrims, monks and tourists. Home to the Dalai Lama, it also houses the Namgyal Monastery and the brilliant Tibet Museum. The Dalai Lama is regularly in residence in May and July and often leads prayers during this time.

Thousands of Tibetans – refugees and pilgrims – have made McLeodganj their home and therefore the town has a strong Tibetan influence. Here, monks are clothed in deep red robes, street stalls are stocked with Tibetan artefacts and monasteries are decorated with fluttering prayer flags and surrounded by fertile hills. The highest mountain visible from Mcleodganj is Hanuman Tibba which peaks at 5,639 metres high. Dharamsala is, of course, perfectly located for some of the region’s best treks.

The Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan Culture is one of Dharamsala’s most beautiful and fascinating sites. Aside from the incredible views, visitors can enjoy learning about the carefully preserved Tibetan culture and handicrafts including woodcarving, thangka painting, metal and embroidery silk work.

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