Update 2022: As of now (March-end), Himachal Pradesh (HP) doesn’t have any specific travel restrictions. Travelers don’t need to carry a negative RTPCR test but everyone is still supposed to wear a mask in public spaces. Read more regulations here on the HP government’s website.
What do you like to do in Himachal Pradesh? I always imagine living in the little villages in the Himalayas. This story is about my life in a Himalayan village BhagsuNag in Dharamshala.
I’m living a dream life in BhagsuNaag, a small village in the Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh. Bhagsu Nag is above Dharamkot village, which is above Mcleodganj. This town is known for the Dalai Lama’s main temple. Both the villages and Mcleodganj fall in the district of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh.
When I came to Himachal a month and a half ago, I didn’t know I would stay put up in a village for a month. I arrived in Dharamshala from Amritsar on a rickety HRCTC bus. Straightaway, I went to the Vipassana center in Dharamkot (I still have to write about Vipassana as many of you are waiting to read.).
At the end of the ten-day Vipassana, I walked out of the deodar-dense Vipassana center into the Dharamkot village. I didn’t connect with Dharamkot. Its streets are fringed with homes, stone and Macremia jewelry stores, classrooms of various kinds, hemp stores, harem pants shops, restaurants and hotels, fancy cafes, and a popular Yak cheese sandwich kiosk.
Groups of international tourists sat at the street cafes facing the walkers and sipped cappuccinos or masala chai. Their stone-ring adorned fingers frantically rolled cigarettes or held joints. Whether I scooched through those tiny streets during the morning or the sunny afternoon, I found the cafes and the paths crowded with smokers, shoppers, and crystal admirers. The place lacked the positive energy I needed.
Following my instincts, I crossed to the other side of the valley and arrived in BhagsuNag. At an initial glance, I found the upper part of Bhagsu village calmer, spacious, and closer to local life. I wanted to live, learn, and explore the Himalayas cradling this village. Lower Bhagsu is more crowded due to its popularity amongst Indians for the BhagsuNag temple and a waterfall. So I mostly stay in the upper part.
As I write this story, I am sitting on a beige wooden bench at Roja Cafe. I just devoured a homemade meal of aloo gobhi (cauliflower and potato) and two chapatis and two cups of masala chai. The rustic chapati at this peaceful cafe pulls me back day and again. That Roja is located on the staircase leading to lower Bhagsu is another convenience I don’t mind.
I told Aman, the elder of the two brothers who run Roja cafe, they must be using multigrain flour to make the chapatis so coarse (and delicious). Aman said the wheat from their fields wasn’t grounded so fine this time, and so the flour has come out a bit thick. Aman didn’t seem too pleased when I complimented his cauliflower-potato preparation as the best I have ever had (that includes my mother’s, sister’s, and my cooking). But I am not deterred from praising him the next time. Roja offers organic, homemade, and delicious food without marketing any of these adjectives.
Before I ate this sole-satisfying meal, I was browsing SandeepaChetan’s travel blog for Himachal and Uttarakhand travel inspiration. And even though I am traveling in the Himalayas currently, I still got zealous of their travelogues.
I know I have nothing to envy. Instead, I should be thankful. While I write under a tree at this cozy cafe, in front of me, a lonely kite glides above the open Kangra valley. Sparrows flutter and chuckle. The long-tailed Asian paradise flycatcher and the coffee Rufous treepie flit between trees. I haven’t had a single chance to click their picture.
The hills surrounding Bhagsu Naag are dense with deodar and pine trees. On my unhindered walks through the mountains, I find pine forests in patches. Irrespective of how many times I walk on the ground sheathed with pine needles, I feel I am in a fairyland.
Quite a few waterfalls adorn the mountains in this region, and I have reached them in many different ways in the one month I have been here. The major waterfalls are Bhagsu falls, Dharamkot waterfall, and another one a two-hour hike from upper Dharamkot. The last one is the least crowded and worth spending a day around. The walk to the waterfall is pretty, long, and sometimes a bit challenging but quite serene. (Here’s my guide to hiking in Dharamshala.)
