Tatwani and Manchchrial (35 kilometers from Dharamsala) are two tourist attractions in the Dharamsala the area. Tatwani is known for a lord Shiva temple and a hot spring enclosed within it. The spring is believed to have curative properties. It is said that water from this spring can cure muscle ache, arthritis and even poor blood circulation. To cleanse skin impurities, visitors prefer to have a bath in the sulphur spring and then take a dip in the nearby river. Visitors also like to have picnics near the scenic springs. Machhrial is noted for its waterfalls that are nestled amidst picturesque surroundings. Tatwani and Machhrial are at a distance of 5 kilometers from each other.
Sujanpur Tira (50 kilometers south of Dharamsala) is palace-fort used as a residence for the royal family. Tourists can visit the five temples housed in the premises, along with Baradari, a hall where the court was held. Strolling around the fort, one can almost catch the vestiges of its royal past. The entrance of the fort is quite splendid with some excellent paintings adorning the walls. Gauri Shankar Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. The fort was constructed by Abhay Chand of the Katoch dynasty in 1758. The name 'Sujanpur' has been perhaps taken from 'Sajjanpur' meaning a place where gentle and honest people live. According to legend when Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch shifted his capital from Kangra to this town, adding a fort, palaces, temples and courts atop a hill or tira, people started calling it Sujanpur Tira.
Nurpur (50 kilometers west of Dharamsala) Formerly was constructed by Raja Basu in the late 16th century. Formerly known as Dhameri Fort, this massive fort is known for its impressive architectural designs, particularly the walls that have deeply carved panels depicting figures of birds, animals, men, women, children, kings, gods and goddesses. Tourists can also pay respects at the Brij Raj Swami Temple, located within the premises. A special feature of this site is that here the idols of both Lord Krishna and Meera Bai are worshipped together. On the fort’s grounds are archeological ruins, ponds and a 400-year-old Maulshri tree. The fort has been named in honour of Mughal empress Nur Jahan, who is believed to have taken a fancy to the beautiful valley of Nurpur.
Hiking Destinations Near Dharamsala
Dharamkot is a popular popular hill station in the area of McLeodganj. It is the starting point for various trails that go up the Triund Hill. Some of these trails lead to the Inderahara point on the great Mt Dhauladhar. Throughout the trek, views of the entire Dhauladhar range and the vast, lush green meadows offer a surreal experience that attracts several trekkers looking for a moderate-to-easy trek for the weekend. The trek, which begins from Dharamkot is 18 kilometers long and is marked with a well defined trail. It is advisable to hire a guide/ trek operator if this is your first experience of trekking as the trails run through thick forests of rhododendron and deodar, which despite their beauty can be a little disorienting. The entire journey takes a maximum of six hours depending on your pace and there is a vast flat area that can be used to pitch a tent and acclimatise if you intend to head further up. From the top of Triund Hill, one can witness the spectacular Dhauladhar range rising over the area. The best months to visit are January, if you're looking for snowfall, and March-May for spectacular and clear views of the vast forest and the mountain ranges. It lies about half an hour away from Dharamsala.
Kareri Lake (15 kilometers north of Dharamsala) Is a beautiful place. Thanks to numerous gushing streams and beautiful green meadows, trekking to the lake through alpine forests is popular. Rustic shepherd villages welcome you with a charm of their own as you make your way to the lake. From straight roads to river crossings over wooden bridges and steep ascents, one comes across a variety of terrain on the trek. The second half of the trek requires you to cover a rocky grassland along with the softly flowing Nyund stream. The lake remains pristine as it sources its water from the melted snow of the Dhauladhar range and surrounding glaciers. Overlooking the lake is a hilltop temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. You can also choose to spend a night at the lake housed in a tent far away from the hassles of daily life.
Palampur (30 kilometers southeast of Dharamsala) is wonderful green valley with tea plantations and pine and deodar forests. Located in the remote mountains and still relatively unknown to tourists, this valley contains bir, a village with several Buddhist monasteries, Neugaal Khad, with its spectacular views of the Dhauladhar range and Baijnath, where one can see a temple marking the site where Shiva reportedly granted Ravana immortality.
Bharmour (30 kilometers northeast of Dharamsala) is a quaint town surrounded by verdant mountains and alpine pastures. Lying on the outskirts of Chamba, the main attraction of this town is Chaurasia, a temple that has 84 shrines in its periphery. Built between the 7th and 10th centuries, these shrines boast varied architecture that is quite striking. Manimahesh Temple has an awe-inspiring shikhara (spire).
