Set in a thick forest with grand Himalayan peaks looming in the distance, Dharmsala, a small town in northern India 300 mi/500 km north of Delhi, is best known as the home of the Dalai Lama. Since 1959, when the Buddhist spiritual leader fled Chinese-occupied Tibet, Dharmsala has become a haven for Tibetan exiles and refugees and a frequent destination for Buddhists worldwide. The Dalai Lama himself spends a good part of the year traveling, but Dharmsala remains a stirring, intriguing place.
The upper part of the town, known as McLeod Ganj, is where the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile reside. Sometimes called "Little Lhasa," in reference to the Tibetan capital, upper Dharmsala teems with markets offering excellent handmade Tibetan carpets, craft sellers, restaurants and guesthouses. Monks in oxblood-colored robes stroll amid colorful prayer flags and visit with locals as they walk to and from various monasteries.
Among Dharmsala's attractions are the Dalai Lama's Namgyal Monastery, the Tibetan Children's Village (which houses and educates some 2,000 students) and the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts. The institute stages traditional Tibetan musical and dance performances, culminating in the 10-day Folk Opera Festival in mid-April. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile complex, particularly the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, houses thousands of Tibetan scrolls and texts smuggled out of Tibet, as well as a small museum. The Kangra Art Museum contains collections of sculpture, pottery, painting, costumes and jewelry dating from the fifth century. Stunning Himalayan backdrop and a bird's-eye view of the valley makes the 5.5-mi/9-km trek to Triund well worth the steep climb. A number of meditation retreats, many of them open to visitors, are held in Dharmsala throughout the year.
Dharmsala is also a hub from which you can arrange an outfit for one of the many fine Himalayan treks in the region. There are plenty of trekking agents who will make all the necessary arrangements regarding tents, guides, porters or mules and provisions.
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