Dharamshala

Dharamshala

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Dharamshala

The word dharamshala refers to a shelter or rest house for spiritual pilgrims. Dharamshala is a compound of dharm and shala. About 17 kms north-east of Kangra twon, the High snow clad Dhauladhar ranges from a magnificent backdrop to the hill resort of Dharamshala. This is the principal township of Kangra district and overlooks wide spread of the plains. With dense pine and deodar forests, numerous streams, cool healthy air, attractive surroundings and the nearby snowline, Dharamsala has everything for a perfect holiday. It is full of life and yet peaceful.

In 1905, tragedy struck Dharamshala when an earthquake leveled it completely. After its reconstruction, Dharamshala flourished as a quiet health resort. It is divided into two distinct parts.

Lower Dharamsala (1380m) consists of most of the government offices, Schools, the local Hospital, and Kotwali Bazar. 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 comprises of places with names which bear witness to its history like McLeod Ganj is named after Sir Donald Friell McLeod the once the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab  and Forsythe Ganj retains a British flavor and colonial lifestyle. The charming church of St. John in the wilderness is situated here and this is the final resting place of Lord Elgin, a British Viceroy of India during the 19th century.

On 29 April 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) established the Tibetan exile administration in the north Indian hill station of Mussoorie. In May 1960, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) was moved to Dharamshala, when it became a temporary headquarter of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, Dharamshala has risen to international fame as "The Little Lhasa in India". Mcleodganj is 9 km from Dharamshala.

The headquarters of His Holiness the Dalai Lama are at upper Dharamshala. Dharamshala is the centre of the Tibetan exile world in India. His presence and the Tibetan population has made Dharamshala a popular destination for Indian and foreign tourists, including students studying Tibet.

Several thousand Tibetan exiles have now settled in the area, and most live in and around McLeodGanj in Upper Dharamshala, where they have built monasteries, temples and schools.

One of the main attractions of Dharamshala is Triund hill. Jewel of Dharamshala, Triund is one day trek at the upper reaches of McLeodGanj, about 9 km from McLeodGanj.

Numerous ancient temples like Jwalamukhi, Brijeshwari and Chamunda lie on the plains below Dharamsala.

In 1860, the 66th Gurkha Light Infantry was moved from Kangra to Dharamshala, which was at first made a subsidiary cantonment. An ideal position for the new base was found on the slopes of the Dhauladhar Hills, near the site of a Hindu sanctuary, or Dharamshala, hence the name of the town. The Battalion was later renamed the historic 1st Gurkha Rifles, this was the beginning of the legend of the world-famous Gurkhas the so-called 'Bravest of the Brave'. Consequently, fourteen Gurkha platoon villages grew from this settlement, and exist to this day, namely Dari, Ramnagar, Shyamnagar, Dal, Totarani, Khanyara, Sadher, Chaandmaari, Sallagarhi, Sidhbari, Yol, and so on. The Gurkhas worshipped at the ancient Shiva temple of Bhagsunag. The Gurkhas referred to Dharamshala as 'Bhagsu' and referred to themselves as Bhagsuwalas.

The 21st Gurkha Regiment from Dharamshala performed heroic feats during World War I and the North West Frontier Province campaigns. The Gurkha cantonment then reached its zenith during World War II, when battalions from Dharamshala made history. Many place names in the town still retain their former cantonment terminologies - Depot Bazaar, Pensioners' Lines, Tirah Lines (named after the 19th century Tirah Campaign), Bharatpore Lines (named after the 1826 Battle of Bharatpore).

The second Lord Elgin, Viceroy of India died here (at the 1st Gurkha Rifles Officers' Mess) in 1863 and is buried in the cemetery of St. John in the Wilderness, a small Anglican church distinguished by its stained-glass windows. Dharamshala became a popular hill station for the British working in or near Delhi, offering a cool respite during the hot summer months.

Before the earthquake of 1905, the upper part of the station, which rises to a height of 7,112 feet (2,168 meters), contained the European houses, the station church, and the officers' mess and lines of the 1st Gurkhas, together with the public gardens, post office, and two bazars, the Forsyth Ganj and McLeodganj. The public offices, a bazar, and a few European houses made up the lower station, as low as 4,500 feet (1,372 meters). The 1st battalion of the 1st Gurkhas used to be stationed here, but was moved to the upper station in 1894-1895. The public gardens, which were, before the earthquake, laid out with much taste in lawns and terraces, contained a valuable collection of indigenous and imported trees and shrubs, and were overlooked by the Assembly Rooms, a handsome building comprising a public hall, a library and reading-room and a billiard-room. The church was beautifully situated in a recess of the mountain.

In 1905, the Kangra valley suffered a major earthquake. On April 4 of that year, the earth shook, demolishing much of the cantonment and the neighbouring city of Kangra as well as the Bhagsunag temple. Altogether, the 1905 Kangra earthquake killed 20,000 people. "1,625 persons perished at Dharamshala alone, including 15 Europeans and 112 of the Gurkha garrison."

The Gurkhas rebuilt the town along with the temple, which today is acknowledged as the 1st Gurkha Rifles' heritage. The British had planned to make Dharamshala the summer capital of India, but moved to Shimla after the disaster.

Not only did the Gurkhas of Dharmshala make a major contribution to India's defence but also many were freedom fighters for the Indian National Army, which had been founded by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The Indian National Army Captain Ram Singh Thakur, a Gurkha from the village of Khanyara, composed some of India's most popular and stirring patriotic songs, including "Kadam Kadam Badaye Ja". He is acknowledged so by the Netaji Research Bureau, Kolkata. The important contribution of the noted Gurkha social commentator, the late Master Mitrasen Thapa, from the village of Totarani, has also been acknowledged by the Himachal Pradesh government. Recently, a park dedicated to the memory of the late Brigadier Sher Jung Thapa, MVC, the 'Hero of Skardu', has been opened alongside the road between Lower and Upper Dharamshala.

"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions".
"The purpose of our lives is to be happy" - Dalai Lama