Dharamsala, the winter capital of Himchal Pradesh is a wonderful place for those seeking a spiritual experience or just a get-away from the daily humdrum of life. The city is also known as Little Lhasa, fondly named after the Tibetan capital city. Dharamsala has been home to nearly 80,000 Tibetan refugees who have found home in India after leaving modern-day Tibet because of unrest and political complications with the Chinese government. It is also the residence of His Holiness – The Dalia Lama, and the headquarters of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan Government in exile.
Most tourists enjoy the typical sites – the Dalai Lama Temple Complex, the Bagsu Nath Temple, and other restaurants and cafes in the area. The city has many other sites and experiences to offer however.
1. Shiva Cafe atop Bagsu Falls
Shiva Cafe offers the a tranquil and much-needed escape from the usual tourist crowds and loud city scapes. The cafe is about 1.5 mile walk at a steep incline from the Bagsu Nath Temple, and is located right above the Bagsu falls. Inspired by the Lord Shiva, the Lord of the Universe, and by Bob Marley, the cafe is the perfect space to have a cup of chai / coffee and ponder over life. The cafe has some amazing handmade art adding to the hipster feel. The local staff offers “taail Maalish” or oil massage which is perfect after the hike to the cafe. If you’re a lover of nature and coffee plan on spending at least a half day here. Bring your books and writing materials along too!
2. Illiterati Book Collection
Unlike cafes that house books for patrons to flip through while grabbing a cup of coffee or chai – Illiterati has tuned the concept on its head. This lovely library-like cafe has books to read for years and is nestled away from the main Dharamsala chowk.
The cafe has excellent food for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. I recommend the fresh Kashmiri Kawah – or pink chai made with herbs and dry fruits.
Again, if you’re looking for a tranquil time to yourself plan on spending at least half a day here. The hotel staff is kind enough to call a taxi for you in case you don’t have the energy to climb back to the main chowk.
3. Dal Lake & Street Food
The Dal Lake in Dharamsala is named after the popular Dal Lake in Kashmir. The lake is regarded sacred by Shiva worshippers.
The best experience by this stunning lake is to grab a bite at Pappu’s Chana stand and Baba Ji’s homemade ice cream joint. Both establishments have been around for at least 20 years and offer mouth-watering and clean street food!
4. Movie Screeings at the Hope Cafe
The Hope Gallery is literally a hole in the wall Cafe tucked away in the Jogibara alleys. The gallery was started in 2015 to support the stories and art from Tibet, and raise awareness about Tibetan political and cultural struggle. Each evening the cafe holds screenings of Tibetan movies about a wide range of topics impacting the Tibetan community.
The gallery also boasts a collection of captivating artwork by artists traveling across India and Tibet. The handmade notebooks, postcards and bookmarks make for great gifts!
5. Sunset over the Dhauladhar Range
Dhauladhar range or the White Range is the southern outer range of the Himalayas. The range is primarily made of granite, but shiny shale and limestone also compose the range.
The Sunset Point provides spectacular views of the Himachal valley both during early mornings and evenings. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to catch the sunset. The thick clouds often cover the valley, but the peaceful green range is a sight to behold. Pictures don’t do justice.
With the rapid growth and commercialism Dharamsala is experiencing, the impact of tourism is evident on the ecosystem. For example, the small Dalai Lama complex sees nearly 500+ taxis daily going through narrow lanes, bringing with them intense noise and vehicular pollution. It may be advisable to walk as much as possible and reduce dependence on taxis or personal transport.
The city municipality has provided many garbage boxes through the city. Yet you will find the garbage both perishable and plastic strewn all over the valley. The municipality does deploy people to clean up the mountains but the sizable tourist population is hard to keep up with.
Locals often wish tourists would treat their beloved Dharamsala, McLoad Gunj, Dharamkot villages with courtesy and care. If you’re planning on visiting Dharamsala, do consider ways to be more mindful about your footprint on the valley.
Also share what you liked best about this precious area.
Enjoy the playlist complied in Dharamsala on Spotify!