Home to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile, and starting point for some exhilarating treks into the high Himalayas, DHARAMSALA, or more correctly, its upper town McLEOD GANJ, is one of Himachal's most irresistible destinations. Spread across wooded ridges beneath the stark rock faces of the Dhauladhar Range, the town is divided into two distinct and separate sections, separated by 10km of perilously twisting road and almost a thousand metres in altitude.
Most visitors bypass Dharamsala itself, a haphazard jumble of shops, offices and houses. The ever-expanding settlement of McLeod Ganj extends along a pine-covered ridge with valley views below and the near vertical walls of the Dhauladhar range towering behind. Originally a British hill station, McLeod Ganj has been transformed by the influx of Tibetan refugees fleeing Chinese oppression. Tibetan influence here is subsequently very strong, and McLeod Ganj is a place of pilgrimage that attracts Buddhists and interested parties from all over the world. Many people visit India specifically to come here, and its relaxed and friendly atmosphere can make it hard to leave.
It's easy to find your way around McLeod Ganj. Intersected by two narrow potholed roads, its focal point of McLeod Ganj is its Buddhist temple, ringed with spinning red and gold prayer wheels. At its northern end, the road up from the lower town arrives at a small square that serves as the bus stand.
Despite heavy snows and low temperatures between December and March, McLeod Ganj receives visitors year round. Summer brings torrential rains – this being the second wettest place in India – that return in bursts for much of the year. Daytime temperatures can be high, but you'll need warm clothes for the chilly nights.