Standing on the crest of a hill overlooking McLeodganj, the tiny Himachali village of Dharamkot is to travellers and backpackers today what McLeodganj was some years ago – a tranquil haven offering a welcome respite from the bustle of more touristy towns. You visit Dharamkot for the views and stay for the vibe. I stayed in Dharamkot for two weeks in October, and by the end of the trip, I was wishing I could stay there forever.
Well, I couldn’t stay forever but I hope to go back again someday. Till then, here is all the information I have put together about Dharamkot – how to reach, where to stay, and things to do in Dharamkot – to help you plan an equally wonderful trip! Also, heads-up for those looking for a work-from-mountains getaway in Himachal – this is an ideal mix of everything you need for a workation: decent internet, several good places to stay and eat at, and a whole lot of cool things to do in the vicinity!
Who should visit Dharamkot?
This is an important question because you have to be a certain kind of traveller to truly appreciate this place. If your idea of a holiday is luxury accommodation, lots of sightseeing, nightlife, and fancy restaurants, then you might want to go elsewhere. But if you want a holiday in a calm and quiet place, surrounded by nature, where you can go for long hikes and laze in cafes with some great music, then Dharamkot is the holiday destination for you.
How to reach Dharamkot
Dharamkot lies in the hills above McLeodganj in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district, and you can choose from a wide variety of ways to get here, depending on your budget and the time you want to spend travelling.
Getting to Dharamkot by flight
If you wish to travel to Dharamkot by flight, the closest airport is Gaggal airport in Kangra (also known as Dharamshala airport). Direct flights from Delhi to Dharamshala are operated daily by SpiceJet and Air India. The distance from Kangra airport to Dharamkot is about 20km, which would be a drive of just over one hour on the hilly roads, passing through McLeodganj town. Currently, Delhi is the only airport with flight connectivity to Kangra airport so if you are flying in from anywhere else, you’ll need to connect in Delhi.
If you are travelling to Dharamkot from somewhere other than Delhi, you could also fly into Chandigarh or Amritsar airports (they have better connectivity with cities across India) and take a taxi or bus to Dharamkot. From Amritsar airport to Dharamkot the distance is about 215 km so it should take you 5-6 hours by cab; driving up from Chandigarh airport would take a little longer (250 km, 6-7 hours).
Getting to Dharamkot by road
If you enjoy long drives in the hills, you might prefer reaching Dharamkot by road. You can do this either by bus (cheaper if you are a solo traveller) or by taxi (the best option if you are travelling with friends or family).
Here are some distances and approximate driving times to Dharamkot, should you want to travel to Dharamkot by car:
- Delhi to Dharamkot: 500 km, 11-12 hours
- Amritsar to Dharamkot: 215 km, 5-6 hours
- Chandigarh to Dharamkot: 250 km, 6-7 hours
- Dalhousie to Dharamkot: 120 km, approx. 4 hours
If you prefer to reach Dharamkot by bus, you can choose from several Volvo as well as non-Volvo buses running between Dharamshala and cities like Delhi, Chandigarh, Shimla and more. Do note that the bus station is in McLeodganj, and from here you’ll need to take a taxi or auto-rickshaw up to Dharamkot.
Getting to Dharamkot by train
The closest railway station for a trip to Dharamkot is Pathankot, 90 km away. This is a major railway junction and has a number of trains arriving here at various times throughout the day. From Pathankot, you can get a bus to Dharamshala or McLeodganj and then a taxi up to Dharamkot, or the more convenient option of a taxi straight till Dharamkot.
Where to stay in Dharamkot
Dharamkot has a variety of budget hotels, hostels, homestays and AirBnB’s that you can choose from for your stay. Costs are typically lower than those in McLeodganj. If you are a solo traveller, you might consider going in for a hostel where you can also mingle with fellow travellers when you feel like some company. From the location pov I can recommend a few like Zostel, Bunker, Young Monk and Alt Life hostels. There are also some budget hotels in lower Dharamkot that families might prefer. I’ll write a separate and more detailed post about stay and food options in Dharamkot soon.
