Dharamshala (also spelled Dharamsala) is the district headquarters of Kangra district in India. It was formerly known as Bhagsu. The Dalai Lama‘s residence and the headquarters of the Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan government in exile) are in Dharamshala. Dharamshala is 18 km (11 mi) from Kangra. Dharamshala has been selected as one of the hundred Indian cities to be developed as a smart city under PM Narendra Modi’s flagship Smart Cities Mission. On 19 January 2017, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh declared Dharamshala as the second capital of Himachal Pradesh state, making Himachal Pradesh the third state of India with two capitals after Jammu and Kashmir and Maharashtra.
Dharamshala is divided into two distinct areas that are separated by a 10 min, 9 km bus or jeep ride.
- Lower Dharamshala, consists of most of the government offices, Schools, the local Hospital, and commercial areas. It also has a few tea gardens. One in the area of Chilgari and another just beyond Dari. It is a typical small Indian town that, other than for the bus station, is of little interest to tourists. One can enjoy the view while driving through.
- Upper Dharamshala, known more commonly as McLeod Ganj is named after Sir Donald Friell McLeod, once the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab. It is home to the Tibetan community and the centre of tourist activity. Unless specifically stated, all listings in this article refer to McLeod Ganj.
- Bhagsu, is 2 km north-east and is a small quiet urban area. Bhagsu is full of shops and restaurants and has a public pool popular with locals. As of late, Bhagsu is filled with many courses and activities such as painting, wood craving, cooking, singing, massage and many more. These courses last anytime between few hours to weeks.
- Dharamkot, is 3.5 km north and is up the hill from McLeod Ganj. Divided into lower and upper Dharamkot, lower Dharamkot is similar to a smaller Bhagsu, with a number of restaurants and hostels all in close proximity. Upper Dharamkot is nestled in the woods and is ideal for those looking for a quiet escape from urban life or those wanting quicker access to the trails that start just at the edges of Dharamkot.
Villages near McLeod Ganj include Forsyth Ganj, a short hike away on the way up from Lower Dharamshala.
For a quiet and basic experience, try Naddi (3 km) or Talnu (11 km).