7 Must-Visit Monasteries In Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh

monasteries in dharamsala
| 5 min read

Dharamshala belongs to the district of Kangra in Himachal Pradesh, India. The city lies 18 km (11 mi) away from Kangra City. It became famous when his holiness Dalai Lama, a Buddhist leader, chose this city as his abode when he was exiled. The city is divided into two — the lower division and the upper division, with a distance of 3 km (1.9 mi) apart. The upper division of the city, also called Mcleod Ganj, was specifically the place where Dalai Lama stayed. This city is known for the rich Tibetan culture influence, and as a place for meditation and peace. Here, you can find several Buddhist temples. Moreover, the sight of monks clothed in vibrant saffron robes are normal and refreshing to see. Most of the tourists who come here seek serenity and spirituality. Here’s a rundown of the must-visit monasteries in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh.

1. Tsuglagkhang Complex

Interior of Main Monks' Hall - Tsuglagkhang Complex - McLeod Ganj - Himachal Pradesh - India
Source: Photo by Flickr user Adam Jones used under CC BY 2.0

The official home of Dalai Lama the 14th called the Photang was located inside this complex. It also houses the Tibet museum, where the Tibetan culture and traditions are showcased through arts, crafts, and history. Another attraction is the bronze statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, which is three meters (10 feet) high. Its beauty is shown best when the rays of the sun fall on it and the shimmer of light spreads across the complex. People also come here to witness the debate of monks about righteousness, spiritually, and wisdom practiced at a building called Mangyal Gompa. Most importantly, pilgrims visit the complex to experience the Kora, a sacred practice of the Buddhists to pray to the Almighty in a clockwise direction. Non-Buddhists are also welcome to indulge in this custom.

When visiting the complex, be sure to wear comfortable shoes because the journey towards the sacred place is uphill. Also, it’s important to know the rules and follow them while inside the complex, such as removing of the shoes before entering the temples and not using your phones especially during a sermon.

Tsuglagkhang Complex

Address: Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh 176219, India

Opening hours: 5am - 8pm (daily)

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2. Namgyal Monastery

Statue of the Buddha in Namgyal Monastery
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Bernard Gagnon used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Established in 16th century by the second Dalai Lama, Namgyal Monastery is where you can learn about the rich Tibetan culture and Buddhism. Those who want to be enrolled in this learning center need to undergo series of training sessions. Being accepted here is not easy as the aspirants will be tested in terms of their behavior, spirituality, and several other parameters. Pilgrims and tourists are welcome here, in limited numbers, for an opportunity to visit several historical Buddhist sites and to hear the Namgyol monks teachings. Before coming here, check for upcoming events and availability of dates.

Namgyal Monastery

Address: McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh 176219, India

Website: Namgyal Monastery

Opening hours: 5am - 8:30pm (daily)

Price: Free

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3. Gyuto Monastery

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Gerd Eichmann used under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Gyuto Monastery is a learning institution focusing on Tibetan tantric wisdom. What makes this monastery magical is its vibrant yellow buildings with a backdrop of the majestic Himalayas, located just behind the monastery. Inside, you can find several temples and small cafes that serve authentic Tibetan cuisine and tea. Another fascinating sight to watch is how the monks practice their faith through praying and chanting. So, if you want to witness this custom, you have to visit at the earliest time possible, which is at 5am. Many tourists claim that upon hearing the chants, having high but calming vibrations, they feel like they are levitating. The temples surrounding the monastery have beautiful and unique architecture, which are made more beautiful with several rows of Buddha statue. The monks here are very welcoming, and visitors will surely be at ease roaming around and experiencing the peace and beauty of the place.

