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6 Joyful Weeks in Dharamshala – Here’s What I Did (Updated 2022)

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What does this travel guide to Dharamshala contain?

  1. My Dharamshala trip at a glance
  2. About Dharamshala District, Himachal Pradesh.
  3. My best things to do in Dharamashala.
  4. What is the best time to visit Dharmshala?
  5. How to reach Dharamshala, India?
  6. How to reach Dharmshala from Delhi?
  7. Where to stay in Dharmsala?
  8. How much would a Dharamashala trip cost?
  9. What to bring to Dharamshala?
  10. Is Dharamsala safe for solo travelers?
  11. How to avoid the smoking culture of Dharamshala if you don’t want to be a part of it?
  12. How to go on a long trip to Dharamshala India?
  13. Around Dharmashala and further reading.

Update 2022: As of now (8th April), 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.

Things to do and places to visit in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh

This is not your typical Dharamshala travel guide.

During my six weeks in Dharamshala, I hardly ever searched for “things to do in Dharmshala” or “best places to visit in Dharmashala.”

What was I doing? I was busy taking my Dharamshala trip slow.

This might sound clichéd, but I was learning the art of doing nothing.

Visiting Places in Dharamshala and Doing Things at My Pace

I started my journey in Dharamshala by attending a Vipassana course in Dharamkot, one of the many green villages of the Dharamshala district. After a much-needed ten-day silence of body and mind, I packed my bags and headed out of the deodar forests of the Dharamkot Vipassana center. My plan was to stay for a week in upper Dharamkot. 

But something made me leave Dharamkot in two days. Was it the smoky air of my Dharamkot hostel or the hippies lining the cafes in Dharamkot market, I am not sure. I went to live on the other side of Dharamkot to Upper BhagsuNaag, another lush village in Dharmshala.

I had gone to Bhagsu for a week, and I didn’t know I would end up spending more than a month there. 

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Hiking in Dharamshala – Under the Rhododendrons and Into the Icy Summits

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During the six weeks I lived in the Bhagsu village of Dharamshala, trekking in Dharamshala was one of my favorite activities. 

On a sunny day when I was walking from Bhagsu village towards Mcleodganj, the idea of going to Mcleodganj seemed mundane. There are many places to visit in Dharamshala, but I wasn’t interested in any. So I took a detour. Instead of continuing going straight to Mcleodganj, I took the road on my left that went downhill.

I had seen the road many times before and had wondered about its destination. But that day the road seemed to promise the solitude I was looking for. Hell, we all know I wasn’t going to get much peace in Mcleodganj unless I strayed away in its back lanes.

When I had walked downhill for a while, the road disappeared after leading me to a cluster of few tiny houses. Where was I to go then?

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Not Your Typical Travel Guide to Parvati Valley

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The Ravishing Parvati Valley.

Originating from the popular Mantalai Glacier below the Pin Parvati pass in Himachal Pradesh, Parvati river flows unrestricted towards the West to merge with her sister Beas at Bhuntar. On her way Parvati curls through the Himalayas to form a gorgeous valley which is known as Parvati Valley.

Villages of Kasol, Manikaran, Shilha, Barshaini, Gargi, Kalga village, Pulga are dotted around the rich banks of the curvy Parvati. Apart from the Pin Parvati, many high treks also rise up from the Parvati basin to meet the higher Himalayan peaks and snowy villages at their summits.

But from where does the Parvati river gets her name? Legends say that long time ago Lord Shiva meditated in the mountains for about 3,000 years. Oblivious of his landscape, he continued to meditate, only to open his eyes one day to realize that he was in a gorgeous valley. He called the valley Parvati, after his wife.

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Natural Hot Springs, Chai, and the Timeless Manikaran Sahib

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A timeless journey through Manikaran.

While sauntering around in Manikaran’s narrow lanes on my recent trip to Parvati Valley, I reminisced about my childhood journeys to Shukkartal and Haridwar with my family.

Like in those religious towns, time didn’t seem to have passed in Manikaran Sahib either.

Young girls dressed up in traditional bright Kullu dresses and Himachali topis waited to be clicked. Streets were lined with kitschy souvenir shops that flaunted neon plastic toys, rudraksha malas, and brass bracelets.

Devoted Sikhs with their Kirpans hanging around their waist walked swiftly towards the Manikaran Sahib Gurudwara. Hindu families strode to the Shiva and Ram temple to bathe their young ones who trailed behind eyeing the hot jalebis and crispy samosas that were on display at the local sweet’s shop.

If only their mother could buy them a hundred grams of jalebis the children might walk faster. But the mothers were already thinking about quickly getting their little ones undressed and bathing them in the Manikaran hot water springs. They also had to pay their respects to Guru Nanak Ji or the Ram and Sita adorned in the Sikh and Hindu temples.

After all, the history of Manikaran dictates that the town was touched by both the Hindu gods and Guru Nanak Sahib though at different times.

