In McLeod Ganj, the best place to stay is the Norbulingka Institute-run Chonor House, not least for its dining. If you have a yearning to live in a forest surrounded by nature's bounty, another good option is Glenmoor Cottages. For those who prefer a more secluded stay, head out to Dharamkot, a small borough just above McLeod Ganj with stupendous views of the Dhauladhar mountains and Kangra Valley. Hotel Dev Cottage (tel. 01892/22-1558; www.devcottage.com) has pleasant rooms with large windows, balconies, and lovely views, for Rs 2,200 double including tax. However, if you're here to get a sense of just how dreamy and miraculous this part of Himachal really is -- enjoying in equal measure the finest views of snow-tipped mountains, a valley spread far beneath your feet, and a warm, homey environment you won't easily find anywhere else in the state -- look no further than Eagles' Nest. Be warned that it's strictly for those of us who relish getting away from it all, so mall rats can skip it.
If the recommended places in McLeod Ganj and Dharamkot are full, the two best options in Dharamsala are White Haven Estate and Grace Hotel, a 200-year-old haveli converted into a heritage hotel. Although its approach isn't too inspiring (through the congested clutter of the main street into a narrow over-concretized lane), the views of the valley from the other side are splendid. The house is built in the traditional hill style, with narrow galleries, 200-year-old deodar tree pillars, alcoves, balconies and terraces, wooden latticed screens and doors, antique brass locks, and some beautiful pieces of furniture -- it may not be very polished or sophisticated but it certainly is atmospheric (558 Old Chari Rd., Kotwali Bazaar, Dharamsala; tel. 01892/22-3265; www.welcomheritagegracehotel.com; Rs 3,800 double).
Another option far from town but worth considering is Norling Guesthouse (at the Norbulingka Institute; tel. 01892/26-4606; email@example.com), which has eight charming, artist-decorated rooms (Rs 1,400 double, excluding tax) and a couple of very impressive suites (Rs 2,300 double), all with attached modern bathrooms. Vegetarian meals can be served in your room, or in the Institute's very pleasant Norling Café, and the manager organizes reliable Tibetan drivers and luxury vehicles.
Meditation in the Mountains -- Frazzled young executives from the plains looking to destress and recharge their batteries head for Dharamsala to attend meditation programs at Osho Nisarga (Shilla, PO Pantehar, Dharamsala 176 057; tel. 01892/27-5592, -5730, 94-1803-7370, or 94-1803-7373), a retreat offering a spiritual vacation aligned with the philosophies of the 20th-century guru Bagwan Rajneesh (aka Osho). The center is part ashram, part getaway, where you're encouraged to get in touch with yourself through a program of meditation (including dance meditation), group therapy, and discussion -- on top of that, you're fed healthy vegetarian meals made with organic ingredients. The retreat is superbly designed and works especially well in the context of the beautiful forested surroundings; spread over 2.5 hectares (6 acres), it's bordered by orchards, dense pine forest, and mountain streams. Best of all, you needn't forgo any of the comforts you traditionally expect on a vacation, and you'll leave feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and having experienced a moment of clarity that will hopefully stay with you the rest of your life -- or at least until you hit rush hour traffic again. The Zen-themed accommodations are in a choice of interesting buildings, from the Greek-styled three-story Matreiya House with its pyramidal bedroom, to a number of luxury cottages with smart marble bathrooms and an emphasis on tranquillity. If you're not staying at the center, you can only visit with prior appointment from 10am to 1pm and from 3 to 5pm. The organizers won't be thrilled to have you unless you show at least some interest in Osho's work -- at the very least, read some of his books before coming. While you're here you can attend daily dynamic meditation at 6:30am, kundalini and dance meditation, and evening meetings of the Osho White Robe Brotherhood; the center also hosts regular silent retreats and a variety of workshops and special events. Find out more through the website as you'll need to pick a program before asking about costs; www.oshonisarga.com. Note: This Osho retreat is not connected with the Osho Meditation Resort in Pune, but is a result of a split in the global Osho brand that happened after his death; folks here are a little less interested in attracting "beginners."
"The Dalai Lama Speaks Here & Richard Gere Slept There" -- One of the best people to speak to if you're eager to organize an audience with His Holiness is the spirited owner of Nick's Italian Kitchen, Tenzin. His father worked as security officer for the Dalai Lama from the age of 18, and Tenzin remains a proud and committed follower of the Dalai Lama. He also organizes occasional talks on Tibet and Buddhism at the restaurant, and is overflowing with personal theories about the local community and the diplomatic situation with the Chinese government. Staunch Richard Gere fans traveling on a limited budget can try to get the extremely popular Gere Suite at the seriously laid-back Kunga Guesthouse (tel. 98-1602-1180), above the restaurant; Gere was the first guest when it opened on January 24, 1996. Rooms here are basic, but have attached bathrooms, hot showers, and double beds for Rs 300; Rs 500 gets you one with a balcony, and Rs 600 gets you the Gere unit.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.