But trekking in Dharamshala is only possible when the weather is benevolent. Sometimes, clouds float next to my room in my homestay. When they do, 2’o clock in the afternoon feels like 8 at night. The sky changes color like a chameleon here. One moment the sun shines sharp enticing you to go for a walk. The next moment a gang of dark clouds race through the sky to pour down on the quiet villages. Do not ignore the water-bearers, for they get offended and only yesterday bashed us with ice balls double the size of marbles.
Cows, horses, and sheep graze freely on the hills. Often, I run into the sheep standing in small grooves on the mountains and staring into nothingness. If you find them, could you please explain to me what they are up to?
International and domestic travelers dressed in colorful flowing clothes walk up and down the Bhagsu and Dharamkot hills. One can walk to a place in many different ways: climb up or go down the road or a street or via the colorful houses and barley fields with their golden corns swaying in the wind.
Classical singers and musicians, yoga practitioners and teachers, meditation gurus, Ayurveda and massage experts, jewelry makers, painters, stone and crystal collectors, embroidery and stitching experts, and silversmiths fringe the streets of Bhagsu too. But around my homestay, the mountains are quieter. More of these artists can be found in lower Bhagsu or while walking towards Dharamkot.
From the many things to learn, I started learning the flute and practiced yoga. The payment for both classes is by the hour. (Here’s my yoga journey in Dharamshala – along with the history and real meaning of Yoga in India.)
This one month has given me many new things. But learning new skills wasn’t my only goal while living in Dharamshala. I wanted to experience the struggles and joys of the mountain people in the Himalayas.
Honestly, I am not facing everyday problems locals here struggle with. Except for being bashed by the uninvited Himachali storm, thunder, and hail, I’m okay. I don’t collect wood for a bonfire or a chulha. I don’t have to bring supplies from the town and wait for the weather to clear up before carrying those supplies up the hill. I don’t have to worry about shoveling the snow in the winter. I don’t have to follow societal rules.
Despite the harsh climatic conditions the resident Himachali, Tibetan, and Nepali people have to put up with, they seem happy enough. Tourists like me have nothing to complain about either.
Kangra Valley is a great place to start your Himachal Pradesh trip. Dharamshala, the hub of the Dalai Lama, is a big tourist attraction but that doesn’t spoil the mood of the traveler who prefers solitude and wants to soak in the beauty of the Himalayas. For if the rush of Mcleodganj and Dharamshala bothers you, pack your bags and walk up to one of the many villages near Dharamshala city (all of which belong to Dharamshala district). Stay as long as you want.
What to do in BhagsuNaag village on a long-duration trip?
Not even a single day is uneventful here.
Mostly chirping birds wake me up. At times, a thunderstorm beating down on the corrugated roof of my Bhagsu homestay shakes me to my core. I open up the window curtains and look down at the vast, naked valley sprawling in front of Bhagsu. We are at a height of 2,100 meters.
The view overwhelms me. I wrap myself up in a shawl and walk out to the balcony. Bright orange and yellow flowers shine in their pots against a hilly backdrop.
Yoga schools dot the valley making Dharamshala one of the most sought-after places to travel in Himachal Pradesh. I practice yoga at a school called Brahma Yoga, next to our home. The teacher is a 24-year-old guy who did a degree in yoga in Rishikesh. We practice Hatha yoga from 9 to 10:30 am, and that’s how I begin most of my mornings (I’ve linked the yoga guide above, but here it is again).
After Yoga, I have breakfast at our homestay restaurant. But first comes a tall glass of Himachal masala chai. Other guests, some of whom are staying for months, join the table. If the sun is behind clouds, we crouch in the rare sunny corner. But we are quick to spread our legs if the sun is golden bright.
After breakfast, I walk into the woods to practice flute. Perched upon pine needles, I make weird sounds for about an hour or two and then go to my flute class in Dharamkot. If I don’t have a class, I take a long shower and walk to a place to write and work. Or I sit at the tables in the common area and try to put my experience into words. Some days, I pack my small backpack and hike to the Bhagsu Nag waterfall or somewhere else in the valley. (Soon I complete 100 days living like a nomad.)
Many people travel to Dharamshala for spiritual reasons. High up in the lap of the giant Himalayas where art, yoga, and Vedic traditions flourish along with the dharma spread by the Dalai Lama, I also tend to think, feel, and take my day as it comes. The outer world seems to connect with my inner universe better here.