Gyuto Monastery

Address: Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh 176053, India

Website: Gyuto Monastery

Opening hours: 5am - 6pm (daily)

Price: Free

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4. Norbulingka Institute

Deden Tsuglakhang 01
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Bernard Gagnon used under CC BY-SA 4.0

If you want to learn about the Tibetan heritage, art, culture and literature, then this institute is a must-visit. Here, you’ll see items made by the students enrolled in the institute, such as clothing and garments, home furnishings, and art objects. In addition to the arts and crafts, the institute boasts of a two-storey building called the ‘Seat of Happiness Temple’ or Deden Tsuglakhang. It sits in the beautiful Norbulingka Japanese-inspired garden. This temple is very special because 1,173 murals of Buddha are painted and engraved here. It also has frescoes and drawings of all the Dalai Lamas ever lived. The institute offers free guided tours from Monday to Saturday. Guests can have short-term workshops, where they will be taught skills such as paper-making, woodcarving, applique and tailoring, Thangka painting, metal craft, and many more.

Norbulingka Institute

Address: Palampur - Dharamshala Rd, Sidhpur, Himachal Pradesh 176057, India

Website: Norbulingka Institute

Opening hours: 9am - 5:30pm (daily)

Price: 0.70 USD (50 INR)

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5. Tsechokling Gompa

Dharamsala-Tse Chok Ling-10-gje
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Gerd Eichmann used under CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the most frequented by tourists in McLeod Ganj is the Tsechokling Gompa. This gompa (religious building) was built as a replacement of the original gompa built in Tibet, namely Dip Tse Chokling, that was knocked down during the cultural revolution in the region. This gompa is famous for having very fine Mandalas. But what makes it more majestic is the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha (the founder of Buddhism) wearing a headdress full of jewelry. The gompa is situated on a hillside amidst greenery, so be ready for a good hike. The temples and private rooms surely give a sense of inner calm to every guest. Monks residing here allow visitors to take a peek at their prayer rooms. One of the highlights when visiting the place is witnessing how monks debate in the courtyard. And if you are lucky, you may meet his holiness Dalai Lama, as he often visits the temple.

Tsechokling Gompa

Address: Camel Track Road, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India

Price: Free

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6. Nechung Monastery

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Antoine Taveneaux used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Nechung Monastery played an integral role in the history and culture of Tibet. Centuries ago, this monastery served as the seat of Nechung. Nechung is known as the “State Oracle of Tibet”. In Tibetan culture, oracles play the role of revealing prophecies, doctrines, and revelations. They were also known as protectors and healers. They have become such a huge part in Buddhism that some major decisions made even by the Dalai Lamas need to be consulted with them. The original temple was established in Lhasa, Tibet, and was re-established in the city of Dharamsala. Nechung monks are known to uphold the sacred art tradition of the Tibettan Buddhist culture. Some of the activities monks do at the monastery include applique and embroidery. At present, the monastery houses 70 monks and are headed by two monks, Nechung Choktrul Rinpoche and Nechung Kuten.

Nechung Monastery

Address: Camel Track Road, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India

Opening hours: 7am - 6pm (daily)

Price: Free

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7. Dip Tse Chok Ling Monastery

Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing

The Dip Tse Chok Ling Monastery once stood strong in Tibet until the Chinese Red Army invaded and ravaged the place. In order to provide shelter to the remaining monks, the monastery was reconstructed in Dharamshala in the year 1992. Several temples and statues can be marveled in this monastery and you’ll also be mesmerized with the beautiful view of nature. One of the most famous temples here is the Arya Tara temple, which is the private abode of His holiness Dalai Lama. As with most monasteries, visitors are expected to observe silence especially when monks are meditating.

Dip Tse Chok Ling Monastery

Address: Camel Track Road, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India

Opening hours: 6am - 5pm (daily)

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Experience serenity at a monastery

Dharamshala, India, is indeed a sacred home to Buddhist monks and followers of the religion. Its rich history traces back to the struggles of several Buddhists, who were displaced due to cultural revolution, but were very resilient to rebuild their heritage, culture, and traditions in a new place that they now call home. The temples, mandalas, arts and crafts, and the flashy robes worn by the monks are, indeed, great sites to witness, but more than these, the sense of peace and serenity the whole city exudes is what makes it so special. Truly, this city is worth visiting!

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Charmaine is a Filipino food and travel blogger who is in constant search for new adventures and experiences. Travelling around the world has given her a wider perspective about life and a deeper...Read more

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