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  • Writer's pictureAjaz Shaikh

Divine Dharamshala & McLeod Ganj: Perfect Travel Blueprint for Backpacking Trip

Dharamshala is a small but beautiful hilly town which attracts thousands of tourists every year. Dharamshala is something every traveller, backpacker and mountain lover has on their travel wish list. Due to the increasing number of tourist visitors, it can be a bit expensive. But with the help of the travel blueprint, a budget trip to Dharamshala can be made possible.

Here I am sharing my experience and travel logs on how to plan a budget trip to Dharamshala with the details breakdown right from Mumbai. So here we start -

Where to Stay in Dharamshala?

I suggest taking a stay in McLeod Ganj because accommodation in the main Dharamshala area is the most expensive and that around McLeod Ganj. On top of that views are most spectacular at McLeod Ganj and cost very less. I would recommend staying at Zostel in McLeod Ganj, which offers you all the amenities, a clean hygiene room & dorm and its pocket friendly. The charges for the stay at Zostel are ₹599 per night for a bed in a dormitory. But I prefer to have my own space, so took a private room which cost me ₹2199 per night.

Day One: Mumbai to Dharamshala

They are multiple ways to reach Dharamshala. Here is a different route to reach Dharamshala. Do let me know in the comment section which one is the best route according to you. I did it via Delhi and it had its own benefit.

Via Pathankot: You can take 12471 - Swaraj Express from Bandra Terminus on Friday leaving at 07:00 AM which will reach Pathankot Cant the next day around 12:35 PM. A 30 minutes bus ride to the Pathankot Bus Stand. Just hoop on the buses that are leaving for Dharamshala/ McLeod Ganj. By bus, it will take 3 hours. But the frequency of buses is very low and mostly you will find public buses that can be quite crowded and are without an air conditioner.

Via Chandigarh: You can take 12925 - Paschim Express from Bandra Terminus on Friday leaving at 12:00 PM which will reach Chandigarh the next day around 4:00 PM and from Chandigarh Railway Station to Dharamshala by bus which will take 6 hours. The frequency of buses is also moderately good and you can get buses leaving every alternative hour.

Alternatively, you can also take a direct flight to Chandigarh which will cost you around ₹4000 to ₹5000, if booked 2-3 months in advance.

Via Delhi: On Saturday took an afternoon flight to Delhi booked 3 months well in advance which cost me ₹2500. I spent an entire day in Delhi and in the evening took a bus from Majnu Ka Tilla to Dharamshala. The bus reaches Dharamshala early in the morning around 6:00 AM. Sadly all the buses leaving from Delhi to Dharmshala are semi-sleeper or normal seats, you won't be able to find sleeper buses.

  • Stay in Delhi - Zostel South Delhi

  • Delhi to Dharamshala: By Bedi Travel Bus from Majnu Ka Tilla at 07:15 PM in a brand new bus with all the amenities required and most important right on time and no rush driving.

Direct Dharamshala: There are no direct options to reach Dharamshala. But to save time you can take a flight to Dharamshala. Gaggal Airport is the nearest airport also known as Kangra Airport, which is 20 km away from Dharamshala. The airport serves only the domestic route to Delhi and only Air India flies to Dharamshala. So the shortest flight from Mumbai Airport to Gaggal Airport with a layover in Delhi will be taking 6 hrs. Due to low-frequency flight ticket prices are always really high. Therefore, I don't recommend taking a flight to Dharamshala.

Day Two: Let's start with Divine Dharamshala

Reaching early morning saves you an entire day. Check-in your accommodation place. Freshen up have breakfast and let's start with exploring Dharamshala. Dharamshala is a small town so I would recommend taking a bike on rent or rickshaw. Guys would request you please avoid taking a private car. It is better for both, it saved the beauty of nature and saves a lot of time from the pain of been in traffic. One day rent for Scooty - Activa 5G I paid ₹370 per day.

Breakfast at Seed Restaurant

A place with scenic views surrounded by glass windows, then this is for you and you can sit here for hours, read a book, play a game of chess or simply gaze at the stunning Dhauladhar range outside. In the evening it takes on a different look with live music and open mic nights.

It also happens to be one of the best romantic restaurants in the city. Speaking of food, they serve the best and most delicious Indian food in the town.

HPCA Stadium

The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) Stadium is one of the most beautiful and colourful cricket stadiums in our country. A snow-peaked mountain in the backdrop makes it a must-visit place in Dharamshala whether or not you are a cricket fan.

Entry Fee: ₹ 20 per person.

Visiting Hours: 09:00 AM to 05:00 PM

War Memorial

Surrounded by sprawling gardens, the elegant-looking War Memorial is a tribute to those brave souls who sacrificed their lives for our country and this signifies that these soldiers will always be alive in our thoughts. During the operations of 1947-48, 1962, 1965, and 1971 and various peacekeeping missions, many soldiers lost their lives, and it was in their memory that the War Memorial was built with the names of those many heroes inscribed on the stone.

Entry Fee: ₹10 per person to help to maintain the sanctity of Martyr's Memorials.