Where to eat in Dharamkot
Since this village started out as a backpacker hangout for young international travellers, you will see a variety of international cuisines on offer in Dharamkot. Whether you feel like exploring Tibetan, Italian, Israeli, or Japanese cuisine or just digging into some good old pizza, there’s a place for it here. Fans of Indian food needn’t worry, as lately, Dharamkot has also acquired some amazing Indian food joints. Restaurants and cafes in Dharamkot are well-equipped to cater to specific dietary requirements such as vegan, gluten-free, etc. See my note on cafe-hopping below for recommendations of cafes and restaurants. More in my subsequent foodie post!
Things to do in Dharamkot
The best way to discover Dharamkot is to arrive here without a very strictly mapped out itinerary, and then let your mood and feet take you along. However, I can give you some recommendations for places to see and things to do in Dharamkot. Here are just ten suggestions for your Dharamkot trip:
Trek to Triund
Most people who visit Dharamkot have already read or heard about Triund, such is the popularity of this trek. Triund is supposed to be an ideal trek for beginners – I haven’t done it so I can’t give you first-hand advice on it, but everybody I spoke to who’d done the Triund trek has loved it. The best way to do it is to get your hotel or a local agency (lots of them in the market) to organize it for you, including the overnight stay at Triund. Do not go it alone, especially if you are a solo traveller.
Take long walks
There is scenic beauty everywhere you turn in Dharamkot, and the best way to see it for yourself is to just set off on a long walk every day. Early mornings and evenings are particularly enchanting. The entire place is a hiking ground, given the steep ascents and descents in the lone paved road! Even if you aren’t the trekking type (I wasn’t) there are sufficiently easy walks and hikes aplenty in Dharamkot, with amazing views.
There is no dearth of great cafes in Dharamkot where travellers can relax over a lovely meal or cup of coffee, read, people-watch and even make friends. My favourites were Salvation Café, The Birdhouse Cakery, Khanabadosh, and Morgan’s in the Hills. I can also recommend Bodhi Greens, Young Monk Café and Trek n Dine. Further below in McLeodganj and Dharamshala there are even more joints you can try out, such as Lung-Ta, Shangri-la, Moonpeak and Kalimpong. I wish I could mention Café Illiterati too but sadly, they had announced their closure in October.
Gallu (pronounced like “Palloo” but with a G) is a small village settlement with a few tea shops and some guest houses, perched high above Dharamkot. It’s a favourite hiking destination for all visitors to the town, and it also falls on the way to Triund (it’s where the Triund check-post is located). There is a small temple here dedicated to Gallu Devi, and a hike of about two hours from there will take you to what is often called the “secret waterfall” (though it’s no longer much of a secret). I will write a separate post about the hike to Gallu waterfall later. The views from Gallu are spectacular.
The village of Bhagsu lies below Dharamkot and can be visited on foot or by bike by taking the old road down from Dharamkot to Bhagsu. Bhagsu, just like Dharamkot, also has two distinct parts – upper Bhagsu is all hipster yoga/meditation centres and massage studios and cafes, whereas lower Bhagsu is a more mainstream tourist town. In lower Bhagsu you will find the ancient Bhagsu Nag temple, and a little beyond that, the famous Bhagsu falls.
Hike to Naddi
The long walk to Naddi from Upper Dharamkot was among the top-three favourite memories of the trip for me. The hike is just over 4km one way and takes you through some beautiful landscapes including a Tibetan temple surrounded by thousands and thousands of prayer flags. This hike was one of those “the journey is the destination” moments. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the cricket stadium and beyond. I highly recommend adding a Naddi visit to your Dharamkot itinerary. You can also just hire a taxi and drive over if you don’t feel like hiking.
