A Trek in Dharamsala

A Trek in Dharamsala

“Shall we proceed?” our trail guide suggested following a brief pause for water at an altitude of roughly 3,000 meters above sea level. We trailed behind him, anchoring our hiking poles into the earthy trail ahead while he picked up the pace. We were in the midst of a four-day trek organised by a Dharamsala-based outfitter, en route to a mountain pass within the Dhauladhar range of the Indian Himalayas. It had been quite some time since my last backpacking adventure. I felt uninspired, merely going through the motions, and often found myself short on patience with my husband and children. Maybe the Himalayas held the key to my healing.


We had arrived in Dharamsala three days prior, arriving at dawn via an overnight bus from Chandigarh. Tucked away in the lush hills of the Kangra Valley, the city serves as the winter capital of Himachal Pradesh and hosts the Tibetan government-in-exile since 1960. Our accommodation was in McLeod Ganj, a hillside enclave with narrow streets, fondly dubbed Little Lhasa due to its large Tibetan community. Among its notable residents is the 14th Dalai Lama, residing in the humble Buddhist temple complex of Thekchen Choeling.

During our explorations, I discovered that the number of Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala has dwindled over the years, with many seeking opportunities abroad. While most Tibetans we encountered were reserved, a shopkeeper who fled to McLeod Ganj in the 1980s confided his concerns about the future, intending to relocate to the United States to be with his son once the Dalai Lama, now 88, passed away.

Tibet Museum emblem

Contrary to guidebook descriptions, I found McLeod Ganj to be less touristy than expected, despite shops selling BTS merchandise and Korean snacks alongside Tibetan souvenirs. The Tibet Museum proved a worthwhile visit. However, after two days, we were eager to venture into the mountains. By the time we reached camp on the second night, the impact of our unintentional digital detox was more pronounced than the absence of hot showers. Cellular service was scarce, and conserving mobile battery became imperative.

Bhagsu Nag Temple

The first day’s hike was manageable—a three-hour journey on a crisp June morning, passing by crowds at Bhagsu Nag Temple and its nearby waterfall. Traveling light, we left our backpacks at the hotel in McLeod Ganj, reaching the picturesque campsite at Lower Triund by midday. It was serene until groups of energetic young Indians arrived to pitch their tents.

On the second day, we left the camping crowds behind, encountering herds of sheep and goats instead. As we ascended past the scenic Triund summit towards the snow line, the climb seemed endless. Yet, it was too early to feel apprehensive; I focused on each step and breath, undeterred by my slower pace.


By the time we reached our campsite at 3,200 meters, the imposing snow-capped peaks of the Dhauladhar range loomed before us, occasionally veiled by mist. Apart from a few fellow foreigners, we had the mountain to ourselves. Over a simple dinner of dal chawal and achar pickles, our guide and our porter shared insights. The Gaddis, a semi-nomadic group, have herded livestock in the Himalayas for centuries. However, mountain tourism is reshaping their way of life, with many young men like him now working as trekking guides or running mountain cafes. Early on, he warned us that the third day would be the most challenging, with steep inclines nearing 80 degrees in the final stretch. Stripped of distractions, I battled a rising anxiety about the impending difficulties.

Laka Glacier

We set out at dawn the next morning, donning microspikes and fluorescent gaiters upon reaching the Laka Glacier. Linked together by a safety rope, we trudged through the snow, struggling for breath and pressured to maintain pace in the rope team. Progress slowed on the steep, icy slopes, with occasional slips despite our efforts.

By 10 a.m., after over five hours of climbing, we found ourselves just 300 meters from the Indrahar Pass when we reluctantly decided to abandon our summit attempt. Our guide cautioned that reaching the 4,342-meter pass after noon risked peril from melting alpine snow. Though disappointed, it was a prudent choice. The descent pushed us to our limits, navigating rappels, slides, and downhill runs while avoiding hidden crevasses. I had never been more grateful to stand on level ground.

A view of the Dhauladhar range

Despite the setback, there was satisfaction in surpassing our expectations as novice snow climbers, learning on the go—an accomplishment I hadn’t anticipated at the start of the year. It seemed that mountain climbing, despite my usual aversion to uphill treks, provided the meditative clarity I needed. By focusing on the present, I found solace in navigating challenges on my terms, one step at a time.

Share This

About the author

Thomas has a university background in the UK and in Latin America, with studies in Languages and Humanities, Culture, Literature and Economics. He started his Asian experience as a publisher in Krabi in 2005. Thomas has been editing local newspapers and magazines in England, Spain and Thailand for more than fifteen years. He is currently working on several projects in Thailand and abroad. Apart from Thailand, Thomas has lived in Italy, England, Venezuela, Cuba, Spain and Bali. He spends most of his time in Asia. During the years Thomas has developed a great understanding of several Asian cultures and people. He is also working freelance, writing short travel stories and articles for travel magazines. Follow Thomas on www.asianitinerary.com

View all articles by Thomas Gennaro