Things to do and places to eat at in Dharamsala
Everything you need to know to make the most of your time in Dharamsala. A wonderful blog shared by our friend, Yoga Instructor and more, Chris. You can find more of his musings here.
Dharamsala is a word that you’ll hear many travelers you come across speak with fondness. When you first arrive in the mountain city at the foothills of the Himalayas it is easy to see why. Green surrounds you as far as the eye can see from both the grass on the ground and the myriad of trees descending down valleys and up mountain peaks. This is a sharp contrast to the dusty terrain that covers much of India and this change in environment creates its own special vibes.
Many tourists come to Dharmsala to escape the rising temperatures in the south before monsoon approaches (around May and June). Some come for the chance to meet the Dalai Lama, who calls Dharamsala his home in exile from Tibet. You can take courses on Buddhism, attend workshops covering all different topics from people around the world, go trekking to waterfalls or the forest depths, or just enjoy the slower paced life in the mountains.
Be warned that the weather can change very quickly in Dharmsala. The sun may be smiling one hour and the heavens pouring down furiously the next. But those storms can make for some epic lightning shows and the rain supports all the green around you.
Dharamsala is split up into three main areas for tourists, each with a slightly different vibe.
This is the central hub of Dharamsala with many shops and restaurants and views of the distant snow covered mountain peaks.
Lung Ta Japanese Restuarant: This is one of my favorite restaurants in all of India. The menu is all vegetarian and there are daily specials for each day of the week, from sushi to tofu steak with a variety of delicious accompaniments. Make sure you arrive in plenty of time before they close as there will likely be a wait for a table to open up. Definitely a must try while in Dharamsala.
Cinema: There is a small cinema showing both Tibetan movies and new releases. They show a few movies each day and post a weekly schedule on the notice boards.
Third Eye Tattoo: If you’re looking to get a tattoo done there are many artists in Dharamsala. I got one done by my friend KD at Third Eye Tattoo and can’t recommend him highly enough. KD is very helpful and friendly, the studio is very hygienic, and most importantly the resulting artwork is amazing.
The areas of Bhagsu and Dharamkot are around a 20 minute walk from McCleodganj. Bhagsu typically has a wide range of tourists filling its restaurants. If you want more solitude I suggest finding a guesthouse in Upper Bhagsu. The higher up the mountain you go, the less noise there is. Keep in mind this will add a small hike to anywhere you are going, but the views and sense of peace is well worth it. There is also a public pool a few minutes’ walk from the main area of town on the way to the small waterfall so you have a few options to cool off during hot days.
Singh Corner: While in Bhagsu you will see bright gold little boxes everywhere. They are the wrapping for the infamous Bhagsu cake, invented at the Singh Corner restaurant. This delicious blend of chocolate, caramel, and cookie crust is highly addictive and only 30 rupees for normal version (white chocolate and peanut butter additions are a bit more).
Art Cafe: This little hangout is truly unique in that all of the food is by donation. A set menu involving a tasty soup, salad, and sandwich is offered as well as some vegan options. Eat as much as you like and pay what you think appropriate, all proceeds go to benefiting a great cause to help children in need.
Located just across the valley from Bhagsu is Dharamkot. Dharamkot is very similar to Bhagsu and if you want more privacy once again just head up the mountain to Upper Dharamkot. This area is a haven for Israelis as conversations in Hebrew pour out of many great restaurants.
Trimurti Garden: The Trimurti Garden is a great place to grab a healthy bite to eat. They have really good kombucha and vegan cakes available and a nice communal area to enjoy the garden.
The Bone and Body Clinic: Many people come to Dharmsala for chiropractic work from Ringo and his staff. People suffering from back pain and spinal issues speak very highly of the clinic and often stay months to work on alleviating chronic issues.
Tashita: Tashita offers 10 day introduction to Buddhism courses as well as different Buddhist and mindfulness related retreats. You can join daily meditation by donation Monday-Saturday at 9:30.
Things to do:
Trek to Triund: Triund is the most famous destination in the area and rightly so. A couple hour hikes up the mountains is rewarded with views of snow-capped mountains, rolling hills, and all of the tiny houses spread out before you for kilometres on end. There is a truly special energy to this area. You can hike an additional 45 minutes to the snowline and have yourself a snowball fight or camp out overnight underneath the stars (or rent a tent or guesthouse). You can hike up the mountain and be be back by mid-afternoon, there are many little chai shops along the way if you need some fuel for the journey.
Waterfalls: There are two waterfalls nearby, one close to Bagsu and another on the opposite side of the mountain from Triund. The first will take around 15 minutes to reach from Bagsu and is quite small but has a pool at the base you can submerge yourself in. The latter is about 1-1.5 hours from Dharamkot. While it doesn’t have a large sheer drop, you can follow the river up for a long time towards the mountains, climbing over large rocks and finding many pools of shockingly cold water along the way. A very nice way to spend the day in the nature.
Courses and Yoga: Just check the posters around town to see what workshops are being offered. There are many music schools if you’d like to learn bansuri (Indian flute), sitar, drums, or how to sing. Thai chi, yoga, crystal healing, and everything in between are going on weekly so keep your eyes open for anything that draws your interest. There are also a few schools offering yoga teacher trainings (such as Trimurti Yoga and Sarvaguna Yoga, which also offers meditation trainings).
Dharamsala is an easy place to connect with nature and meet many interesting people. There’s always new classes and workshops going on every week and amazing views every day, although it can rain heavily for days at a time. If you are a hardcore nature buff, make sure to explore other parts of Himachal Pradesh as well such as the Parvati Valley and Manali. Dharamsala allows you to choose whether to hang out all day in a cafe surrounded by interesting people, find peace and quite in the mountainside, or get involved in a variety of interesting activities.