Bharmour was the capital of the princely state of Chamba for over 400 years and lies at an elevation of about 2133 meters (7,000 feet). Earlier, it was known as Brahmpura and the region around it is believed to belong to Lord Shiva. Thus, it is often referred to as Shiv-bhumi. The town is famous for its delicious apples and locally-made blankets. It is also home to nomadic shepherds called Gaddies. Bharmour is also the base for the famous Manimahesh yatra and various treks. Another attraction is the Bharmani Mata Temple that has a holy pool. Devotees like take a dip in these sacred waters.
Kangra Valley Railway (Kangra Toy Train)
Kangra Toy Train links Pathankot and Joginder Nagar and meanders through a maze of hills and valleys, offering its passengers a spectacular view of picturesque surroundings. A ride in the toy train is a lot of fun and one can feel the joy of savouring the beauty of the Kangra Valley. Work on this 163-kilometer-long line started in 1926.
Kangra Valley Railway was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Kangra Valley Railway (KVR) is a linear Property 163.720 Kilometers long and 0.762 meter wide, which runs from Pathankot (located at an elevation of 383.820 meters) to Joginder Nagar (located at an elevation of 1184.160 meters), in the Kangra Valley, in the states of Punjab (Gurdaspur District) and Himachal Pradesh (Kangra & Mandi districts), India. The difficult mountain terrain involved the bridging of ravines through which flow the mountain torrents and some of these are noteworthy as engineering marvels. There are also two tunnels. Over its length of 163.720 Kilometers, the KVR ascends at a maximum gradient of 1 in 25, crosses over 993 bridges, runs through two tunnels and winds through 484 curves (sharpest being 300 equal to 58.33 meters). This unique line has been constructed skillfully to present to the traveler, a chance to gaze on the ever present panorama of snow-clad ranges and the gold green fields. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“The Kangra valley is the region between the Dhauladhar ranges of the Himalayas to the north (a low chain of ridges about 2500 meters high in front and peaks 5000 meters tall behind) and the foothills to the south, about 50 kilometers wide, ascending from West to East and the KVR runs through its entire length. It remains a well known tourist attraction in Northern India. The portion of the line in Gurdaspur and Kangra districts forms the lower section (smoother gradients and curves) and the portion in Mandi district forms the upper section (steepest gradients and curves). The route of the KVR, developed as a cultural corridor and provided access to the Kangra Valley; linking important towns, very holy Hindu pilgrimage centers & settlements. It also, provides access to the Dalai Lama's abode at Mcleodganj.
“The construction of KVR began in 1925 and it was opened on 1st December 1928 for freight traffic for the Uhl hydroelectric project due to which this Railway was constructed. In April 1929, it also, became a passenger Railway. It suffered a disruption during World War II (1941-42) when a portion of its track was dismantled for war material supply but it was restored twelve years later in April 1954. A short portion (about 25 kilometers) of KVR also had to be realigned in 1973 due to the construction of the Pong Dam resulting in a disruption for three years. Despite these disruptions, other natural / technical calamities in high mountainous areas and although the KVR has never been remunerative; it has survived as a cultural asset and the Indian Railways is committed to its conservation for posterity.
“A trip on the KVR is a lot of fun and the best way to savour the beauty of the Kangra Valley. Pathankot is the interchange station, of the broad-gauge main line in Northern India. Broad Gauge trains are connected at Pathankot, and have about 7 pairs of connecting narrow gauge services. The KVR was opened with steam traction and it now being run with diesel locomotives based at Pathankot. However, one original steam locomotive has been restored for KVR and this is also based at Pathankot for heritage steam train service available for chartered train operation. Trains are run at a maximum speed of 45 kmph in the lower section and 20 kmph in the top section (steepest portion).
Sections of the Kangra Valley Railway
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The railway can be divided into three sections as follows: 1) The first section is 12 kilometers long from Pathankot (elevation 383.820 meters) to Chakki Bridge (elevation 398.780 meters); in Gurdaspur district, in Punjab. Pathankot has the locomotive shed, carriage sub-depot of the KVR. Starting from Pathankot, the narrow gauge line runs out of the town and crosses the Chakki river in a scenic manner. Significant locations and structures along this route include inter-alia the Pathankot station and Chakki bridge. The maximum gradient is 1 in 40 that is the maximum gradient in the lower section of KVR. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“2) The second section is the pilgrim section, 130 kilometers long from Chakki Bridge (elevation 398.780 meters) to Baijnath Paprola (elevation 979.750 meters). Significant locations and structures along this route include inter-alia the railway stations, Reyond Khad bridge, Bathu Khad bridge, both the tunnels of KVR (Dhundi tunnel and Daulatpur tunnel) and the heritage bunglow at Palampur. Kangra is around midway along the KVR. The KVR passes just away from Kangra town separated by a gigantic cleft in the hills at the bottom of which runs the picturesque Ban Ganga River and provides spectacular views of the ruins of the historic Rajput Fort. Onwards along KVR, approaching Palampur, the ever present background of snowy peaks (about 5000m high and about 15 kilometers away) run parallel. The spectacularly beautiful area around Kangra & Palampur is famous for very significant Hindu pilgrimage temples (attracting millions of pilgrims each year), Tibetan monastery of Dalai Lama, Tea gardens and numerous popular locations. The best access to this beautiful area is provided by the KVR.
