Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, chose Dharamsala as the capital-in-exile of the Tibetan people after fleeing Chinese oppression in 1959, and whether it's the endless spinning of Buddhist prayer wheels or simply the divine presence of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan enclave at Dharamsala draws seekers of spiritual enlightenment from all over the world.
Admittedly, a visit to Everyman's spiritual center of the universe seems like the ultimate New Age cliché, but the town and its environs have much more to recommend than the fervent chanting of Om mani padme hum ("Hail to the jewel in the lotus"). The natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and mist-soaked valleys compares favorably with that of any of Himachal's best-loved resort towns, and for those not single-mindedly wrapped up in a quest for spiritual fine-tuning with Buddhist lectures and meditation courses, this is an ideal base for walks and treks into the Dhauladhar range. It's also a good place to simply experience a toned-down India at a more leisurely pace.
The hillside town stretches along a spur of the Dhauladhar mountain range and is divided into two very distinct parts -- Lower Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj (often called Little Lhasa). Only the latter is worth considering as a place to stay and explore; here you will encounter brightly robed Buddhist monks with umbrellas and Doc Marten boots, traditionally attired Tibetan women reciting holy mantras, and spiritual tourists in search of enlightenment. A former British hill station rocked by an earthquake in the early 1900s, McLeod Ganj today harbors several institutes and organizations dedicated to raising funds for the Tibetan people and promoting and preserving Buddhist culture. Among these is the Government-in-Exile's administration complex, or Gangchen Kyishong, where you'll find the fascinating Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. North of Dharamsala are spectacular mountain-hugging drives to the remote towns of Dalhousie and Chamba, while farther south you can visit the charming heritage village of Pragpur and explore the tea-covered valleys around historical Taragarh Palace Hotel, not far from the town of Palampur.