Himalayas can be a great place for those looking for a purposeful and healthy life.
Then the evening dawns. On full moon nights, a rotund white moon watches us from above the mountains. The sky shines with a silver light. Deodars shimmer. Birds sleep. On full moon nights, the spiritual seekers sit together in the open and watch the moon and dance and chant mantras. Some, like me, sit in their room or admire the moon from their balconies by themselves. (After a couple of years I watched a superflower blood moon rise above the hills of Mashobra in Shimla district.)
After watching a Butoh dance performance on one such full-moon night, I walked back to my homestay after midnight. Moonlight swayed over the damp grass like a silver wave.
Some nights we attend the performances of Indian classical music bands who play in restaurants until late. When I head back at the end of these performances, I am not scared to walk alone as Bhagsu and Dharamkot (and Himachal Pradesh, in general) are pretty safe places even for a solo woman.
Even when this cosmopolitan village has inspired me much, I sometimes miss more active hikers for I love to explore. But here I find most people staying indoors and smoking or practicing different meditations and yoga or attending breathing sessions or dance classes. Bhagsu is an excellent place to learn any of these practices.
While I think all of the above are good skills that help us connect with ourselves better, for me nothing comes above walking in nature. I understand myself when I’m out in the woods.
Just now a traveler has come and has ordered two aloo parathas. While gazing at the floating clouds and the open hills studded with deodar trees, she declares she must be in a fairytale for what she is seeing could not be real. I smile and instead of agreeing (verbally), I write on.
The daily account of tourist life in this tiny hamlet may sound dreamy and a bit self-obsessed. But giving yourself time is one of the best things about life in Himachal Pradesh.
Here are some of the things to do in Bhagsu India.
Hikes to do around Bhagsu Nag Dharamshala and places to see
In itself, BhagsuNag is not one of the most unexplored places in Himachal Pradesh. A battalion of foreign travelers from around the world can be seen here. But some hidden trails can also be found around this tiny hamlet. You just have to get out of the village and walk either up or down and let yourself follow the path. A walk would be waiting to be discovered.
On days when I want to get into undisturbed nature, I pack my backpack with water, bananas or Himachali apples, toilet paper, my phone, and my pink Northface rain jacket. I strap on my hiking shoes and get out of the homestay.
Such days have taken me to:
- To a fresh waterfall in Dharamkot — Walk up to the Gallu Devi temple above Dharamkot and ask for the way. The hike from the temple takes up to 2 hours at an average pace. You can swim in this waterfall.
- To BhagsuNag waterfall by two different paths — Bhagsu falls can be reached from upper Bhagsu: that walk is shorter and the top side of the waterfall is less crowded. Or you can walk to the waterfall from lower Bhagsu, which is a long walk. Do visit Shiva cafe further above the waterfall and have cold coffee there.
- To the Triund campsite and the snow-capped mountains of Dhauladhar – This trek can be done on your own (but a lot of travelers also do guided hikes to these hills). After the Gallu Devi temple (above Dharamkot), there is a checkpoint. The officers ask the walkers if they have a tent booked at the top of Triund. We hadn’t booked a tent for we knew we would find something at the summit. We were lucky to find a group who told the officers we were with them; otherwise, we wouldn’t have been allowed to go further. The checking is to make sure everyone has a safe place to sleep on the Triund mountains at night. So book a tent in advance. Carry an ID card. The hike to Triund took us almost four hours one way. Bring water, bananas, and some snacks or protein bars. The shops along the way sell stuff at higher prices for they have to carry the inventory to the top. You should camp at Triund for a night to experience the place. The same day or the next morning, you can also walk to the snowline, which are the snowcapped mountains of Dhauladhar. Snowline can be reached by hiking for about two hours from the Triund summit.
- To McleodGanj — The main road from Bhagsu road goes up to Mcleod.
- To the Dalai Lama’s main temple in Mcleodganj— This one is easy to find in Mcleodganj.
- And even to Dharamshala— Take the road that forks from the Bhagsu-Mcleodganj road and goes down, and keep walking. Ask the locals for the way. You can also walk along the stream that goes down from Bhagsu waterfall. Or walk up the hills as I did.