Visiting Hours: 08:00 AM to 08:00 PM

Tea Garden

Dharamshala has beautifully lined and organized tea gardens on the way to Durga Mata Kunal Patri Temple.

Durga Mata Kunal Patri Temple

The temple is located amid dense tea gardens and lush surroundings. Goddess Durga is believed to have been immortalized in a stone that always remains wet inside the temple. The temple displays wonderful carvings of gods and goddesses and it is believed that when Goddess Sati, wife of Lord Shiva, died, her skull had fallen here on this spot.

Lunch @ Aman Food Court Family Restaurant

On the way back saw this restaurant, a clean ambience to enjoying the amazing Kangra Valley from the glass. The food was not that great but worth the money, tired Pot Chicken Biryani.

St. John Church

This magnificent church is built amid the picturesque valley of McLeod Ganj. St. John Church is an Anglican church dedicated to John the Baptist. Its main attraction is the Belgian stained-glass windows which were donated by Lady Elgin, wife of Lord Elgin. The structure is so powerful that it survived the 1905 Kangra earthquake.

Dal Lake

Flanked by lush greenery and blooming trees, Dal Lake is counted among the major tourist attractions of Mcloedganj. There is also Shiv Mandir located around the banks of the lake which makes it a sacred spot.

Sunset at Naddi Village

Sunset at Naddi is an amazing thing to see in McLeod Ganj. From Sunset View Point you can see the entire valley in a beautiful colour with a setting sunset and on the other side, you can see the moon rising from the snow-filled mountain range.

Handloom & Handicraft Shop

Within a distance of 50 meters from the viewpoint toward McLeod Ganj will find a small shop with a name board KK Production (Handloom & Handicraft). Take a halt and witness the handloom & handicraft. Here is a video

Dinner at Sky Pie Restaurant, McLeod Ganj

Good food but you have to make sure that you have plenty of time to chill out and relax! Their Italian Chicken Corn Pizza is superb!

To start your next day early you should be ready to sleep in bed latest by 10:00 PM.

Day Three: Dharamshala a Himalayan Gem

Bhagsu Nag Waterfall & Temple

Bhagsu Nag Waterfall is one of the most visited places in McLeod Ganj. So to avoid extra supporting visitors spoiling your memories go early in the morning. Since fall also required a

little bit of hiking, it's better to do it early in the morning. On the way to the fall, you can also pay a visit to the Bhagsu Nag Temple and take a bath in the "shaan kund" while returning. The fall is an absolute marvel to look at standing right in front of it.

Entry Fees: No Entry Fees

Timing for Shaan Kund: 06:00 AM to 6:00 PM

Breakfast at German Bakery

Located at Bhagsu Nag Taxi Stand, this is an excellent breakfast time place, especially if you’re looking to get some morning sun in your system. Their homemade cappuccino is best followed by the English Egg Breakfast Plan and local Bhagsu Cake is must try! There is nothing "German" here yet the bakery is good.

Norbulingka Monastery & Studies Centre

A quaint and quiet customary Tibetan Style Studies Centre situated in the midst of greenery enclosures and lakes, with the main purpose to provide an Academy of Tibetan Culture, Writing and Craftsmanship. To witness some of the finest craftsmanship done by Norbulingka artists search for Losel Doll Museum inside the complex. Do also check out the Hostel and Faculty Accommodation complex built uphill.

Entry Fees: No Entry Fees

Timing: 06:00 AM to 6:00 PM

Dalai Lama Temple (Tsuglagkhang Complex)

Tsuglakhang Temple also known as Dalai Lama Temple. Dalai Lama visits this temple multiple times a year to preach and bless. Thus, the temple gets its name as Dalai Lama Temple. Inside the temple, you can find a statue of Buddha sitting on a carved pedestal and devotees walking around the statue in a clockwise direction.

Turning prayer wheels

There are large cylindrical wheels with Tibetan prayer mantras inscribed on it inside the Dalai Lama Temple. They are called Prayer wheels and as people walk around the temple they push the wheels to rotate it. It's a part of the rituals of the temple.

Tibet Museum

Tibet Museum is inside the Dalai Lama Temple Complex, it has rare pictures of Dalai Lama, Tibetan Culture and Martyrs. There are also pictures of how Dalai Lama escaping from Tibet

Shopping & Street Food

If it is the last day for you in Dharamshala, then street shopping is a must. The best one is just right outside the Dalai Lama Temple and if you are a Dimsum / Momos lover then Dharamshala is heaven for you. To be honest, I am not a big fan of Momos, so can't comment on it. Dharamshala is an amazing place for just walking around the street, so just enjoy it.

Day Four: Go Beyond Dharamshala

If you are only planning to see offbeat places around Dharamshala then you should check my Go Beyond Dharamshala blog. But let me tell you one thing – this is not about the places to visit in Dharamshala.

Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Shabha

Like J&K, Himachal Pradesh also has two Vidhan Shabha offices. Shimla for Summer Session and Dharamshala for Winter Session. It's an amazing place surrounded by mountains and a green valley.

