In March 1850, the area was annexed by the British after the Second Anglo-Sikh War, and soon a subsidiary cantonment for the troops stationed at Kangra was established on the slopes of Dhauladhar, on empty land, with a Hindu rest house or Dharamshala; hence the name for the new cantonment, Dharamshala. During the British rule in India, the town was a hill station where the British spent hot summers, and around the late 1840s, when the district headquarters in Kangra became overcrowded, the British moved two regiments to Dharamshala. A cantonment was established in 1849, and in 1852 Dharamshala became the administrative capital of Kangra district. By 1855 it had two important places of civilian settlement, McLeodganj and ForsythGanj, named after a Divisional Commissioner. In 1860, the 66th Gurkha Light Infantry, later renamed the historic 1st Gurkha Rifles, was moved to Dharamshala.
Following in the footsteps of the 14th Dalai Lama more than 150,000 Tibetan refugees have fled to India during the past 50 years. He left with his initial entourage in 1959, following an abortive uprising of disputed motivations. About 80,000 Tibetan refugees followed him. Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to provide all assistance to the Tibetan refugees to settle in India until their eventual return). 120,000 refugees remain in India today. The Tibetan diaspora maintains a government in exile in Himachal Pradesh, which coordinates political activities for Tibetans in India. The Indian Government offered him refuge in Dharamshala, where he set up the Government of Tibet in exile in 1960, while McLeodganj became his official residence and also home to several Buddhist monasteries and thousands of Tibetan refugees. Over the years, McLeodganj evolved into an important tourist and pilgrimage destination, and has since grown substantially in population.
Dharamshala is at an elevation of 1,457 meters (4780 ft.) above sea level and is a town in The Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh in India, under the shadow of the Dhauladhar Range. It covers a total area of 29.51 km square (11.39 sq. miles). The population, according to the census of 2011 is 19,124. There are a variety of languages spoken in Dharamshala, the official being Hindi.
The city is divided into two distinct sections. Kotwali Bazaar and the surrounding markets are referred to as "Lower Dharamshala" or just "Dharamshala." Further up the mountain does the village of Ganchen Kyishong, the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile, separate in between McLeodganj. A steep, narrow road connects McLeodganj from Dharamshala and is only accessible to taxis and small cars, while a longer road winds around the valley for use by buses and trucks. McLeodganj is surrounded by pine, Himalayan oak, and rhododendron. The main crops grown in the valleys below are rice, wheat and tea.
The Dhauladhars have a peculiar topography. Although mostly composed of granite, the flanks of the range exhibit frequent formations of slate (often used for the roofs of houses in the region), limestone and sandstone. Ascending from any side is a difficult, given the near vertical incline. This calls for highly technical trekking and mountaineering. There is very little habitation on the range given the harsh conditions. But meadows abound near the crest providing rich pastures for grazing where large numbers of Gaddi shepherds take their flocks. The top of the crest is buried under vast expanses of thick snow. As a matter of fact, Triund - Ilaqua Ghot, approached from the hill station of McLeodganj, is the nearest and most accessible snow line in the Indian Himalayas. The range has rich flora and fauna. Several peaks both virgin and scaled have drawn mountaineers from all over the world. Some of the well known ones are Mun (4610 m) near Dharamshala, Manimahesh Kailash (6638 m) in the sacred Manimahesh region, Gaurjunda (4946 m), near the Talang pass, which is also commonly referred to as the 'Dhauladhar Matterhorn', Christmas (4581 m), Toral (4686 m), Dromedary (4553 m), Riflehorn (4400 m), Lantern (5100 m), Arthur's Seat (4525 m), Camel (4520 m), Slab (4570 m) and several other named and unnamed peaks. Due to the position of the range it receives two monsoons a year with heavy rains so, where the mountains have not been heavily logged, there are dense pine and Deodar forests.