“3) The third section is 22 kilometers long, from Baijnath Paprola (elevation 979.750 meters) to the end of the line i.e. Joginder Nagar station (elevation 1184.160 meters). Ajhu station is about midway and is the highest point of the line (elevation 1290.230 meters). Significant locations and structures along this route include inter-alia the railway stations and flume bridges. Here, the KVR threads its way among the pines of the Bhir gorge and the journey in wilderness in far superior to the journey by road.
“Trains on KVR run efficiently offering an enchanting ride with the backdrop of the Dhauladhar Mountains on one side, lush green fields on the other side, tea gardens, and significant pilgrimage centers; for the benefit of the tourists as well as the local communities and offer a rich and scenic expanse of the spectacular Himalayan Mountains.”
Kangra (10 kilometers south of Dharamsala) is a small town with one of the oldest forts in India and serves as a base for challenging treks. Nestled in the Kangra Valley, between the Dhauladhar and Shivalik ranges, Kangra has an unparallelled beauty and artistic heritage that are punctuated by its opulent temples and bustling bazaars. The exquisite Kangra paintings, renowned all over the world for their brilliant colors and intricate decorative detail, are like a cherry on the top for art-lovers.
The city is also home to a shaktipeeth (devotional shrine where the body parts of Goddess Shakti fell), the Brijeshwari Temple that sees a large number of footfalls throughout the year. The Kangra Fort, which has been a center point of thousand years of grandeur, invasion and war in the region, is among the prime attractions here.
Kangra Fort lies on a patch of land between the Manjhi and Banganga rivers. Built by the kings of Katoch, one of the oldest living dynasties, the fort is said to be the largest fort in the Himalayas. Its strategic position atop a hill, overlooking the surrounding areas made it particularly prominent. At the fort you can stand on the ramparts and enjoy open vistas of the hilly landscape, arid at places and lush at others, with craggy peaks in the distance. Surrounded by majestic gateways and doors, it boasts vast courtyards and ancient temples within its premises. Hindu rulers and Mughal and Sikh conquerors — and later the British — all sought to claim the fort at different periods of time. The Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch Museum, situated right next to the fort.
Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is Gaggal airport, 14 kilometers away from Kangra. By Road: There are regular buses available to Kangra from other major cities. By Train: The nearest railhead is Pathankot, 90 kilometers away from Kangra.
Temples Near Dharamsala
Masroor Temples (40 kilometers from Dharamsala) describes 15 temples here are believed to have been carved out of a single rock. Popularly known as the Himalayan Pyramid, the temple complex is an important archaeological site with interesting architecture dating back to the 8th and 9th centuries. As you enter the complex, you will see the beautiful sight of the temple being reflected in the Masroor Lake. The temples’ have shikharas (spire) that call to mind the temples at Cambodia's Angkor Wat, Mumbai's Elephanta Caves and Mahabalipuram.
Jwalamukhi (50 kilometers south of Dharamsala) was built against a rocky cliff and is one of the 51 shaktipeethas (devotional shrines where the severed body parts of Goddess Sati fell). Set amid the Dhauladhar mountain range, it is said that Goddess Satis tongue fell here. The goddess is manifested here as small flames that keep burning in a flawless blue color through fissures in an age-old rock. As the temple has no idol, the flames are worshipped. In front of the temple is a big mandap that has a big brass bell presented by the Nepalese king. Water and milk are usually offered to the sacred flames in the pits that are located in the center of the temple. An unmissable event is the arti that is performed at the temple five times daily. Havan is done once daily with portions of Durga Saptasati recited during this ritual.
Chintpurni (80 kilometers from Dharamsala) is another one of the shaktipeethas (devotional shrines where the severed body parts of Goddess Sati fell). The presiding deity is Goddess Chintpurni, who is said to remove worries, and is represented by a pindi (round stone idol). According to legend when Lord Vishnu severed Maa Sati's body in 51 parts to end Lord Shiva's dance of cosmic destruction, the parts got scattered over different places in India. Considered one of the most important among 51 shaktipeethas, it is believed the head of Goddess Shakti fell at Chintpurni.
