by Laura Lynch
Dharamsala is a backpacker’s haven situated on the foothills of the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas in the state of Himachal Pradesh, northern India. The word Dharamsala translates as the resting place for pilgrims and travellers. It is no wonder visitors end up spending more time here than planned while on their travels around India. This picturesque town is the home to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in-exile. Due to this, there is a strong Buddhist influence in the area and many Tibetans have found a welcoming home here. Dharamsala is now nicknamed little Lhasa or Dhasa, which is a combination of Dharamsala and Lhasa – the capital of Tibet. The main tourist areas include Mcleod Ganj, Bhagsu Nag and Dharamkot, which are all situated in the hills above Dharamsala.
The peak season here is mid-February to mid-July because of the mild sunny days and comfortable nights. Monsoon is also a popular time for tourists to come to Dharamsala, as it is a great escape from the very hot and humid environment in the south of India. The monsoon season starts from mid-July to September. Another popular season to visit Dharamsala is during the autumn season – September to November – that shows pleasant sunny weather and cool nights. However, it does get very cold in December and January, but it is beautiful to see the mountains blanketed with snow.
Himachal Pradesh was previously known as a summer destination. However, now the Department of Tourism & Civil Aviation has made efforts to break the seasonal factor and it is now known as “A Destination for All Seasons and All Reasons”, according to the Department. Having experienced all seasons in Dharamsala I can agree with this statement as every season has its charm.
Mcleod Ganj, Bhagsu and Dharamkot was once a hustle and bustle of tourists, musical mantras playing on every corner, and the whiff of dhoop as you walk past each shop. The options were endless for things to do, learn and explore new ways of seeing life. At night there were events like live music, open mic nights and ecstatic dances, to name a few.
A Destination for All Seasons and All Reasons
The global pandemic of COVID-19 hit Dharamsala hard, as locals rely so heavily on seasonal income due to the influx of tourists during peak season time. Comparing May 2019 to May 2020, this magical town had lost its spark. The lack of tourists and income during lockdown has left many locals struggling to get by.
The situation has forced some Yoga schools to close until next year, as there are few tourists here to attend classes or courses. Some schools have had bookings for next year so the hope is that tourism will return somewhat to normality come March next year. However, as for the rest of 2020, I think many have come to terms with the fact that tourists will not arrive as they would hope until next season.
Some tourists who got stuck here for lockdown are slowly, one-by-one, travelling home on repatriation flights organised by their governments to get citizens back to their own countries safely. During lockdown there was a small community of international and Indian tourists here, but now many of them have taken flights home to be with their families and friends. Most of the new tourists arriving in the area have come from Rishikesh or Manali, after obtaining their e-pass online and a negative COVID test. This movement has its risks but it is a needed boost for small local businesses.
There are mixed reviews on the state of different Yoga schools around the area. Some have closed their doors completely and are waiting until tourists return. Others are working with students whenever they have the opportunity, implementing social distancing, hand sanitizing and bringing their own mats to class in accordance with recommended guidelines.
Here’s some information on some yoga schools around Dharamsala:
Ram Yoga House, Mcleod Ganj
Will run classes according to interest, provided students have been here for at least 2 or 3 weeks. They hope to start running courses from September.
Alpesh Yoga India, Bhagsu Nag
No physical classes being held in Bhagsu Nag. However, Alpesh is offering 200hr online Yoga Teacher Training and also online drop-in yoga classes at 8.30-10am Indian Standard Time.
See Alpesh Yoga India on Yoga.in
Shree Hari Yoga, Bhagsu Nag
Shree Hari is running all daily drop-in classes and all courses are available depending on number of students. Courses available can be seen on their website. 3-5 students are needed to run a course and a maximum of 15-20 students will be allowed.
See Shree Hari Yoga on Yoga.in
Bhagsu Yoga Institute, Bhagsu Nag
Open for daily drop-in classes. Courses are also available on request.
Himalayan Yoga & Reiki Centre, Dharamkot
Closed for now. Will reopen once international flights resume and tourists arrive and show interest. See Himalayan Yoga & Reiki Centre’s Facebook page.
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre, Dharamkot
Not opening fully but will start to run a short 3 day course soon and see what interest is shown. The Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre is one of the oldest yoga schools in the area. Normally they would have around 35 students or more. If this is the case next year the students will be divided into smaller groups. Since lockdown, the centre has been closed as it relies mostly on international tourists and few Indian tourists. A bit more interest has been shown for courses next year with bookings for March teacher trainings.
See Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre on Yoga.in
Now most shops, restaurants, hotels, gyms and yoga schools are slowly opening their doors. However, some have been unable to reopen. As per the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW) guidelines, gymnasiums and yoga schools were able to officially open their doors again on August 5th with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued for ensuring social distancing to contain the spread of COVID-19. The importance of exercise and yoga on a person’s physical and mental health is now rightfully emphasized, especially during the isolation of lockdown. Life is slowly returning to the town and it is great to see more classes, events and workshops being held. Although there are still few people around, the feeling of buzz is slowly returning and I hope to see McLeod Ganj, Bhagsu and Dharamkot back in the near future to the lively and welcoming atmosphere they are so well known for.
Laura is from Dublin, Ireland but currently living in Dharamsala, north India. She obtained her BSc degree in Nutritional Science and then went to study her 200hr Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh and Ayurvedic Therapist Training in Bhagsu, Dharamsala. She hopes to set up online Ayurvedic Workshops and one-to-one consultations.
Find more information about Yoga centers in Dharamsala on Yoga.in