My penchant to visit offbeat destinations took me to the picturesque and virgin territory of Dharamshala. It is snuggled in the lofty Dauladhar Mountain on the Himalayan ranges on three sides only to give way to a lush valley on one side. It is divided into Lower and Upper Dharamshala, the latter being touristy with stunning scenic views from McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj. Since His Holiness the Dalai Lama established Dharamshala as his headquarters, it is also called ‘The Little Lhasa in India’.
Dharamshala epitomizes the Kangra Valley in all its glory – snow-kissed peaks, undulating tea estates, speckled with Dal Lake, temples, and Triund hill. The formidable mountain shelters the valley from icy winds from the north and when the ice on its peaks thaws, it flows down as streams and rivers to render the soil rich and fertile.
Room with a view
The headquarters of Kangra District in Himachal Pradesh, the nearest railhead for Dharamshala is Pathankot and Goggal airport for fliers. As we drove up to reach WelcomeHeritage Grace Hotel, I took in the revered sight of sacred prayer flags fluttering in the cold mountain breeze, sloping grey slate roofs of native houses with mud courtyards and the coniferous forests that flanked our drive.
Grace Hotel is a heritage property with a lineage of dignitaries owning it. Aesthetically furnished rooms with original furniture and objet d’art retained to lend a colonial feel reflect old-world charm and distinction of the mansion. The jutting-out glass windows in our room revealed an enchanting view of the Kangra Valley and placid Pong Dam Lake. As the night descended, it brought with it hailstorm and the property was akin to a glittering oasis amidst silky-black and silently-wet milieu. As it dawned, I was greeted with views of Dauladhar peaks enveloped in fresh snow, incandescent under the gentle caress of sun’s early rays.
After a hearty breakfast, we left for McLeod Ganj’s Namgyal and other monasteries. On our way, we spotted ochre and red-robed monks of all age. The monasteries looked like ornate trinket boxes with vibrant frescoes, thangkas, and pews. At Namgyal, a huge gilded statue of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, dominates the temple. Besides, there are statues of Avalokitesvara and Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rinpoche. During the Great Prayer Festival in spring, thousands of monks and public gather to listen to Dalai Lama’s teachings. In the kitchens behind the temple are gigantic cauldrons that are heated over woodfire to prepare huge amounts of tea for these gatherings.
People of the land – Pahadis
Pahadis, as the natives here are known, are hardy, mountainous people. They are simple and honest folks and their lifestyle is reminiscent of lives in olden times. The Pahadi cuisine is rustic and derives its flavours from Pahadi chillies, jhakiya tempering, and jhambu herbs.
Other sights of interest
A day’s trekking to a snow point will be an attraction for adventure freaks. As trekking is not my forte, we went to Kangra Art Museum at Kotwali Bazar, Kunal Pathri Temple and even saw the spectacular HPCA (Cricket) Stadium, which faces the majestic Dauladhar. Bhagsunath Temple and Bhagsunag Waterfall are prominent picnic spots.
At Kotwali Bazar, shop for Tibetan artefacts like prayer wheels, beads, Buddha statues, bells, vajra and thangka paintings, which are colourfully hand-painted silk wall hangings that depict Lord Buddha’s life and teachings. Kangra tea is a must-buy for tea lovers.
At Dharamshala, it is the overpowering presence of the mountain that rules.
There is an abundance of tranquillity and harmony with nature at Dharmashala. If you are on an extended stay, visit Dalhousie in the outer Dauladhar range consisting of five hills. We came back reluctant but rejuvenated!
Image courtesy: Pixabay and Depositphotos