Dharamkot: The best place to ‘Find Yourself’ in the Indian Himalayas

Dharamkot: A Spiritual, hippie village in the Indian Himalayas

India has long been attracting spiritual seekers for decades since the days of the hippie trail. Many travellers in India don’t want to just see the sights but come to India for other reasons – many to explore spirituality and even to ‘find themselves.’ There are many spiritual places in India that people come to ‘find themselves’ The Beatles famously did it an ashram in Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world, and spiritual places like Varanasi, Dharamshala (and Dharamkot) Pushkar, Hampi and Goa attract spiritual seekers, yogis, hippies, backpackers and all kinds of people looking for a bit more meaning in their life.

Can you really ‘find yourself’ in India?

I know it’s a bit of a cliché but India is a country with such a rich culture, history and spiritual heritage that traveling here offers so much more than just a holiday. India is still a place that can teach you a lot about the world, about life and spirituality, and also about yourself.

Tibetan prayer wheels in McLeod Ganj

Spirituality is everywhere in India and forms a bit part of daily life, many of the world’s religions were founded in India – Hinduism with their fascinating pantheon of colourful deities, the Buddha achieved enlightenment under the Bodi tree in Bodhgaya (not far from Varanasi) Jainism and Sikhism were also created here, and not forgetting the strong Christian and Muslim influences. India is also the birthplace of yoga and Ayurveda.

You’ll also learn alot from the culture shock. If you want to explore your spiritual side there’s really no better place than India! 

Colourful Tibetan prayer flags in Dharamkot

There are so many places to go in India to expand your consciousness, but after spending a month in the quaint hippie village of Dharamkot near Dharamshala in the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh, I think that this is probably one of the best places to find yourself in India.

Dharamkot just has a magical, spiritual vibe. The quaint village, nature, fresh air, mountain views, simple life and spiritual energy of the Himalayas set the scene for a great place to meditate, soak up the nature and find peace within yourself.

On the trek to Triund soaking up the views over Dharamkot, Bhagsu, McLeod Ganj and Dharamsala

On the trek to Triund soaking up the views over Dharamkot, Bhagsu, McLeod Ganj and Dharamsala

Dharamsala – the home of the Dalai Lama

Dharamsala/ Dharamshala is famous for being the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile since they escaped persecution from the invading Chinese in the 1960’s. Dharamsala itself is a large Indian town that doesn’t have all that much to keep you entertained (apart from a huge cricket stadium) and you’ll probably be disappointed and wonder what all the fuss is about if you just go there.

However, when people talk about going to Dharamsala to see the Dalai Lama, most actually mean heading to the nearby town of McLeod Ganj a bit further up the mountain.

Tibetan monastery in McLeod Ganj

Until recently, the Tibetan influenced small town of McLeod Ganj, sometimes known as ‘Little Lhasa’  was the place to be with its Tibetan temples, monks and refugees and a popular backpacker scene but nowadays the town is increasingly built up and busy to overflowing with souvenir shops and weekend warriors from Delhi creating traffic jams.

So now most travellers decide to stay further up the mountain again in the smaller and quieter villages of Bhagsu Nag and Dharamkot. (Lower Bhagsu has also become too built up now to find much inner peace so it’s worth making the climb up to Upper Bhagsu)

Views over Dharamkot

Dharamkot Travel Guide: Top tips, things to do and places to stay and eat

The best time of year to visit Dharamkot is April – June. Winters can be cold and the monsoon rains come from July – September. October and November could also be a nice time to visit after the rains before the cold of winter.

Meditation, yoga and other things to do in Dharamkot

The village of Dharamkot clings to the mountainside above McLeod Ganj and Bhagsu and offers an almost overwhelming variety of mediation and yoga courses along with a cornucopia of other alternative therapies, courses and workshops.

One of the popular talks at Tushita 

Tushita Buddhist Meditation Center is a beautiful, colourful Tibetan style monastery that offers retreats like the popular 10 day discovering Buddhism courses and daily drop in guided mediation everyday at 9.30am in its beautifully decorated Tibetan gompa next to the Dhamma Sikhara Vipassana Meditation Centre.

