Plenty of photo opportunities will arise if you just hang around the streets, plenty of monks and Tibetans in their traditional gear will pass by, too busy to bother about tourists with their cameras.
A suggested itinerary is:
Day 1: McLeod Gang
1. War Memorial
2. Kangra Art Museum
3. Tibetan Handicrafts Centre - upstairs; wooden handicrafts items; carpets
4. Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA)
5. Bhagsu Nag Temple of Lord Shiva
6. Tsuglagkhang Complex
7. Church of St. John in the Wilderness
8. Diptse Chokling Monastery
1. Shakti Peet Jwalamukhi Temple
2. Kangra Fort (Nagarkot Fort)
3. Temple of Chamunda Devi
4. Palampur - tea estate and breath-taking view of the Dhauladhar snow-capped mountains
1. Narbulingka Institute - Tibetan cafe, doll’s museum, guest house, golden coloured prayer wheels
2. Market - Stupa and red and golden-coloured prayer wheels
3. Interesting shops selling Tibetan handicrafts
The Norbulinka Museum is a must-see. It is located in the basement of the left-hand side building next to the monastery. The ground floor of the building serves as a shop selling Buddhist artefacts and books. This museum has dolls of various Tibetan culture, with exquisite design and vibrant colours.
NB. As all the figures are enclosed in glass cases, switch off the flash of your camera. Else, ugly reflections may spoil your carefully-composed pictures.
A trip to the Narbulingka Institute is a lesson in Tibetan ethos. The monastery there is equally impressive while the doll’s museum is a visual treat of the Tibetan life and culture. There is a guest house also within its campus. The prayer wheels are golden-coloured here. The Norling Café serves good Tibetan fare.
A drive to Palampur, about 50 kms from Dharamshala is a must. Rolling tea estates greet your eye while to your left along the road, is the breath-taking view of the Dhauladhar range. Take a few minutes off for a well-deserved stop and a few photos of these mighty snow-capped mountains.
The temple of goddess Chamunda Devi is roughly 10 kms from this place and 15 kms from Dharamshala. Next to the car park is a sketch map of the temple circuit of Himachal Pradesh. Behind the temple is a cave-like place where a ‘lingam’ represents the Shiva. A pool houses the statues of Shiva and Saraswati. It is worth a look.
On your return from Shakti Peet Jwalamukhi Temple, you could visit the Kangra Fort, also known as the Nagarkot Fort with the Banganga river flowing way down below. The entrance fee is nominal. There is a museum at the entrance as well as an audio-visual guide. The climb is steep but the view is worth it as well as some excellent photo ops.
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The Kangra Fort, also known as the Nagarkot Fort, was the seat of power of the Katoch kings. There are seven gates as you trudge up the cobbled path of history. Three richly-carved temples now lie in ruins, all with intricate patterns reminiscent of the Meenakshi Madurai temples of India.
The Shakti Peet Jwalamukhi Temple, 54 kms (1.30 hrs) from Dharamshala, is a revered spot for Hindus. You can take a three-wheeler right up to almost the main entrance through an amazingly narrow cemented pathway. There is always a long queue but if you take recourse to one of the ever-present priests, he will grant you a darshan within 10 minutes flat, for a fee of course.
An eternal natural blue flame emanating from a steel pipe is the sanctum sanctorum. There are no idols here; just the flame which is considered a manifestation of the goddess. Your friendly priest will explain this as well as many more legends to you as you sip tea with him once your religious duties are done.
Emperor Akbar is reputed to have donated the golden dome for the temple.
Returning to the car park is a longish walk but all downhill only.
Your next stop could be the Tsuglagkhang Complex, the palace of HH the Dalai Lama. There are two temples here, next to one another. One belongs to the Goddess Green Tara and the other to the Buddha. In the Green Tara temple, there are three main statues: on the left is the 5-storeyed headed Avalokiteshwara; on the right is the Kalachakra & Viswamata with 11 hands joined at the hip and a little behind to the left is the Green Tara with 7-8-4-2 smaller taras arranged one tier below the other. All three statues are breathtakingly beautiful with the ultimate air of serenity about them.
Next to this is the equally fascinating Buddha temple. Besides a huge statue of the Buddha, there is an imposing statue of Guru Padma Sambhava to the left and of the Avalokiteshwara to your right. Also, there is a rare collection of 225 volumes of Buddhist texts called ‘tangyur’. These are translations of the commentaries to the Buddha’s teachings by later Indian masters. (TIP: The Tibetan Museum remains closed on Mondays and lunch hour is from 1 pm to 2 pm).
You could then head for the 16th century Bhagsu Nag (snake god) Temple of Lord Shiva. There is an adjoining public swimming pool as well as Bhagsu Waterfall, about 1.5 kms away. Leave your footwear at the base of the temple. There are plenty of locals to mind these for you without a fee. After your darshan you may go towards the swimming pool, adjacent to which is a sacred pool. The water is refreshingly cool. Take a sip. It’s straight from a perennial spring, tastier than all the mineral water put together. This area, as well as Dharamkot, are inhabited by the Gaddi, a shepherd tribe and the original inhabitants of Dhauladhar. The Gorkhalis settled here much later.
For a fuller history of this place, you may like to check this link:
The Diptse Chokling Monastery with its corrected count of 385 steps, could be your next stop. Don’t be dis-heartened by the number of steps. Barely a hundred and you are at the threshold of the monastery while the steps lead on to the next level of the road. It was inaugurated by HH the Dalai Lama on 7th. March, 1987. A huge gold statue of the Sakyamuni greets you as well as two fabulously-intricate ‘tankhas’. A photo of HH the Dalai Lama is also kept here. Go round and admire the paintings on the walls and then settle down comfortably in one corner and let your mind transport you to your still centre. The serenity that envelops you is reward itself.
The Church of St. John in the Wilderness is another nearby spot. Made of stone, this beautiful Anglican Church built in 1852, houses the body of the Lord Elgin (Sir James Bruce), who lies buried here. This spot is on the 10 kms bus route from Dharamshala to McLeod Ganj. Behind the church is an obelisk with an inscription that it was erected in honour of Lord Elgin by his bereaved wife, the Duchess of Elgin (Mary Louisa Lambton). There is also a well-tended cemetery here. The finely-crafted iron railing which runs along the road fencing in the church is worth a photo.
The Kangra Art Museum houses some rare treasures. Go with plenty of time as there are many more objects of interest on its first floor also. Some of the miniature painting is pretty ancient. The jewellery and other artifacts give you an idea of the local custom, culture and workmanship of a lost era.
A short drive away and you’re at the War Memorial. This unique piece of architecture is dedicated to Himachali officers and men of the three armed forces who made the supreme sacrifice in the service of the motherland. A plaque on the right-hand side deciphers the structure and is a must-read before you go closer to the memorial. There is a small entry fee of Rs. 5/-