Dharamshala town is reached by Gaggal Airport, , about 15 km to the town's south and about 10 km north of the Kangra town. To reach Dharamshala by train, one has to reach Kangra town by Kangra Valley Railway line from Pathankot, 94 km away and then take a bus or a taxi. Pathankot is a broad gauge railway head.
Being a major tourist destination, home to the Dalai Lama and housing one of the most famous and beautiful cricket stadiums of India, Dharamshala is well equipped with medical facilities, hospitals, great market places with shops for all needs, well paved roads and a great network of local and private transportations.
Electricity and water facilities are also well taken care of, with not many problems for the locals or the tourists.
Restaurants and hotels range from all varieties and cover all price ranges with varied cuisines and gifts, souvenir and craft shops lined up from Dharamshala till McLeodganj.
Dharamshala and Mc Leodganj are specked with temples and monasteries of varied but beautiful architectures. The mix of Hindu and Buddhist architecture can be seen throughout the region. Places of worship are made of
Houses in Dhramshala have sloped roofs lined with slate stones to make a slipper surface for the snow and rain water to slide down easily. Houses are made of bricks and stone, wood and metal for the railings and shafts. Majority of the houses are not more than two storeyed and the Tibetan houses can be differentiated from the Pahari ones with the lines of peace flags and lots of Buddhist wall hangings and bells.
It is true that the city of Dharamsala has been predominantly influenced by the Tibetan culture. However, the reminiscent of past cannot be completely wiped from the face of the city and therefore it still provides glimpses of colonial lifestyle and British vehemence is observed here. The Villas made by the British stands erect in Dharamsala and lets the tourists notice the architecture that they preferred during the Raj. St. John's Church at Dharamsala is an example of the architectural fervor of the British for tinted and stained glass windows.
The fervour of religious attachment has inspired the culture of Dharamshala along with other attractive features. The people have a very rich cultural heritage that is evident in their everyday life. From the colourful dresses of Tibetans and Hindus within the city to the warm and friendly reception for all tourists, Dharamshala has drawn the attention of many for being culturally vibrant city. Hindus and the Tibetans,whose second home is Dharamshala, have mostly inhabited the city. It is the 'capital in exile' of The Dalai Lama and his followers and also serves as the headquarters for Tibetan government in India. The refugee Tibetan population has mainly settled in the Upper Dharamshala, most popularly known as McLeodganj. Apart from being situated in the hill city of India, this part of the city resembles Lhasa the capital of Tibet from the cultural point of view. For Buddhist devotees the place has been more than a home since the Namgyal Monastery serves the religious purpose for this place. His Holiness Dalai Lama resides here and blesses his followers and devotees for peace and sanctity. A large number of Tibetan handicrafts and garments are also available here. The place is very ideal for those who want a relaxed holiday with a knack for different shopping list. Handmade shawls and souvenirs are must buys since they uphold the cultural distinction of the Tibetans. Various other products also influx the streets of Dharamsala, initiating a link for India, with the peaceful Buddhist culture.The culture in this region is a crowd-puller of tourists throughout the world. Famous celebrities like Richard Gere have come here to attain peace and consolation. The place and people are a perfect blend of traditional and modern culture. The tourists are provided an opportunity to experience both sides of the coin. People come here to meditate and feel relaxed while at the same time also have celebrity cricket matches and international film festivals. Added to these festivals, Dharamsala also holds fairs and festivals that pertain to the Buddhist and Tibetan culture. The birth anniversary of The Dalai Lama is also celebrated with vigor across the city. The whole city gets decorated with flags of the Buddhist religion.Apart from the Hindu festivals and folks the city is also influenced by the Tibetan counterpart. Tibetan music, drums and dances are a huge craze amongst international tourists visiting Dharamsala. The curiosity mostly rises since Tibetan opera groups perform is many countries around the world. The Spring Festival held at Dharamsala is one of the colorful events which is attended by tourists from all over the world. Dharamsala is now the official home of 'Lhamo' the folk opera from Tibet. This group has been performing for years and has been able to preserve the theatrical traditions of Tibet.Music and dance are the intrinsic part of any culture. The colors of a particular society are observed within the kind of music and dance they create. Dharamsala also presents its own folk dance that is a treasured aspect of its vibrant culture. The traditional folk dances and songs can be observed during the Hindu Lohri festival at Dharamsala.Norbulingka Institute was founded near Dharamshala in 1988 for preserving Tibetan culture, literature and art. The institute primarily works towards carrying on Tibetan traditions and heritage by providing training, education and employment to Tibetans in the region.
