Home to the Dalai Lama and now a de-facto centre of Tibetan Buddhism, Dharamshala has a spiritual feel helped along by its peaceful setting below the green Dhauladhar mountains of northern India. It's a hub for hiking in the lush Kangra Valley and is also the gateway to nearby tea plantations. You can spend your days exploring the monasteries and temples or sipping chai at a hillside café in this cedar-fringed destination in India's Himachal Pradesh region.
Stick with the Tibetan theme and stay at a hostel in Dharamshala decorated in art inspired by the local culture. You can also choose places a little out of town among the trees near Bhagsunag Falls for easy access to hikes. Most hostels in Dharamshala have views of the mountains and one even includes a rooftop Indian restaurant serving spicy curries. Look out for accommodation with extras like yoga practice rooms, shared kitchens and cosy common areas.
Dharamshala is made up of two parts. Lower Dharamshala, or just Dharamshala, refers to Kotwali Bazaar and its surrounding markets. McLeod Ganj is the area most travellers are referring to when they talk of visiting the city. This hillside area is where the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile are based. The two areas are around a 30-minute drive from one another, linked by a steep and narrow road. McLeod Ganj is tiny and has one main street full of Tibetan-style cafés and bakeries, as well as bookshops and mountain equipment stores.
The Dalai Lama lives in the Tsuglagkhang Complex, along with about 200 fellow monks, making this the biggest Tibetan temple in the world outside Tibet. Inside, you can visit the Namgyal Monastery, with its colourful prayer wheels and flags. For some more historical sightseeing, head to Masroor to check out the 8th-century temples carved from rock. There's plenty of hiking in the area, from day walks to multi-week treks; a particular favourite is the trail to Kareri Lake, a tranquil spot with views of snow-topped peaks.
You can get to Dharamshala on an overnight air-conditioned bus from the Inter-State Bus Terminus in New Delhi, which takes about 12 hours. To reach Dharamshala from other large cities around India, catch the train to Pathankot (88km away) and then the bus to Dharamshala. Or fly to Kangra Airport, about 13km from Dharamshala, and take a taxi straight to McLeod Ganj once you land. Only taxis and small cars manage the drive up to McLeod Ganj from Lower Dharamshala.