For both of these the courses and retreats get fully booked in advance but you can try your luck on the waiting list. The drop in mediation at Tushita is by donation and there is a nice library there too and regular talks and movies.

At Tushita

All varieties of yoga and yoga teacher training courses and massage course are also available. Many yoga schools (and even some shops and restaurants) move from Goa up to Dharamkot. The Himayalan Iyengar Yoga Center is a popular and well respected yoga school that runs 5 day Iyengar courses starting every Monday from March- October. In November to March they run courses in Arambol, Goa. Trimutri Yoga and Parimutki are also popular and run yoga teacher training courses.

(Nikki from Southeast Asia Backpacker Magazine did her yoga teacher training at Parimutki’s Goa center – you can read her diaries and review here.)

Chilling at my homestay in Dharamkot

As well as the famous centers there are so many more workshops going on in Dharamkot including reiki, massage, crystal healing, shamanic drumming, kundalini meditation, ecstatic dance, kirtan (bhajans) yoga nidra, panchakarma, tantra, NLP, breath diagnosis, past life regression and also jewellery, macramé and dream catcher making workshops. 

The hardest part is finding time to fit it all in! Hence why I ended up staying a while month here. To find what’s on look at the posters around the village or on the Dharamkot and Bhagsu community Facebook group.

Art work in a cafe in Dharamkot

Art work in a cafe in Dharamkot

Other things to do in Dharamkot

Dharamkot is also a great base for treks around the beautiful surrounding countryside and the Dhauladhar range such as Triund, Illaqua and Indrahar Pass where you can see the snow dusting on the mighty Himalayan mountains.

Trekking to Triund

Triund is the most popular trek that you must do. It’s not too difficult and is only about a 4 hour hike from Dharamkot (Upwards on the way there and mostly down on the way back. It starts off easy but gets pretty step climbing at the end). See this post for more details about the Triund Trek.

You can camp overnight at Triund – there are a couple of chai and maggi noodle shops and if you don’t have a tent you can hire one up there if there are any left – but when I was there on a weekend in May (peak season) they were all already taken and sadly the clouds covered the view a bit but I still had a great time.

Me at Triund

This is what Triund looks like on a good day! Photo from Flickr by Rignam Wangkhang

You can also trek to explore other villages and see the waterfalls – there is a famous one in Bhagsu and a less crowded one near the village of Gallu which also has a temple and amazing views. There is a short cut from Dharamkot down to Bhagsu which makes a nice walk, once in Bhagsu there is a temple and many cafes and shops. There are also some little shops in Dharamkot selling basic necessities like water, biscuits and cigarettes as well as Kashmir shawls, crystals and jewellery.

Head down to McLeod Ganj to visit the Dalai Lama Monastery (officially called the Tsuglagkhang Complex) and the Tibetan Museum, eat Tibetan food and volunteer with refugees and don’t miss the chance to attend an audience with the Dalai Lama if he’s in town.

Sadly he was not there when I visited so I didn’t get the chance but check out these tips by Simply Nomadic Life if you want to met the Dalai Lama.

Monks inside the monastery in McLeod Ganj

Where to Stay in Dharamkot

The village of Dharamkot is a quaint, traditional Himachali village that now caters for hippies and travellers. There are still no roads, just the one that comes up from McLeod Ganj which ends at the start of the village near the popular Trek and Dine café so you’ll get fit staying here walking up and down the mountain all day!

As there are no roads in Dharamkot donkeys have to be used to carry all supplies

As there are no roads in Dharamkot donkeys have to be used to carry all supplies

Accommodation in Dharamkot can be basic, usually it’s just rooms in homestays and in village houses and many only have a shared bathroom (some with Western toilets but some with Indian style squat toilets) and cold water. The places where I stayed didn’t even have a name. Rooms get cheaper the further away you walk from the road, most rooms cost between 250 and 500 Rupees a night.