The society in Dharamshala is a mixture people of a number origin. There are the simple Tibetan monks, the Himachali Indians, the colonial lifestyle in the suburbs and then the large number of tourists from all around the world. The people in Dharamshala have seen it all - a British rule, Migration from Tibet and the parallel coexistence with the Indian culture and society. Through all of this like the name suggests 'Dharamshala' is truly a refuge for all creatures of God. The place is always associated with peace and tranquility, it is said that the city is filled with life and yet it always is peaceful. Even a procession or demonstration whenever publicly displayed is that of a peaceful nature.
The thousands of Tibetan exiles that live in McLeodganj have built monasteries, temples and schools to be self sufficient in this area also called 'Little Lhasa'. This has become a tourist destination and giving a boost to the commerce and tourism in this region. The population of Dharamshala has 55% males and also has a major movement of women empowerment.
Something which is worth noticing about culture of Dharamsala is the dressing sense of people staying there. The whole community seems to be blending the traditional with the modern in a graceful manner. The upper Dharamsala observes a trend which can be distinctly marked as Tibetan clothing except for the monks. The Tibetan women are generally seen wearing long sleeved shirts and striped aprons at the waist. These striped aprons are a mark of marriage for women in their tradition and culture. However, just like the Indian counterparts these women shun wearing aprons if they are separated from their husbands or are widowed. Indian women also wear off the sign of marriage for same reasons. Old folks at Dharamsala are generally seen with beads and praying at secluded places. The Hindus however observe the same rituals and dress codes that any modern city in India pertains to. Saree and Salwar Kameez are main dress- codes for women while men wear shirt and pants.
Masrur (or Masroor): The major attraction of this place is the fifteen exquisitely carved monolithic rock temples dating back to the 8th century. The carvings of these temples are similar to Kailash temple at Ellora. In the sanctum of the main temple, one can find images of Lord Ram, and the Goddesses Sita and Lakshmi. Bhagsunag Temple: Temple of god Shiva situated around 2 km from McLeodganj Bazaar.
The cricket stadium at Dharamshala, is the highest in India and a major lookout as well.
Dharamshala is a starting point to a number of trekking trails that especially lead trekkers across Dhauladhar into the upper Ravi Valley and Chamba district. En route, you cross through forests of deodar, pine, oak and rhododendron, and pass streams and rivers and wind along vertiginous cliff tracks, and the occasional lake waterfall and glacier.A 2-km amble takes one to Bhagsu, and then a further 3-km walk will lead the trekkers to Dharamkot. If one wishes to go on a longer walk then he/she can trek 8-km to Triund. The snow line of Ilaqa Got is just a 5-km walk. Other trekking trails that lead you to Chamba from Dharamshala are: Toral Pass (4575m) which begins from Tang Narwana (1150m) that is nearly 10 km from Dharamshala. Across Bhimghasutri Pass (4580m) via near-vertical rocky ascents, steep cliffs and dangerous gorges. This is a highly difficult level trek and takes around six days to complete. Dharamshalaâ€”Bleni Pass (3710m) â€“ Dunali. Compared to other trekking trails, this one is much easier and takes around four or five-days to complete. The trek leads you through alpine pastures, woods, and streams, before ending at Dunali, on the Chamba road. Dharamshala is an ideal destination for rock climbing enthusiasts. One can go rock climbing over the ridges of the Dhauladhar range.Kareri lake (near kareri village) is also a famous trekking destination for travellers.