As the skies opened up when the plane gained height, it was a feeling of release. With the pandemic seemingly receding we decided to take a small break into the beautiful state of Himanchal Pradesh. We set out for Dharamshala – nestled in the foothills of the Dhauladhar Range. It was a town never visited – and it had a lure that was both touristy and spiritual. The headquarters of the Dalai Lama, and dotted with monasteries and temples – the place had always beckoned.
Travel they say makes you a story teller. After months of staying home it is also a liberating experience. and when travel takes one to a natural haven it re-enforces the bounty and importance of our natural habitat
A short one hour flight from New Delhi was enough to take us far away from the city, its clamour, memories of covid and its demands! The moment the Himalays came into view from the plane a total sense of peace descended on the mind. The Pong dam lake shimmered below as the plane descended, the green surroundings reflected in its expanse.
Dharamshala is place that spreads across the mountains and the valleys. It is green and charming, with the bare Dhauladhar Range awaiting snow standing like a sentinel in the background. It is a place that resonates with a mix of Himachali and Tibetan culture – in food, dress and appearance.
There is a lot to see around. Begin with the beautiful cricket stadium nestled in the foothills of the mountains. It is a tourist attraction and would qualify as one of the most beautifully located cricket stadiums in the country! Nearby is the War memorial – visit to pay homage to our brave soldiers and see the tall pines that form the backdrop to the beautiful monument.
McLeod Ganj is the star attraction in the Kangra valley, a mere 10 kms from Dharamshala. It was our first stop during our stay. Enroute to McLeod Ganj dont miss the Church of St John in the Wilderness. A red roofed old building it is a quiet serene church inside. There is an old graveyard nearby going down the slopes for those interested in history.
It is the vibe of MacLeod Ganj that makes it such a draw for the young from far and wide. It is a vibrant small place full of great eating joints, small Buddhist temples and trinket shops. Nearby is the Dalai Lam temple and residential complex. Keeping in view the pandemic it was not open for the public. The Karmapa monastery was likewise shut for visitors.
After decades we got the opportunity to celebrate Dusshera watching the vanquishing of evil by the good at the Police grounds in Dharmshala. Like children we watched as the effigies of Kumbhkaran, Meghnad and Ravan went up in flames. That was followed by a grand display of fireworks. It was after a gap of two years that people had gathered to celebrate, and everyone stood around watching with masks on. Celebrating both the festival and the receding of the pandemic. It was a moment of hope.
To observe and learn about Tibetan culture the Norbulingka Institute is a great place and it was open. A research institute, it promotes Tibetan arts, handicrafts and culture. It is a serene, colorful place which has a wonderful restaurant that serves awesome food. You can also watch artisans learning and working on their crafts like Thangka painting, applique work and painting screens. A doll museum in the premises gives a wonderful view of life in Tibet. If possible spend a night in their aesthetically beautiful and peaceful guest house, and enjoy the delicious honey garlic lemon tea they serve!
You want to try para gliding or trek to Triund – Dharmshala is the place to go. It is also a destination for temples. The Chamunda temple is one of the older temples near the city. Built near a river, it also is a cremation place. Legend has it that if no body is cremated on some days, then a stack of grass is burnt on a pyre – a reminder of the transient nature of human life.
For us the small break of three days in Dharamshala was about breathing again. Literally and metaphorically. The first visit to a toruist destination after the long Covid break was rejuvinating and relaxing.
Nature is our best friend, companion and healer – the cool clean breeze of Dharmshala and its surounding areas seemed to whisper this as it blew in the greenery around.