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Yoga in Dharamshala – With an Introduction to Yoga in India

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When I went to Chile in 2016, many Chileans asked me if I knew yoga. While traveling around South America for nine months, I realized the popularity of yoga in the world.

Apprehending the vast influences of yoga and seeing the craze of the westerners towards India and yoga, I became a wanna be yoga learner.

In those immature years of my life, I wanted to be a solo female traveler who also did yoga. I wished to bend myself one-eighty-degrees on the sultry Goa beaches and the summits of the mighty Himalayas alike.

After all, the social media pictures of yoga teachers and practitioners over the internet kindle enough narcissism that you forget the real purpose of yoga (if you ever knew) and only admire the overwhelming curves on the trending photos.

Yoginis look like the epitomes of Urvashi from the Indra palace. Maybe we can compare the Yogi to Shiva who is said to be the first-yogi or the Adiyogi?

Those yoga pictures look as perfect as the postures held in the frame, but remember that pictures don’t tell the entire story.

Yoga is not about a few jazzy posts on Instagram or Facebook. And I kept this in mind when I traveled to Dharamshala and practiced yoga there.

Yoga, a word derived from the Sanskrit word Yuj meaning join, means union — of the mind, body, and soul.

Yoga is not only comprised of Hatha yoga and physical exercise but it is an ancient science which has various methods to amalgamate mind, body, and consciousness. Practicing wholesome yoga leads one towards personal awareness and development.

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Spiti Valley Images – Pictures No-One Puts On Instagram

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Spiti Valley Images Showing the Real Spiti

Snow-capped peaks, inky sky, copper mountains, creamy cubicle homes, lean Spitians jostling around, and fat sheep and cows — this is Spiti Valley Himachal, one of the remotest valleys in the Indian Himalayas.

People have been clicking pictures of Spiti valley for decades. But since the advent of social media, Spiti Valley images have flocked to all Indians’ and foreigners’ Instagram and Facebook accounts.

Maroon-robed monks (mostly young) jumping on the swirling roads. Himalayan peaks standing tall and a river swiftly snaking in front of them. Icy summits with creamy Spitian villages in front. Selfies with Spitian women on the road. Key Monastery standing tall. Pictures in front of the dominant mountains. A few close-ups of flat-roofed Spiti homes.

We have seen all of the above Spiti images. But the more natural, unposed, and truthful Spiti valley photos don’t make it to Instagram. Perhaps the silence that envelops the stunning Spiti and the isolated Spitian life is too much to handle even in pictures.

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Malaysia Surprised Me – Your Reasons to Visit Malaysia

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When I was thinking about visiting Malaysia after my Bali trip, everyone told me to not go to the country that only has Penang and Kuala Lumpur. They said maybe you can see a few orangutans while traveling in Malaysia, but what else?

In the one-month I stayed in Malaysia, I not only traveled to Penang and Kuala Lumpur but I fell in love with the country.

I wanted to write these reasons to visit Malaysia since the day I came back to tell those friends they were wrong and to urge the rest to explore Malaysia. Of course, I did have wild encounters with orangutans around Kinabatangan river in Sabah, but there are many more things to do and interesting places to visit in Malaysia.

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Things to Do Around Cusco, Peru – Your Reasons to Never Leave

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Located high in the Andes, Cusco is one of the most culturally significant cities in Peru. Once the capital of the Inca empire, Cusco is surrounded by the Inca ruins (including Machu Picchu) which are scattered in the Andes circumscribing the city.

Cusco is a city that can be what you want it to be. Any traveler can find a myriad of things to do around Cusco Peru as per her or his own taste.

During the 20 days I explored Cusco, I was never bored. Sometimes I was hiking in the uninhabited mountain valleys near Cusco, at other days I was in the plaza drinking chicha morada and soaking in the sun, while some evenings I was admiring the rainbows behind the baroque cathedrals only to end up drinking at a fun bar, some mornings you could find me elbowing the locals in collectivos on the way to the sacred ruins, once I was chatting up with fun Dutch and Argentinians in a minibus that drove us to a town near Machu Picchu, and the rest of the times I was packing my bag to visit the Parque Nacional Manu in the Amazon forest or to a random hike that I fancied.

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Hike Colca Canyon – My Honest Guide to an Excruciating Trek

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I did not know that there is a Colca Canyon in Peru until I reached the Arica Chile border to cross over into Peru. When everyone in Arequipa asked me if I was going to hike Colca Canyon, I nodded. As a lazy travel researcher, I believe in improvised navigation. I had no idea what to see in Peru and went with the flow.

I decided that I would do the Colca Canyon hike, but I didn’t realize that this Peruvian canyon was twice as deep as Arizona’s Grand Canyon. When the travel company with whom I booked a two day Colca Canyon tour asked if I had any trekking experience, I thought about my recent Villarrica volcano endeavor. I nodded while dreading the Colca trek for though hiking the volcano had improved my confidence, the 3,300 meters deep canyon hike sounded ambitious.

