I can only going on what we ourselves did and what we have been recommend as I try to only use guidebooks as a last resort. However I’m sure you’ll find a fair few of these your dog-eared Lonely Planet.
McLeod Ganj: Headquarters of the exiled Tibetan government, bustling market town and home to the Dalai Lama.
The Church of St. John in the Wilderness: a slice of Nottingham Forest right here in Dharamasla. You will feel as though you are a pilgrim in medieval England when you stumble across this archaic little church.
Tsuglagkhang Complex: comprising a three metre high statue of Sakyamuni Buddha and a lot of ‘Free Tibet’ propaganda. The temple itself is not one of the most beautiful but the sound of so many people chanting was deeply moving and brought tears to my eyes.
Dip Tse ChokIing Gompa: funded by Richard Gere (who knew he was a practicing Buddhist) this is such a haven and much less busy than Tsuglagkhang Complex. Wander the beautiful grounds, visit the Tibetan Doll Museum and enjoy lunch and the Hummingbird Cafe (no, sadly they don’t sell cupcakes). There is also a guesthouse here which I would highly recommend anyone travelling to Dharamasla staying as it is such an oasis, however apparently it is recommended you book in advance as it almost always full.
Friendly Planet: Vikram (our hostess’s husband) raves about this place and even if we’d wanted to, I don’t think he would’ve allowed us to eat anywhere else! There is a nice mix of travellers and locals and the staff are super friendly although I would advise heading there before you’re actually hungry as the food can take a while (read: forever).
The Cricket Stadium: if your visit to Dharamasla coincides with it why not attend a cricket much. I can garuntee there will be much more crowd participation than at Lords.
Wild Camping: we did not have time to do this, but it’s top of my agenda next time I come to Dharamasala!
NGOs: if you fall in love with Dharamasla as much as I did and would like to stay for an extended period, why not volunteer at one of its several NGO’s. We visited the Jagori Rural Charitable Trust where Nasma used work. They support women in the local villages with matters concerning domestic violence, women’s and children’s health. Nasma became a little emotional upon returning and explaining the work that the women here do; it is touching to see how much time and emotion the volunteers invest in the (charity) and how deeply involved they become.
“Car crash?” I enquired to our bus driver. “No, no: shooting” he replied nonchalantly. “Ohhhh, a shooting” I thought “naturally”. As we made our way through the multiplying clusters of inquisitive onlookers I had quite forgotten that but two nights ago I was 30,000 feet high somewhere over Central Asia. I imagined that on my first weekend as a fully fledged Delhi local I would be writing about well, Delhi; however my friend Natasha had other plans. After a quick “freshen up” stop at her apartment en-route from airport to bus station, I found myself heading north to the Himalayas for a back-to-basics weekend in Rakkar, Dharamsala.
As our aptly named ‘semi-sleeper’ bus began to ascend the mountains we were rudely roused from our sleeping tablet induced slumbers. Nothing to do with involuntary ‘head-banging on window routine’ incurred by the pot-hole ridden mountain passes. Groggily we rubbed our eyes. We were met by a valley still tucked away under its thick blanket of mist, just about to be thrown off before rising for the day. Oh, and Nasma our host and her driver.
The latter turned out to be a budding mountaineer and the following morning after a scripture worthy picnic under the “people tree” he took us to his favourite secluded spot. Our only accompaniment along the hike was a mummy cow and her calf, which in India is saying something! We marched to the beat of the slate miners across the other side of the valley, for which Dharamsala is famous for. But as we ascended the top of the hill their reassuring rhythm was drowned out by the roar of the river below, fat from the recent monsoon. This was eagle territory. As we scrambled from rock to rock, clutching cameras, rucksacks and water bottles, they glided majestically between the peaks, effortlessly making their way across the valley we had just taken hours to climb.
After another biblical feast we made our way back down, mirroring the ant-like donkey trail descending the opposite mountain. Mummy cow and her calf were back. Three young girls came running up to us: “Name? Country?” they asked excitedly, all anyone wants to know in India apparently. N, who used to work for the Jagori Rural Charitable Trust in the local village asked them why they were not in school. “But it’s Sunday?” the eldest replied, confused. So it was – clever one she was.
After a quick yoga session with ‘Yogi Nani’, N’s beautiful 75 year old mother, we were back on the ‘semi-sleeper’ and Delhi bound once more. Not before the ‘shoot out’ extended pit stop including several chais, much local gossip and a fainting. Oh and bunch of stoned Israelis singing their national anthem. Dharamsala: it’s been emotional.