From Mcleod, you can hike up to the village of Naddi, too. Himachal is so well-connected that you can reach almost anywhere from everywhere if you have the time and physical and mental capacity to walk. I will write separate articles on some of these walks later.
When you get bored of Bhagsu and Kangra valley, travel to Manali or Kasol, a noisy gateway to the beautiful Parvati valley – which is what I am planning to do. You can also go to Bir Billing in Kangra and paraglide there.
Where to stay in Bhagsu, Dharamshala? What can you eat?
The best way to find a place in BhagsuNag is to walk around and ask for availability and prices as many homestays and hotels aren’t registered on any website. Upper Bhagsu is less crowded and more peaceful than lower Bhagsu, which has a daily influx of tourists coming in to pray at the Bhagsu Nag temple.
Homestays in Himachal Pradesh are easy to find and so are hostels, hotels, and resorts. I chose to stay in a homestay for a month at the price of almost 15k per month (discounted from 700 rs to 550 and am sure that I could have gotten it for 500). The room has an attached balcony and a toilet with 24-hours hot water. You pay rupees 10 for a bottle of filtered water. My LifeStraw bottle has saved me a lot of money. I fill it up from any village tap as the water comes directly from the Himalayas.
Here are some hotels, home stays, and guesthouses I like in Dharamshala,
Minhas Homestay in Dari village of Dharamshala
Buddha House Himalayan Brothers, again in Dharamshala town
Bhagsu and its surroundings have many multi-cuisine, European, Tibetan, and Indian places. Cuisines range from Indian, Punjabi, Tibetan, and Chinese to Israeli. Spinach and cheese momos, vegetarian thukpas, spinach mushroom burger, hummus platters, curries and roti, enchiladas, noodles, samosa, you can get it all.
When is the best time to visit Dharamshala and its villages?
The climate of Dharamshala is moody. The summers start somewhere in mid-April and go until June end when the monsoon starts. Then the weather starts getting cold. Clouds pour down even in the summers, which aren’t as warm as the summer of the plains. The temperature goes up to a maximum of 35 on a sunny afternoon and it can drop to 4–5 (in the rains) but generally stays at about 15 at night.
Be prepared to face a sudden shift in the weather at any time of the day. Carry a rain jacket and a thick jacket or a shawl in your bag. Wear shoes.
What to bring on your Dharamshala and Himachal Pradesh trip?
- Good hiking shoes for women and good hiking shoes for men – A must-have in the Himalayas.
- Yoga/track pants for women and men – suitable for long travel and walking around.
- A hiking daypack – A daypack is essential on the many gorgeous one or two-day hikes. Bring snacks, water, and a jacket (at least).
- A woolen sweater – Woolen jumpers can be bought in Dharamshala too.
- Warm jackets for men and women – You might even need these on a rainy day in the summer.
- A rain jacket – A must-have for it pours crazy in Dharamshala.
- Warm shawl – Or buy a Kullu shawl from Himachal. Wrap yourself in a shawl against the chilly Himalayan winds and stay warm.
- Lifestraw water bottle – Comes with an inbuilt filter.
- Strong sunscreen – the Himalayas can be pretty sunny, and even a ten-minute walk can burn you.
- first-aid kit – Always carry one while traveling.
- Flashlight – Please don’t go without this one.
Along with these important travel things, bring your regular clothes and basic items, of course.
How much does traveling in Bhagsu, Mcleodganj, and other villages of Dharamshala cost?
I spend almost 1000 rupees, sometimes less and at times more, on food and stay. The yoga classes and flute lessons are excluded. I buy a few apples, bananas, and mangoes for under 200 rupees (<$3) from a grocery store in the lower village near the Bhagsu temple.
Taxis and autos mostly run on fixed prices and are available in abundance. But the road isn’t always vehicle-friendly, so most of us walk around. But between the main places: Mcleodganj, Bhagsu, and Dharamshala taxis or auto-rickshaws can be taken.
I have given many reasons to visit the sleepy village of Bhagsunaag; I hope you can connect with at least one of these.
Stay tuned for I am going to publish more stories from Himachal. You can subscribe to my blog to get the articles straight into your inbox.
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What do you think about Bhagsu Nag: a village citizens of many countries have made their home? Have you been to Bhagsu Falls? Let me know in the comments.
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