The Chintpurni Devi Temple is visited by devotees from all over India, who come to pray at the lotus feet of Mata Chhinnamastika Devi. Puranic traditions state that Chhinnamastika Devi is protected by Rudra Mahadev or Lord Shiva in four directions. At an equal distance from Chintpurni stand four Shiva temples , Muchkund Mahadev in north, Shiva Bari in south, Kaleshwar Mahadev in east and Narayna Mahadev in west. The temple is open between 4:00am and 11:00pm.
Bajinath (50 kilometers from Dharamshala) is ituated on the banks of the pristine Gomti river at an altitude of 1,130 meters (3,370 feet). Best known for the famous 13th-century temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, who is worshipped as Vaidyanath or the Lord of physicians. The Baijnath temple has been a significant spiritual site ever since its construction in 1204. It is a beautiful example of early medieval north Indian temple architecture known as Nagara style of temples. The two long inscriptions in the porch of the temple indicate that a temple of Lord Shiva existed on the spot even before the present one was constructed. Bajinath is set amongst the towering Dhauladhar range.The entire area is dotted with temples dedicated to various deities that hold great spiritual importance for the local people. Around three kilometers from Baijnath, is the famous Tashi Jong Monastery, known for its ornamental terraces and beautiful decorative banners.
Dalhousie (100 kilometers northwest of Dharmasala) is a hill station with about 7,000 permanent residents perched atop a rocky ridge, with snow-clad Dhauladhar mountains and rolling emerald valleys providing a backdrop. Lined with tall pine and deodar trees and dotted with pristine lakes and waterfalls, Dalhousie is alive with natural beauty and history and was a favorite summer retreat of the British and many say is reminiscent of Switzerland..
Dalhousie has preserves many remnants from its past, including several colonial- churches are a testimony to the colonial era. Dalhousie was named after the then governor general of British India, Lord Dalhousie, in 1854. Sprawling colonial-era buildings that are liberally scattered throughout the town, are a testament to Dalhousie's Victorian charm. Its beauty is further complemented by River Ravi flowing close by. This hill station also offers amazing views of the snow-capped Pir Panjal mountain range and the Himalayas. Pines, oaks, rhododendrons and a number of other types of trees cover the mountain slopes. An ideal place to unwind, the hill station is a treasure of ancient temples, art, handicrafts and a rich cultural heritage that has been preserved since the 6th century. As you soak in the natural and architectural beauty, don't forget to sample the delicacies the town has to offer. From chha ghosht to patande, there's a lot on offer.
Getting There: By Air: The closest domestic airport is at Pathankot and 87 kilometers away from Dalhousie. By Road: Dalhousie is well connected to Delhi via Chamba with the frequent HPTDC buses. By Train: The nearest railway station is at Pathankot.
Chamba (200 kilometers from Dharamsala) is a delightful mountain perched on a cliff above a river. There many lovely hikes in the area to pristine lakes, scenic waterfalls, the snow-capped Dhauladhar mountains and lush forests, Nearby there is a golf course.
Dating back to the 6th century, Chamba is known as the land of Lord Shiva and the Kailash Parvat (mountain). Set amidst the Shivalik hills, Chamba is said to have been founded by Raja Sahil Varman, of the princely Chamba state, after he conquered the Rani Valley from Ranas and Thakurs in the first half of the 10th century. He also moved his capital to Chamba from Bharmour. According to Kalhana, the Kashmiri poet, who is often regarded as the first historian of the country and mentions about the place in his work, Rajatarangini, the original name of the town was Champa. As Champavati, the daughter of Sahil Varman, is worshipped as a goddess in Chamba, he built a temple for her. The temple, thereafter, became the family temple of the rulers of Chamba. More popularly known as Chameshni, Champavati is also said to be guarding the fragrant champaka trees that adorn the region. The town holds two popular fairs, Minjar Mela and Suhi Mata Mela that last several days. While the former is held on the second Sunday of the Shravana month or August and celebrates the victory of the Raja of Chamba over the ruler of Trigarta (now known as Kangra), Suhi Mata Mela is celebrated in the months of March or April.
Getting There: By Air: Gaggal, 136 kilometers away, is the nearest airport while the one at Amritsar is 244 kilometers away. By Road: Reasonably good roads connect Chamba to different cities in India. By Train: Pathankot/ Chakki Bank, 120 kilometers away, is the nearest railhead and is connected with all major cities and towns in the country.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website (incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020