Over the years, Dharamshala & McLeodganj have steadily become a most favoured destination for travellers and backpackers. The popular places and hikes around McLeodganj are known to be super crowded during the summer season. On various visits to this region for work and explorations in Kangra Valley; here is a list of offbeat places and experiences for the discerning traveller who is looking for more. These places are all in the region of around 50-80 kms from Dharamshala.
Offbeat Places to Visit near Dharamshala – McLeodganj
Monastery Experience : Tashijong & Palpung Sherabling
Dharamshala is the hotbed for Tibetan Buddhism not only in India, but in the entire world and hence a monastery tour is to be definitely experienced while in Dharamshala.
Tashijong is the name of the village while the name of the monastery is Khampagar Monastery. Tashijong in Tibetan literally means ‘auspicious valley’. It is established under Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism.
The monastery complex is beautiful and has many buildings consisting of the main temple, the stupa of Rinpoche, a lakhang which has beautiful statues of many reincarnations of the Buddha, there’s another small prayer room in which monks sit and pray.
Tashijong monastery is located near the Palampur-Baijnath road and is a small diversion from the main road.
Palpung Sherabling Monastic (PSM) seat is located in Bhattu village near Bir and is one of the biggest monasteries in entire Kangra Valley. The entire complex is very beautiful and is also a place for students to learn Buddhist education. Inside the monastery is a massive statue of the Buddha, with beautiful fresco paintings on the walls and pillars.
Morning prayers are conducted in a very peaceful atmosphere and the chanting can leave a visitor mesmerised. Palpung Sherabling Monastery is located near Baijnath and there are grand stupas in the middle of the green forests near the monastery.
Pong Lake & Dam Boating
Pong Dam is also called as Maharana Pratap Sagar dam and is known to be the highest earthfill dam in India. The lake is huge and stretches for around 300 kms at its widest level. A visit to Pong Lake makes for an excellent day trip from Dharamshala.
Among the main attractions and experiences at Pong Lake are :
Rainsar – An island in the middle of water with a Forest Rest House on it. It literally appears to be floating and can be accessed by boat.
Bathu ki Ladi – ‘Bathu ki Ladi’ is a cluster of ancient temples that are submerged in water on all sides when the water level in the dam is high. Locals believe these temples were built by the Pandavas during their time in exile.
The temples become accessible during the summer months when the water levels of Pong Dam recedes. During other times of the year, it is possible to go to the temples via a boat ride.
Pong Lake has a variety of bird life, important among them is the bar headed geese.
Pong Lake was declared a bird sanctuary in 1983 and a Ramsar site in 2002.
To experience tranquility and magic of Pong Lake, it is best to take a slow boat ride with the few boatmen that are there.
Baijnath Temple – Poetry in Stone
Also known as Baidyanath Shiva temple, a few parts of this very old temple are supposed to date to 804 AD. It is a lovely stone temple with intricate carvings and is set in a wide open space.
There is a mythological legend regarding the lingam installed inside Baijnath temple. It goes like this : ‘Ravana, in order to have invincible powers worshipped Lord Shiva. Shiva granted his wish, and agreed to go with Ravana to his Kingdom and transformed himself into a ‘lingam’. He applied the condition that his ‘lingam’ should be carried without keeping it on earth even once. As the legend goes, the lingam got so heavy that Ravana had to put it down here.’ Since then the lingam has been worshipped and the temple was built later.
The Shaivite Baijnath Temple complex is well preserved and was built in the early 13th century. It is surrounded by a wall decorated by fine carvings. Inside the main temple are intricately carved statues and the sanctum sanctorum has the Shiva lingam protected by a five-headed cobra.
The architecture style of Baijnath temple is known as Nagara style, and is from the early medieval north Indian temple architecture. Add to this the Himalayan backdrop, and it becomes the best travel destination.
Andretta is also called the artists’ village, it was once home to famous names such as Sobha Singh and Norah Richards . It is a quaint little village 13 kms away from Palampur and there are lots of things to capture your attention.
Sobha Singh, known for his paintings lived here till his death in the mid-Eighties. His work is showcased in the Sobha Singh Art Gallery which is run by his family.
Norah Richards, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, who popularized rural theatre.
The Andretta Pottery is charming. Incredible works of art are made in Andretta that combine village pottery with many designs. Products are also for sale, and there is a terracota pottery museum in the same compound.
Very close to Tashijong lies the former palace of the last maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. Taragarh was built in the 1930s as a summer home to the Dogra Kings of Kashmir, the palace has Italian marble, crystal chandeliers, tiger skins and immaculate furnishings. It is currently run as a luxury hotel, this elegant palace is full of portraits of the Dogra royal family. It is set in beautiful environs with a pool and tennis courts.
The restaurant looks straight from the days of the Raj and has fantastic interiors although its in a new wing that was recently built. There are huge brass medallions, silver teapots, royal seals, an open air seating with Himalayan views.
Tea Gardens of Palampur
Palampur is called the ‘Tea Capital’ of north India, it is famous for its rolling hillsides of tea gardens sprawling over vast acres of land. Tea plantation was introduced in and around Palampur in the 19th century and since then Kangra Tea has become quite famous for its distinct flavour.
One can also visit the Palampur Co-operative Tea Factory Limited, where the entire process of plucking, picking and processing of tea leaves can be seen. You can buy a variety of tea leaves at the factory itself.
Children and families will really enjoy a picnic in the tea gardens.
Trilokpur is famous for its famous old temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is a fair distance from Dharamshala and lies on the Pathankot highway. Trilokpur is a natural cave temple locally revered for its stalactite and stalagmite formations.
Although photography inside is prohibited, the cave has natural formations that are centuries old and connect to mythological tales of Lord Shiva. There is a legendery story of Lord Shiva and a shepherd which resulted in the cave formation.
It is a highly popular place and has many dhabas and even a guest house nearby. Outside, the water stream flows through rocks and an old bridge completing a pretty picture.
Located close to Dharamshala, this tranquil mediatation complex was set up by Swami Chinmayananda. The road also crosses the Vidhan Sabha of HP Government. The wonderfully green and serene complex includes a 9-m high image of Hanuman, a Ram Temple, and also a huge shivling.
The ashram complex is a fabulous place for a retreat and also has a meditation hall, a school, and recreation center. The air is fresh with a small forest of pine trees nearby. The Rama Temple is to be accessed via a different walking path and has beautiful statues.
Welcome to the prettiest cricket stadium in the world! The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium has firmly put Dharamshala on the cricket map of the world. The lush green grass is flanked by snow clad Himalayas to make it a majestic sight.
Lying around 6 kms from Dharamshala, entry to HPCA stadium is free and it can be easily accessed. It is perhaps the most scenic venue in the world and is a must visit travel destination. If you are really really lucky then you can even witness a match being played here!
A few other posts on other places in Himachal Pradesh :