Make a day trip to Dharamshala and McLeodganj
While I was in Dharamkot, I often walked down to McLeodganj to indulge in a little café hopping and shopping. Unfortunately, the Dalai Lama temple which is the focal centre of this part of town has been closed to the public since Covid hit, but there are other places in McLeodganj that you can visit from Dharamkot. The Church of St. John’s in the Wilderness, a short walk from the town square of McLeodganj, is worth a visit. Dal Lake and the nearby Sunset Point at Naddi are other places where most tourists enjoy spending time.
You can also hire a cab and go down to Dharamshala to visit places further away such as the Norbulingka Institute, the War Memorial, the Cricket Stadium etc. If you have more time, you can even plan excursions to further off spots such as the Kangra Fort and Pong Dam.
The ideal destination for anybody wishing to go paragliding in India is, of course, Bir Billing. I highly recommend visiting this place for a thrilling round of tandem paragliding. Bir is just a 2.5-hour drive from Dharamkot via Palampur. I loved paragliding in Bir – that will make for a separate post of its own though.
However, in case you are stretched for time and can’t make it to Bir this time, you can also go paragliding right here in McLeodganj. Speak to your hotel or any of the local travel agencies in McLeodganj and ask for help with paragliding in Indrunag.
Sign up for a pottery class
There’s something quite meditative about working with your hands to create something, especially when you’re doing so in picturesque surroundings. If you have always wanted to try your hand at pottery, you can do it while in Dharamkot. The most famous pottery studio here is, of course, Dharamkot Studio (yes, the one where Kareena Kapoor and Taimur were snapped). They offer short classes as well as longer courses to suit all kinds of preferences.
Learn Yoga or meditation
I don’t know if it is the peaceful environment, the beauty all around you, or just the presence of a lot of monks and spiritually inclined people, but being in Dharamkot can make you want to take up a yoga or meditation class if you aren’t into this already. You will have many different options to choose from, in both Dharamkot and Bhagsu, ranging from private or small-batch classes with a tutor to the larger and more famous schools like the Tushita Meditation Center and the Iyengar Yoga Centre. If you wish to explore deeper, silent retreats are also conducted at the Himachal Vipassana Centre here. Many of these institutes were closed due to Covid when I visited, so check before you plan a visit.
How many days do you need for Dharamkot?
This is a question that has no right answers! I stayed in Dharamkot for 2 weeks and still wished I’d had more time there. I met people who had been there for months and were happy to continue there as long as they could. However, if you don’t have the luxury of limitless vacation time, I recommend at least three to five days here. Any less, and you won’t even scratch the surface.
Getting around Dharamkot
Walking is a great way to explore Dharamkot, but you might find the steep uphill stretches challenging – I know I did, especially after a good meal! You do have the option of hiring two-wheelers (just ask your accommodation provider, they’ll get you in touch with one of the vendors), and for longer trips, there are plenty of local cabs with drivers who know their way around these hills roads astonishingly well.
Here are the phone numbers of a couple of local drivers I travelled with, in Dharamkot:
When to visit Dharamkot
Being a high-altitude village, Dharamkot has pleasant weather during the summers and very cold winters. I would say that the months of March to June and then September to November are ideal for a trip to Dharamkot. You might wish to avoid the peak monsoon months of July-August and the extreme cold of December and January – but hey, you do you!
Suitability for female solo travellers
I visited Dharamkot as a solo female traveller, and I felt safe at all times. The people here are super nice and will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. My Airbnb host was so caring and friendly that I never felt alone, and I also made friends with other solo travellers. So go ahead and plan that solo trip!
I hope you will find these ideas on Dharamkot travel useful and will enjoy your stay in this beautiful location just as much as I did. As you can see, there is no dearth of things to do in Dharamkot, but remember to keep some time free to just relax and be with yourself here.
Watch this space for more posts on Himachal travel – coming soon!
If you like quiet sleepy towns for short getaways, you might enjoy Orchha
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