Dharamsala literally means 'a spiritual dwelling' and in loose translation as a shelter or rest house for pilgrims and travellers. Traditionally, such dharamshalas (pilgrims' rest houses) were commonly constructed near pilgrimage destinations (often in remote areas) to give visitors a place to sleep for the night. When the first permanent settlement was created in the place now called Dharamshala, there was one such pilgrims' rest house on the site, and the settlement took its name from that dharamshala.
Dharamsala, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama has settled in exile, is a marvelous Tibetan township where an entire cultural tradition is being nurtured. Dharamsala is one of the very famous buddhist pilgrimage sites in India and was established by the British in India between 1815 and 1847. Surrounded by deodar forests, this Buddhist pilgrimage place Dharamsala provides a panoramic view of the great granite Dhauladhar range in India.
After the arrival of the British, the area was developed into a cantonment. At one point, it was mooted to be the summer capital of India. But this was not to be, as much of the town was destroyed in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake of 4th April 1905. The disaster killed over 10,000 people in this sparsely populated area.
Though certainly more modern, life is basically Tibetan in character, with streams of Tibetan refugees and Buddhists people from all over the world flocking here to receive blessings and teachings from the Dalai Lama and to experience the rebirth of an ancient and fascinating civilization.
Dharmasala in the upper reaches of the Kangra valley at an altitude between 1250 meters and 2000 meters in Himachal Pradesh, is better known as the home in exile of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist religious head. The Dharamsala region, that became the home of the Tibetan government in exiles since 1960, has become a prolific Buddhist centre. Over the past four decades the Tibetan community in exile has established over 200 monasteries and nunneries with enrollments of over 20,000 monks and nuns.
While Indian Buddhism was on its decline in India, this region tried its best to survive and partly succeeded also. Today a home to several Buddhist temples and monasteries, Dharamsala is also known as a place of peace and harmony.