Sandeepany Himalayas (Chinmaya Tapovan Trust)

Sandeepany Himalayas in a scenic location in Dharamshala has a beautiful Ram Temple, impressive Hanuman / Shiva lingam images, meditation centre/Vedic school and final resting place/samadhi of the founder of the mission Swami Chinmaya Nanda. It's a place for peace, bliss and spiritual rejuvenation.

Vihaan Valley School, Tiara

This is not a tourist place, it is a school but the view of the snow covered mountain is just amazing and beautiful. It just felt like my dream school location. Just take a halt and enjoy the pristine nature.

Kaathla Mata Temple

A Hindu temple of goddess Kathla Mata, a highly spiritual place built at a good height from where you get a panorama view of snow-covered mountains and salol town.

Kangra Fort & Museum and Sunset

This place is a must-see place for offbeat Dharmashala. Build on the top of Dharamshala amidst the two rivers, Patal Ganga and Banganga. The fort offers an insight into the history of the place and you will get to learn a lot there. You will feel like walking in the old world charm while visiting the fort and while listening to the audio guide along the way.

Some of the interesting facts about Kangra Fort are:

  • The Kangra Fort is the largest fort in the Himalayas and is the 8th largest fort in India

  • You can find several wells within the fort - not for water. But are filled with treasure, some found and some yet to be found. Thanks to all that treasure, Kangra Fort was attacked more than 50 times but has been strong and survived all of this, not the 1905 earthquake.

Just make sure to reach Fort Terrace passing through Mahlon Ka Darwaza around sunset to capture an amazing view of the sunset from the highest point of the Kangra Fort on one side and on the other side blush pink Himalayan mountain. This hour is also known as golden hours where the golden rays caused the snow-covered mountain to blush pink.

Entry Fees: Indian, SAARC and BIMSTAC ₹25per person and for Foreigner ₹3000 per person

Timing: 09:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Dinner at Sky Pie Restaurant, McLeod Ganj

Good food but you have to make sure that you have plenty of time to chill out and relax! Their Italian Chicken Corn Pizza is superb!

To start your next day early you should be ready to sleep in bed latest by 09:00 PM.

Day Five: Go Beyond Dharamshala

Pong Lake Sanctuary

Pong Lake Sanctuary is built on Pong Dam and is known to be the highest earth-fill dam in India. A visit to Pong Lake makes for an excellent offbeat trip from Dharamshala. In 1983

This place is also heaven for bird watchers and bird photographers because Pong Lake has a variety of birdlife and important among them is the bar-headed geese.

Some other main attractions are:

An island in the middle of the water known as Rainsar with a Forest Rest House on it. It literally appears to be floating and can be accessed by a boat ride.

Bathu Ki Ladi - A cluster of ancient temples that are submerged in water on all sides due to the high water level in the dam. As per locals, these cluster of temples were built by the Pandavas during their time of exile and it is only accessible during summer when the water level in the dam goes down.

Make sure you visit here early in the morning, it's an amazing place, you can just sit here and enjoy nature. You just simply walk around or hire a cycle on rent to see around.

Entry Fees: For Indian ₹10 per person and for Foreigner ₹50 per person

Timing: Summer Season 07:00 AM to 6:00 PM and Winter Season 09:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Masrur Rock Cut Temple

A famous archaeological site that offers ravishing rock-cut temples that will steal your attention. Build-in Indo-Aryan style of architecture. Just observe art and beautiful sights to behold the intricate details of the structure of the temples and capture memories.

The temples were carved out of monolithic rock with a shikhara and provided with a sacred pool of water as recommended by Hindu texts on temple architecture. It got damaged in the 1905 earthquake but is still in decent condition. The Masrur temple and the Prasat Ak Yum temple found in Siam Reap, Cambodia have parallels, in that both are temple mountains with asymmetric design

Return to Mumbai

For Mumbaikar! returning via Delhi is the best and most economical option. You can take an evening bus to Delhi around 07:00 pm which will reach the next day early morning. From Delhi, you can take a train to Mumbai. Here are some of my suggestions.

  • 19024/Firozpur Cantt - Mumbai Central Janta Express (Departs @ 01:30 pm)

  • 12952/New Delhi - Mumbai Central Rajdhani Express (Departs @ 04:25 pm)

Listen To Me:

  • Mobile phones and cameras are allowed inside the temple, So make sure that you do not disturb the rituals and other pilgrims.

  • Footwear is not allowed inside the temple.

  • If you are visiting during Dalai Lama’s visit, you ought to buy tickets through online sites for hearing his teachings. At the time of visiting the Dalai Lama temple, you will not be allowed to take any electronic item with you. A booth will be present outside the temple where you need to place all your belongings.

  • Please be polite and gentle with the native people, because you are their guest.

  • It's best to dress modestly and act conservatively.

If this weekend getaway has inspired the traveller in you, you may also like to explore...

Like what you’re seeing and if you found the write up useful, would love to hear your feedback in the comment section. Do share, like and follow for more on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Telegram & Whatapp.

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10 de out. de 2023
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