Photo diary: Snow-capped mountains and Tibetan art in Dharamshala

We’d heard a lot about Dharamshala over the years; about its views, its food and its Tibetan-Buddhist-influenced atmosphere. Here’s the story, in pictures, of when we finally managed to visit.

The road to Dharamshala

After some research on how to get to Dharamshala, we decided to fly down to Chandigarh and drive down from there. In hindsight, that probably wasn’t the quickest or easiest route. But now we know.

Wheat fields in Punjab
Some of Punjab’s famous wheat fields, with the Shivalik hills behind.
Pot on the flame
When we stopped for tea at a roadside eatery, I noticed this pot steaming away. No idea what was in it. Probably potatoes.

Day 1: We explore Palampur and Andreta

We’d heard a bit about the views from Palampur, and about the pottery scene in Andreta. Away we went. Turns out, Andreta is great if you want to learn pottery, but not so great if you’re just looking for things to see.

Also read: Things to do in Pokhara, Nepal while keeping your distance from others

Snow-capped mountain, Dharamshala
We got to Dharamshala at night, so this was our first glimpse of the impressive Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas
Meadow on the way to Palampur
We came across this meadow on the way to Palampur, and just had to stop
Close-up of mountain
The Dhauladhars up close
Collecting pine resin
Someone obviously likes pine resin. Who knew the sticky and fragrant stuff could be collected like rubber.

Doggie close up
One of the many cute doggies taking it easy in the meadow
Bridge in Palampur
The view of the Dhauladhars from the footbridge over the neugal khad stream in Palampur
Goatherds in Palampur
We watched these women herding their goats up the mountain while we sat at a bus stop and drank tea
Terracotta on a wall in Andreta
The village of Andreta is known for its pottery studios, as this wall shows
Mirage homestay living room in Andreta
The warm and homely Mirage Homestay in Andreta, where we could’ve had lunch if we had given them more notice.

Day 2: We see what Dharamshala town has to offer

On our second day, we decided to keep things local. We spent a few hours taking in the Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan Art, and then headed over to the HPCA cricket stadium (supposedly the highest cricket stadium in the world) for a look.

Also read: Eight great things to experience while visiting Bhutan

Norbulingka gate, Dharamshala
Two Tibetan youngsters relax outside the Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan art. They paid us no notice.
Buddhist deity in Norbulingka, Dharamshala
Of all the deities painted on this piled up rock chorten, I found this one the most fascinating.
Norbulingka Institute and mountains, Dharamshala
The Institute, painted in the traditional bright colours, makes a very pretty picture against the mountains behind.
Gargoyle at Norbulingka, Dharamshala
I found this gargoyle somewhat disturbing, but it seemed to enjoy spewing water into its pond.

Woodcarving at Norbulingka, Dharamshala
An artisan and his tools. The Institute trains students in traditional Tibetan art forms, woodcarving included.
Boxes being painted, Norbulingka, Dharamshala
Some very fine paintwork being done on these dragon-motif boxes.
Prayer wheels, Norbulignka, Dharamshala
These heavy prayer wheels supposedly multiply the effect of the mantra engraved on them when they you turn them in the direction of the arrow.
HPCA stadium, Dharamshala
The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) stadium has to be one of the most beautiful in the world. Wonder how the players stay focused.

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Day 3: We settle in at Naddi, high above Dharamshala

After two days in the foothills, we moved up into Naddi, a little village high above Dharamshala and even higher than McLeodganj. We spent the day admiring the amazing views of the Dhauladhar mountains from our cottage at the charming Udechee Huts, and from the mountain path below.

Also read: Our short stay in Thekkady, in the lush hills of Kerala

Cottage window view, Naddi
The view from our cosy little cottage in Naddi village, high above Dharamshala.
Dining verandah, Naddi
The incredible view of the Dhauladhars from the dining verandah made us forget all about our chai and pakodas!
Rhododendron and mountains, Naddi
An evening stroll took us past one of the many rhododendron trees in the area. The locals make a tangy, spicy chutney from the flowers.
Goat, Naddi
This goat watched us suspiciously while we strolled past on our evening walk. Actually, who knows what goes on behind those strange eyes!

Day 4: McLeodganj, and a spectacular sunset

This time, we decided to see what the little town of McLeodganj was like. We had heard a lot about its eating places, and about the Tsuglagkhang temple complex, the spiritual centre for Tibetan Buddhists living in exile. We hoped to catch a glimpse of the Dalai Lama there, but no cigar. Back in Naddi, we caught a brilliant sunset over the Kangra valley.

Also read: Eight great things to experience while visiting Bhutan

Mountain village, Naddi, Dharamshala
We woke up to this glorious sight. ‘Picture perfect’ was invented for moments like this.
Tsuglagkhang complex, McLeodganj, Dharamshala
The unassuming entrance to the Tsuglagkhang complex, the centre of Tibet in India. This is where the Dalai Lama lives, the Tibetan monks congregate, and the Tibetan government-in-exile meets.
Butter lamps, Tsuglagkhang, McLeodganj, Dharamshala
Butter lamps burn merrily in their glasshouse. They are said to be an aid to meditation, and symbolize the process of gaining enlightenment.
Pesto spaghetti at Illiterati Cafe, McLeodganj, Dharamshala
The Illiterati Café came highlight recommended, so that’s where we had lunch. Here, some excellent fresh pesto spaghetti, with mint lemonade to match.