But without a trip to Colca Canyon, my Arequipa visit would have been incomplete. So I paid 120 soles for the 2 days hike, ate a heavy dinner, and hit the bed early.

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How I Survived the Villarrica Volcano Hike

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The alarm rang at 3:30 at night. I peeked out of my blanket into the dark dorm room and wondered why I had decided to hike the 2,800-meter high volcano. Just then Alison, my Canadian friend, who was sleeping on the lowest bunk bed opposite me, snoozed the alarm on her iPhone, mumbled something, opened her eyes for a second, and then pulled the blanket over her head again. She was the one who made me signup for the Villarrica Volcano hike, the active volcano that had erupted a year ago.

I shut the alarm and got out of bed. Alison followed me. Though November is a summer month in Chile, Pucon, a city in the lake region, wasn’t that warm, especially at that early hour of the day. After barely washing our faces with the cold water, we walked to the cherry tree in the hostel where ten other hikers were following the directions of the Volcan Villarrica tour guides. We wore a pair of waterproof trousers over our track pants and strapped our rucksack in which we carried the rest of the gear on our backs. Then the twelve of us walked to the minivan that was to drive us to Villarrica 30 kilometers out of town.

I don’t know if I felt secured or alarmed when Alejandro, one of our three tour guides, told us that after the eruption in 2015 the government had mandated that there should be a guide accompanying every four trekkers.

After driving for an hour, we reached the base of Villarrica. Even at that wee hour, the area was flooded with minivans and travelers who wanted to climb the volcano. Until then I didn’t know that climbing volcano Villarrica is the sole reason for some of the tourists to visit Pucon, the city which Lonely Planet refers to as the mecca for adventure sports. And why wouldn’t it be? You can do river rafting, kayaking, hiking, skiing, horseback riding, and so much more in the bustling lake town of Pucon.

Recommended Read: My experiential travel guide to Chile

I craned my neck to look up to the summit. The twilight was dissolving away the darkness of the night. A rotund moon watched us from above. From its base, Rucapillán, or the house of the Pillán, (the Mapuche name of Volcano Villarrica) indeed looked like a superpower, an undefeatable giant.

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Why You Must Visit Santa Cruz – City of Bolivian Riches

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When I had stuffed myself with enough streetside potato empanadas, I flew from La Paz to Santa Cruz. My dream was to see the wild jaguars in the forests near Santa Cruz, amongst the many other things to do in Santa Cruz Bolivia.

Drifting off through a one-hour flight and waking up to chew upon the dry fruits that the Boliviana de Aviación attendant served, I landed at the Viru Viru international airport and hopped onto the airport shuttle to go to the central plaza. My travel friend was staying in a fancy hostel there.

As always, I had not read much about Santa Cruz. But my curiosity to talk to the local people makes up for my lethargic online research, mostly. In a casual conversation, the manager of the Santa Cruz airport shuttle told me that Bolivia was still furious about losing the Pacific coast to Chile. He added that the elite businessman and politicians of that wealthy city we were in had stopped caring as they were busy securing their bank balances.

And that is how I was introduced to Santa Cruz, a city where you would forget that you are in Bolivia, if not for the cholitas selling sinful salteñas on the roadside.

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Golden Highlights of 2018 – A Year of Writing, Love, and Nomadness.

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The whistles of a black kite which is hovering above me in the light blue sky are the only sounds that break my attention now and then. In front of me, a green parrot just flew by; I see more of them in the morning, when one after another they go, searching for grains and guavas and water and, maybe, more parrots. The coffee cuckoo, similar to the one that used to visit me in my previous apartment, also flew from one tree to another in the park in front of my writing studio.

I have stationed myself in one corner of this studio on a chatayi or as we say a mat nowadays, and from here I write my heart out. In this nomadic life, you can find me on and off in Bangalore, for I always come here to be with my partner, and thus I pen down many pieces from his vicinity with a temporary feeling of home.

Having spent more than four months now as a nomad, I have realized that you don’t have to own or rent an apartment to be at home. Neither are you always on the go even if you are living a nomadic life.

At the end of the day when I think about getting back home, I imagine a quiet place, where the bathroom taps do not drip and where I cannot hear the screeching tires or intruding honks, but I can only tune into the crickets singing songs to each other. Where I can lay on a bed or in a sleeping bag in a tent, preferably tucked away in the midst of trees, with a warm cup of tea and a book to read. From where I can make a phone call to my parents and family for they worry if I disappear for even a day. I imagine a home that is a window into the world, or it has a window from where I can see the world, which I like to have at a distance. And that is all.

Such are my preferences these days. I started penning down this article to tell you about how my priorities shaped up the year 2018, and so on I go.

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