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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.