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Signboards at Illiterati Cafe, McLeodganj, Dharamshala
We believe you.
Church, McLeodganj, Dharamshala
The over 100 year-old Church of St. John in the Wilderness. We stopped on the way out of McLeodganj to enjoy some peace and quiet among the trees and the mysterious graveyard.
Stained glass windows, McLeodganj, Dharamshala
These intricate stained-glass windows are one of the things the church is known for. I only wish there had been more of them.
Gazebo, Naddi, Dharamshala
One of the staff at our cottages got us into this private estate for a look at the setting sun. Sadly, this gazebo was off limits.

Sunset, Naddi, Dharamshala
After some scrambling through the trees, we managed to find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sunset. And it was worth it.
Udechee huts, Naddi, Dharamshala
Mountain paths led us back to our cosy cottages. An evening well spent!

Day 5: A short trek from Naddi down to the stream

On our last day, we decided a short trek was in order. Our destination was the little mountain stream that we could see from Naddi, far below in the valley. It took us about three hours, and the thin air had us huffing and puffing a bit. But it was great fun.

Pine forest, Naddi
A trek through the pine forests down from our cottages was just what the doctor ordered. But it wasn’t as easy as we thought, with the thin air.
Women carrying firewood, Naddi
Local women take a break from carrying firewood. Wonder how they manage in winter.

Himachali woman, Naddi
This woman happily accompanied us for a while, after she had sharpened her sickle on that rock. FYI, that’s the mantra ‘Om mani padme hum’ painted on the rock.
Mules, Naddi
The track we walked on was in the process of being carved out of the mountain. And these mules were being used to transport the gravel down to the stream.
Stream and tea stalls, Naddi
The stream lies on the route to a small local temple. Hence the little tea stalls.
Splashing stream, Naddi
The stream merrily splashes along among granite boulders. The snowmelt-fed water was so cold, I couldn’t put my hand in it for more than a few seconds at a time.

Dharamshala was different from what we expected, but that was a good thing in many ways. Now we know what to do when we go back. Maybe in winter, this time.

Also read: Eight things we learned in Ladakh, the highest desert in the world

IQ’s top tips for Dharamshala

  • Flying to Gaggal airport in Kangra near Dharamshala is a roll of the dice, as commercial flights are sometimes cancelled to make way for air force traffic.
  • We flew to Chandigarh and took a taxi from there, but later realized that flying to Pathankot and then driving down works out much faster.
  • The mountain train from Pathankot to Kangra, in the valley below Dharamshala, is said to be very picturesque.
  • If you’re driving, try timing your entry to Dharamshala for the early evening. You’ll see the Dhauladhar mountains lit up in the evening sun for almost an hour as you drive.
  • Choose your accommodation based on where you want to spend the most time. Driving between Dharamshala and McLeodganj is tedious and time-consuming, a cable-car ropeway project isunderway to ease traffic.
  • Dharamshala and McLeodganj are both crowded and touristy. It would be a good idea to find accommodation in one of the surrounding villages and drive in as needed.
  • Palampur doesn’t have much going for it except the Neugal stream and the view from its bridge, and Andreta isn’t very interesting if you aren’t into pottery. But the drive is nice.
  • If you like art, you can spend hours at the Norbulingka institute in Dharamshala. The food at the cafe is good too, and the institute has some nice (but pricey) rooms on its grounds.
  • The Tsuglagkhang monastery and complex can be crowded, and photography in the shrines isn’t allowed.
  • I also got the distinct feeling that the Tibetan monks and nuns didn’t like being photographed, despite agreeing when I asked them. Maybe it’s just better not to.
  • If you’re looking for stays with mountain views, they don’t get much better than at the village of Naddi. But you need to go all the way to the end of the main road and turn right, down into the valley, for unrestricted views.
  • Udechee Huts is a great place to stay in Naddi if you’re looking for spectacular views and decent, comfortable rooms. There are a few other, more basic, places further into the valley.
  • If you’re staying at Udechee Huts, ask them if they can get you into the private estate grounds at the top of the hill to watch the sunset. They were happy to do it for us.
  • There are lots of paths to take walks around the hills around Naddi. If you’re adventurous, you can even trek to the temples across the valley, but that might take the whole day. It took us almost two hours just to reach the stream, down in the valley.

Vegetarian tip

Dharamshala and McLeodganj are full of restaurants that serve good vegetarian options. Check out Illiterati Cafe for good world cuisine, and the basic Tibet Kitchen for good Tibetan food (I recommend the vegetable thukpa, a hearty noodle soup).

Sustainability tip

Travelling between Dharamshala and McLeodganj involves a lot of driving. Booking your accommodation based on where you want to spend the most time will reduce your driving and your carbon footprint. For example, we spent three days in the valley and three days in the mountains so we didn’t have to keep shuttling between the two.

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  1. These photos are absolutely stunning. Loved reading about a place that I hadn’t heard of before! I would love to go for those views alone.

    1. Thanks a lot, Anna! Dharamshala and its surroundings tend to get crowded, though. That’s why we were so happy to have discovered Udechee Huts in Naddi, so we didn’t have to deal with all the people 😀

  2. All these photos are lovely! I visited McLeodganj several years ago and was blown away by how lovely it was. Reading this post, I see I missed some good spots while I was there. A reason to go back!

    1. Thanks a lot, Becky! I’m so glad my photos make you want to go back. I don’t think we would’ve been able to get away from the crowds if we hadn’t stayed where we did in Naddi, though.

    1. Thanks so much, Anthony! At least now I know all the time spent editing those things is worth it 😊

    1. Thanks, Atul! It’s definitely a place to visit, and March seems to be the best time. Enjoy your trip, whever it happens! 😊

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