Most budget rooms in Dharamkot are not available to book online before you arrive although there are a couple of Dharamkot homestays now on Booking.com –  Mountain View Budget Homestay, Nature Friendly Stay and Cosy Budget Homestay all have decent rooms with private bathrooms.

A new 3 star hotel in Dharamkot called Dev Cottage is also available to book on Agoda.

Dharamkot village

Searching for a room can mean a lot of walking up and down with heavy bags and in peak season it can be difficult to find a room at all. But if you don’t want to just turn up and wing it there are many hotels in nearby McLeod Ganj and Bhagsu that you can book online and then head up to check out Dharamkot and find somewhere to stay once you get here.

In McLeod Ganj check out Hotel Backpacker’s Inn bright, colourful and clean hostel with dorms and private rooms and super views across the mountains from the balconies. Green Hotel is also a good choice and a long time travellers’ favourite.

Tibetan monastery in McLeod Ganj

In Bhagsu check out HosteLaVie in Upper Bhagsu (better than lower) which has comfy dorms     McLeod Backpacker’s which is actually located in Bhagsu near the German Bakery, Silvermoon House is a good centrally located budget guesthouse and Hotel Sky Pie is a popular more upmarket option.

Decent Wifi is also really hard to find in Dharamkot and even the 3G doesn’t work very well. McLeod Ganj is better for internet but Trek and Dine in Dharamkot has OK WiFi but gets really busy so its painfully slow at busy times.

On the walk from Dharamkot to Bhagsu

Where to Eat in Dharamkot

For a small mountain village, there are so many good cafes and restaurants serving a range of Indian, Tibetan, Israeli, Western food and multi-cultural traveller favourites including many pure veg and vegan places.

Many signs and menus are in Hebrew due to the large population of Israeli backpackers that come here so it’s a great place to try Israeli food if you haven’t before. Also make sure you try Bhagsu cake, it reminded me of millionaires shortbread – a crunchy biscuit base layered with caramel toffee and topped with chocolate.

My favourite places to eat in Dharamkot where Trek and Dine, Om Café and Spaced Out (good for gluten free and vegan food) Once in Nature and Cool Talk Cafe. I also had breakfast in the chai shop outside Tushita every morning after meditation as its probably the cheapest place and always lively with a nice crowd after meditation.

In Bhagsu I recommend the German Bakery (the original one further up the hill) and Unity Café. In McLeod Ganj try Tibet Kitchen in the main square for tasty authentic Tibetan food.

Monks walking through the forest trails near Dharamkot

Getting to Dharamkot

I went to Dharamkot from Amritsar (well worth checking out the amazing Golden Temple) via Pathankot on local bus and it took pretty much all day.

You can get delux overnight buses to Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj from Delhi. You can also get a bus from Kasol (Parvati Valley) and Manali and other popular Himachal destinations.

Another option is to take an overnight train from Delhi to Pathankot station.  From Pathankot you can take a local bus (4/5 hours) or taxi (2.5 hours) to McLeod Ganj. From McLeod Ganj bus station you can take an auto rickshaw up to Dharamkot or walk via a short cut in about 20 mins.

Dharamkot is connected to Upper Bhagsu (the good bit) by a nice 15 min walk down the mountains and I found myself climbing up and down most days going from one workshop to another so I got really fit but carry a torch because it could be easy to slip over the rocks at night.

My first glimpse of the Himalayas from the local bus from Pathankot to McLeod Ganj. Shame about the power lines in the shot t

The gorgeous mountain scenery, laid back nature and plethora of spiritual activities entices many travellers to stay for weeks and even months in Dharamkot and Upper Bhagsu chilling out in the lap of the Himalayas and taking courses. I spent my days happily going from morning mediation at Tushita to yoga and then other workshops interspersed with lazy lunches and endless cups of tulsi tea with new friends.

Whatever your looking for, whatever your interest, I’m sure you’ll find much to keep you occupied on your spiritual journey in Dharamkot. There’s definitely a special energy in these mountains and the people who flock here.

But go soon, because new fancy hotels are already being built which will probably change the essence of this special place.

Have you been to Dharamkot or Bhagsu? Did you find yourself in the Himalayas?

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