Dharamsala is the district headquarters of Kangra district. The forested hill station lies on the spur of the Dhauladhar range, about 18km north east of Kangra town. Snow-capped mountains enclose it from three sides while the valley stretches out in front. The snow line is easily accessible from here and it is possible to trek to the snows after an early morning's start.
The hill town had been completely levelled in an earthquake in 1905 and after its reconstruction, Dharamsala flourished as a quiet health resort. It is divided into two distinct parts. Lower Dharamsala has civil offices, business establishments and courts. Kotwali Bazaar and Upper Dharamsala are more touristy with places whose names bear witness to its history â€“ McLeod Ganj and Forsythe Ganj. Today, it is best known as the seat of Tibet's government-in-exile and the home to His Holiness Dalai Lama. March is a particularly busy month in Dharamsala when the Dalai Lama gives public lectures. For the serious student of Tibetan culture, there's a monastery up at McleodGanj and the school of Tibetan studies with an excellent library.
Dharamsala has also often been likened to Kathmandu, for its colourfulness, free flow of backpackers, cheap restaurants and hotels, prayer wheels, busy markets and Tibetan crafts shops. There is an unmistakable energy and charm to the place. A little higher up the ridge is the pretty church of St. John in the Wilderness. Around Dharamsala, there are a number of lovely walks with marvellous views of the mountains â€“ some of these lead to picturesque picnic spots.
You cannot help but shop in Dharamsala when you sight the colourful wares and objects all over the charming markets. There are Tibetan trinkets, inexpensive warm clothing, incense, prayer bells, rugs and books. A large handicraft shop on Jogibara Road sells thangkas of all sizes, and prayer flags. Nowrojee store by the bus stand, something of an institution, offers sweets stocked in ancient thick glass jars, along with its own bottled pop. The Green Shop, Bhagsu Road, sells recycled painted cards, hand-painted T-shirts, books on environment and filtered boiled water.
Besides staying in a monastery, one may take week or month-long meditation course in Tibetan Buddhism, at the Tushita Retreat Centre, north of McLeodganj (Rs. 2500 for 2 weeks). The Vipassana Centre, also in Dharamkot, holds ten day courses for beginners (voluntary donations). Check notice boards in restaurants for dates, and details of yoga courses.