There's a Tourist Information Office (tel. 01892/22-1205 or -1232; Mon-Sat 10am-1:30pm and 2-5pm) in McLeod Ganj, but you'll be hard-pressed to squeeze anything worthwhile out of the lackluster staff; you'd do better to make inquiries at your hotel. CONTACT is a free monthly newsletter distributed in and around McLeod Ganj (www.contactmag.org). Although its primary aim is to promote Buddhist issues, it also carries up-to-date information and advertisements regarding cultural events and activities likely to be of interest to foreign visitors. If you are here for massage, meditation, alternative healing, yoga, or Tibetan cooking classes, this publication will point you in the right direction. Online sources of information include www.dharamsalanet.com, and the politically orientated www.tibet.org.
Audiences with HH The Dalai Lama & HH The Karmapa -- If your main reason for visiting Dharamsala is to attend a public teaching by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, you had better plan well ahead, first by checking out his schedule on www.tibet.com, and then by making the necessary arrangements through the Branch Security Office (Bhagsu Rd.; tel. 01892/22-1560) when you arrive; a private audience will require you to write to His Holiness many months before you get here, and, unless you're Richard Gere, you'll need to make a very strong case for meeting him (Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, P.O. Mcleod Ganj, Dharamsala 176 219, India; tel. 01892/22-1343 or -1879; fax 01892/22-1813; email@example.com). When attending one of his teachings, be sure to bring a cushion, an FM radio with headphones, a cup (for tea), sun protection, your passport (and a few extra passport photos, just in case), and as little else as possible (for security reasons). A public audience with His Holiness the Karmapa is easier to guarantee -- he usually gives a public lecture, and a blessing to all who attend, at 2:30pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays at his monastery in Sidhpur. You don't need to make an appointment, but can contact Lama Phuntsok (tel. 94-1829-4401 or 01892/23-6637) for details, or to arrange a private audience, for which you should call at least 5 days in advance.
Getting There & Around
It's possible to drive from Shimla or Chandigarh to Dharamsala, and there are two great overnight options along the way -- choose between Taragarh Palace, outside Palampur, or The Judge's Court, in Pragpur. The most pleasant way to get to the Kangra Valley directly from Delhi is by train (driving by car takes almost 12 hr.). The overnight Jammu Mail from Delhi allows you to rest up before hiring a car for the scenic 3-hour road trip from Panthankot to Dharamsala (80km/50 miles). Another option is to fly -- Kingfisher operates daily to Kangra Airport in Gaggal, 15km (9 1/3 miles) from Dharamsala. In Dharamsala, you will find it easy to get either a taxi or auto-rickshaw. (Auto-rickshaws are incredibly impractical for getting up to McLeod Ganj, however, because of the engine-killing gradient of the town.) Ways Tours & Travels (Temple Rd., McLeod Ganj; tel. 01892/22-1910 or -1988; www.waystours.com; firstname.lastname@example.org) hires out cars with drivers for local sightseeing, and the friendly Mr. Gupta can help with all your travel arrangements as well as organize individually packaged tours throughout the region. (You can also contact Ways in New Delhi, at House no. 45, New Tibetan Camp, Majnu-Ka-Tilla; call tel. 011/2381-3254 or 98-1128-9552.) A chauffeured round trip from McLeod Ganj to Pragpur or Palampur, with a guide, should cost around Rs 3,000. If you just want to hire a reliable taxi driver to take you just anywhere in Himachal (or on a tour of specific sights), call Jagmohan Attri (tel. 98-1639-4043); he operates out of Pragpur in the Kangra Valley and is not only great company, but full of unusual insights about the region and its people.
Trekking & Adventure Sports
If you love the outdoors, it would be unthinkable not to trek in the magnificent Dhauladhar Range, and there are some impressive hikes whether you have limited time or are prepared to spend a few days exploring. You could start by approaching the Mountaineering Institute (Dharamkot Rd.; tel. 01892/22-1787) for maps and information on the myriad trekking possibilities, or to join one of their outings. However, the best mountaineer in the region is John Hughes (tel. 98-0547-2037), who is probably the only person you should trust completely to take you into the mountains on more challenging treks and climbs. He won't allow you to go up if you're not properly prepared or don't have the right shoes, for example. If you're serious about getting into the mountains, contact him ahead of your visit.
Warning: Every year, a number of gung-ho, unprepared trekkers head off into the Dhauladhars and don't come back. Don't underestimate these mountains, and be aware that nightfall comes suddenly, along with potentially freezing conditions. Do not hike alone and always inform someone of your intended route. If you get injured in these mountains, there's little chance of being found, and the lammergeiers (vultures, aka "bone breakers") that nest here will finish you off without a trace.
Paragliding has become huge in the Kangra Valley, and the region's expert is Bruce Mills (tel. 98-0567-8478; email@example.com), a New Zealand-born flyer who will set you up with a tandem flight that will leave you breathless for all the right reasons. Bruce has been flying in Himachal Pradesh since 1989 and launches from Billing; he charges Rs 3,000 for a half-hour flight, which can be extended if the weather is right and you're particularly interested. Bruce can also fly-guide paraglider pilots who want to be shown around a bit before they head off on their own.
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.