Dharamshala is a city in the upper reaches of the Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh and lies at a height of 4,790 feet above sea level (1460 m). It is also the district headquarters of the Kangra Valley. Dharamshala is easily accessible by air, bus and train. The two economical ways to get there are— either by boarding a bus from Delhi while another is by taking a train to Chakki Bank at Pathankot which is the nearest broad gauge railway station to Dharamshala, which is just a three hour drive from there.
The city of Dharamshala is divided into two distinct sections. Kotwali Bazaar and the surrounding markets are referred to as “Lower Dharamshala”. Further up the mountain is McLeodGanj.The two are separated by the village of Ganchen Kyishong, the home of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. A steep, narrow road connects McLeodGanj to Dharamshala and is only accessible by taxis and small cars, while a longer road winds around the valley for buses and trucks to use.
Lower Dharamshala is surrounded by oak and coniferous trees while snow capped mountains enfold three sides of the town, the valley stretches in front. The snowline is perhaps more easily accessible at Dharamshala than at any other hill resort as it is possible to make a day’s trek to a snow-point after an early morning start. Being a city there are very few traditional Himachali houses with more buildings found in the city.
The people of Dharamshala are of Punjabi or Tibetan decent this is evident by the language spoken in the town which is Hindi, Punjabi, English and Pahari. Most of the people in lower Dharamshala work in offices and have commercial jobs. Very few rely on agriculture for their income. There are plenty of NGO’s where one can volunteer while spending time in lower Dharamshala if one decides to stay for a lengthy period of time. Many of the locals volunteer in these NGO’s on weekends.
In and around the town, one can visit the Kangra Art museum at Kotwali Bazaar, war memorial, Kunal Pathri temple and tea gardens on the way to Kunal Pathri. There is also a beautiful cricket stadium in the city which is the highest cricket stadium in the world. Kotwali Bazaar, is a general shopping area where one can find woolen garments and wooden art work among a plethora of wares.
The summers in lower Dharamshala are very warm with the day temperature crossing 35 degree Celsius till June when the monsoon starts. While the winters are extremely cold, the temperatures drop to 0 degree Celsius. The best time to visit is from March to mid May. Light cotton clothes are recommended on a trip to the city.
Since lower Dharamshala is a city accommodation and food is not very cheap and one will find it hard to get a budget motel or lodge. The few motels that are there are not economical and have dingy rooms. Lower Dharmashala is not a backpacker-friendly place and it is better if budget travelers avoid spending a night there. However, this part of the city is an ideal place for families as it has more to offer in terms of a luxury stay.
It is recommended that travelers head to upper Dharamshala–McLeodGanj which is a much better place for backpacker and travellers.