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With snowy peaks, plunging rivers, green hills offering the most refreshing views, vibrant Buddhist monasteries and tons of adventure activities, Himachal Pradesh has something to offer to everyone. On my first visit to Himachal, I explored McLeodganj, Dharamshala, Manali and Manikaran.
Having lived in Goa for 10 years now, traffic is a relatively unheard-of concept for me. While the hours of traffic in Manali took away some of the joy, McLeodganj more than made up for my apprehension about Manali. Both Dharamshala and McLeodganj blew me away with their panoramic landscapes, the British architecture and the Tibetan influence.
Here's my list of things to do and places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj.
By Air via Kangra Airport
Kangra or Gaggal Airport to Dharamshala is a small distance of 14 km. However, the journey may take a while due to traffic jams. The hills have narrow roads and bridges which can affect the flow of traffic adversely at times. It's recommended that while leaving from Kangra airport, you arrive here well on time to avoid delays due to traffic.
Pathankot is the nearest railway station to Dharamshala and Mcleodganj. The distance from Pathankot to Dharamshala is 85 km which can be covered by hiring a taxi or taking a local state transport bus.
Hotels in Dharamshala and Mcleodganj
Like most Indian cities, you will find the Kangra or Dharamshala city crowded and a little less charming than the outskirts. I suggest finding a cutesy cottage or a hotel which is located slightly further away from the city. You will start your day waking up to beautiful mountains and glistening streams right outside your window. The cottage in the picture was located in a tiny village outside the Kangra city. There was a local market a few meters away from the place and the chef used to walk there every morning and cook meals using the fresh produce. Bliss! While I can't remember the name of the place, there are many more such great hotels in McLeodganj and Dharamshala. Visit the links below to find the one for you!
Places to Visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj:
WHERE? 20 Km from Dharamshala; on the outskirts of Kangra.
The impressive Kangra Fort, among the top places to see in Dharamshala, towers atop a steep rock. The walls of the fort rise 4 Km upwards. Now imagine climbing up to the fort! It's a daunting task but the fort walls, the pathway leading up the the fort and the views from the top of the fort make the climb well-worth it. Unless you have a medical condition or injury, I recommend putting on a brave face and reaching the top of the fort.
St. John in the Wilderness Church
WHERE? On the way from Dharamshala to Mcleodganj.
The Church, located amidst a deodar forest, with it's neo-Gothic architecture makes a perfect backdrop for your next Instagram photo-op. It is without a doubt one of the best places to visit in Mcleodganj. You also get a view of the entire town of Mcleodganj from up here. This Church was undeniably my favourite Mcleodganj sightseeing tourist spot. I couldn't help but imagining having a place in the midst of deodar trees.
If you're staying in McLeodganj, you can take the bus or rickshaw to the Church. If you are staying at Dharamshala, you can visit the church while you're on the way to McLeodganj for sightseeing. I suggest getting here early to beat the crowd and getting some amazing pictures.
WHERE? 4 km from McLeodgang, 3.6 km from St. John in the Wilderness Church.
Naddi Point, offering views of the Dhauladhar range up-close is THE place among all Dharamshala attractions to get that perfect photograph with mountains nested in clouds. Wear bright yellow, orange or red clothes that pop against the greenery of the mountains and the white clouds. Do note that the visibility of the mountains depends on the weather and clouds. If you're as lucky as I was, you get minimum crowd and maximum mountains!
HPCA Cricket Stadium
WHERE? 12 km from McLeod Ganj.
Coming to one of the most impressive places to see in Dharamshala, the Dharamshala stadium. Undoubtedly, India's most picturesque cricket stadium, the HPCA Cricket Stadium will make you fall head over heels in love with it. The pictures do not do justice to the snug little stadium, with it's bright green grass, making it difficult to keep your eyes on the players with such beautiful views around. It was a good day for sightseeing in Dharamshala because not only did I get an uninterrupted view of the stadium, I also witnessed a rainbow right there! The Dharamshala weather in June is pleasant- neither too cold, nor too hot. There's a change of mild showers, but I'm not one to complain! Monsoon is my thing.
The official residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the Tsuglagkhang Complex itself is simple and generally over-crowded. However, the surrounding streets leading up to the temple are vibrant, colorful and give the impression of Tibetan streets. I quite enjoyed strolling through this area. Unfortunately for me, the Dalai Lama was out of India, delivering a speech so I couldn't catch a glimpse of him. The official website provides a list of the days that the Dalai Lama holds public speeches. You can get a list of his upcoming events here. Here's hoping you have a better luck than mine.
Dharamshala Dal Lake
While doing a Dharamshala sightseeing tour, there's one attraction that lies between the Mcleodganj market and Naddi point. This happens to be the Dal Lake. Located between a deodar forest with lush green views, the lake is in a picturesque setting. What is disappointing though is how the tourist boom has turned this place into a filthy mess. Most people who come here leave behind plastic waste. It's such a shame to see a nice attraction being ruined like that. So next time you visit any attraction, please be careful not to leave behind any trash.
Dharamshala to Manali
Head to Manali from Dharamshala to cover another great city! Take a look at places to visit in Manali for inspiration. You can go to Manali from Dharamshala by road. It's a scenic drive throughout. Although, be warned - it's a long journey and traffic jams are common in Manali. There are ample restaurants on the way and enough places to stop and admire views.