Tighten your seat belts because we are going to Dharamsala, the sleepy little town with it’s picturesque outdoors and chilly indoors, it is perfect place to escape the Delhi heat. You can both avoid the congestion of Shimla and heat of Nanital. It is located in the lap of the Dhauladhar Ranges and offers breathtaking views. Well I was almost boiled with the heat of Delhi so I decided to take on the city. It has a few routes going to it from Delhi, one through Una, Amb, Nangal, Bharwain, Ranital, Kangra then Dharamsala and one going through Shimla, the latter being the longer route and rather bad. Unfortunately, people on the way did not know a lot about the way to Dharamsala and I, the Socrates, thought that both Shimla and Dharamsala lie in Himachal Pradesh hence would be in the same general direction and I lost my way, thus began my 16 hr long ordeal. The roads going up to Shimla were highly circular and small for two cars to pass. IMPORTANT ADVICE :Keep Google Maps handy, the signage in Himachal Pradesh is pathetic. More so, I had restored factory settings to my phone so it’s network selection had gone manual of which I was blissfully unaware and so I couldn’t connect to the internet. I finally reached Dharamsala at 8:30 p.m. after leaving Delhi at 4:30 a.m.. I had booked the Himachal Pradesh Tourism hotel in Dharamsala, The Dhauladhar. The room was wonderful, clean and had a great view with a nice balcony to enjoy it. The food was good as well. But to stay here means that you have to deal with the sloppiness of a ‘Sarkari’ (Government) hotel, the service is slow and the waiters take time to notice you, room service is particularly slow, probably the hotel is understaffed, but on the whole it is worth the money, our suite was 2200 INR. But what I felt is that the pace of life there in general is slow. People take their own sweet time for everything, believe me. There isn’t much to see in Dharamsala actually, there are places around it that you actually enjoy and use Dharamsala as a pit stop.
The first place I went to from Dharamsala was Palampur, nothing to do or see their as well but the drive is fantastic. On the way comes the Norbulingka Institute and The Dhauladhar Nature Park. The Norbulingka Institute teaches handicrafts, like weaving carpets, Thang Ka painting, wood carving etc to the Tibetan refugees. There is also a shop where you can buy what people make there. There is a small Buddha temple (monastery) made in a certain style (sorry forgot, but you will come to know of it from the pamphlets there). There is a doll museum, showcasing various events in the life of the Tibetans, when they lived in Tibet. Their bazaars, festivals, king’s court etc. The Dhauladhar Nature Park is a treat to the eyes. Many animals are kept in captivity though, but they have adequate space for them. The park has many animals, ranging from a peacock to the Asiatic Lions, native to Gir, Gujrat. They have Cheetahs, vultures, turtles, emus and deer. I also encountered tea gardens and quietly took some tea leaves :P.
The next day I started towards Mcleodganj, the home to the Tibetan Government in exile. Our hotel: The Club House, also run by HP Tourism (actually our experience in a Madhya Pradesh tourism hotel was fantastic so we decided to go for Government run hotels). It is small with two suites and 10 rooms. Again the room was fantastic with plush floor covering and wooden paneling, but it was government, so the same guy was the waiter, room service guy and house keeping. As it was small, the building was not high and did not have the view that I had at the Dhauladhar, rather all I could see was the parking. In Mcleodganj, there are a few places you can visit, but it is crowded and clumsy. I would rather advice to stay in Dharamsala itself and take a day tour to Mcleodganj. The day I came to Mcleodganj, I decided to stay in, but in the evening went for a walk. I asked the receptionist to suggest where to go for a walk and he told me to go and take a circumambulation of the Dalai Lama temple as it had a road going around it. The temple is not that big so I thought that I could have a short walk. But when I actually reached the temple, I could only see people who had completed the round but where to start was a question I asked everyone who was coming. Neither did they understand Hindi nor English, so I decided to find out the starting point on my own and started in the opposite direction from where people were coming. Many pointed out that I was doing it wrong and I gave them a novel plea in return “I am trying to find where it starts”. And soon I realised that the walk wasn’t going to be short after all, the round was so big that when I was done, I sat down at the first place I found.
Then the next day I went into the Dalai Lama Temple, the Bhagsunag temple and to Naddi. The Dalai Lama temple though small is nestled between mountains, but one cannot take cameras inside. The Bhagsunag temple is even smaller but it has natural water pouring in a small pond through the mouth of 8 lions, mystically the source of water is still unknown. There is also a Bhagsunag water fall. While on the way to the temple you can see it and you’ll realise that it is not bigger than a small drain and I did not deign to pay it a visit. Then we went to Naddi. Actually there is a sunset point from where you ca see the mountains up close. On the way, I saw a muddy water patch and was told that the patch is Dal Lake. The actual Dal Lake is in Kashmir, about 10 to 12 Km long with crystal clear water and naming that patch of water Dal lake seems a bit ambitious. But the most interesting stop was the St. John’s Church in the Wilderness, it has in it the grave of a former Governor General of India, Lord James Bruce.
In the evening I went shopping. First stop, the Tibetan Handicrafts Centre, there you could see the ladies at work, making hand woven carpets. There I bought Garuda masks that are said to ward off evil eye, lamps like the one I saw at the Buddha monastery, all that not for myself. My most important purchase was, any guesses………. Chopsticks!! I went, on lonely planet’s advice to Tibet Kitchen, the food was good, but the salt was a general problem, the service was slow too. Then I stayed in because Mcleodganj lacked the peace Dharamsala offered to you and the some of the Tibetans are not very polite with you.
The weather in general was chilly. During the very peak afternoon the mercury would slightly rise and you could feel the heat of the sun but that is it, it always rained in the evening or early morning and the effect of it lasted long. While returning I carefully studied the maps and took the former route. The route was officially FANTASTIC. Most of it was a double road, with a few diversions and the road became single for some time here or there but the road did not have holes in it. On the way you can also enjoy the Bhakra Nangal dam!