History

Lying 526-km northwest of New Delhi, Dharamsala is the headquarters of the Kangra District in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Kangra valley is one of the most pleasant, relaxing and spiritual places in the Himalayas. Upper Dharamsala is particularly scenic, well wooded with oak, cedar, pine and other timber yielding trees and offers some lovely walks and marvelous himalayan views.

Dharamsala's earliest history is obscured by time and the successive invasions that swept through entire north India. However, it is known with surity that the original tribes identified with Kangra's hilly tracts were Dasas, a warrior people, later assimilated by Aryans.

In 1849 the British posted a regiment in Dharamsala, but the place was not to remain a military cantonment for long. By 1855 it was a small but flourishing hill station and the administrative headquarters of Kangra District, which had been annexed by the British in 1848. The two main areas at the time were McLeod Ganj, named after Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab, David McLeod, and Forsyth Ganj, named after a divisional commissioner.

Lord Elgin, the British Viceroy of India (1862-63) and a former Governor-General of Canada, fell in love with the natural beauty of Dharamsala because of its similarities with Scotland, his home in England. He loved the forests of Dharamsala so much that, before dying here in 1863, he asked to be buried in the graveyard of St. John's Church in the Wilderness, which stands in a cozy pine grove between McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj. A legend has it that Lord Elgin liked Dharamsala so much that he had sent a proposal to the British monarch to make Dharamsala the summer capital of India. However, the proposal was ignored. By 1904, Forsyth Ganj and McLeod Ganj had become nerve centres of trade , business and official work of Kangra District, But on April 4,1905, as a result of a severe earthquake, whole of the area was devastated. Alarmed at the massive destruction, the British government decided to shift the district headquarter offices to the lower reaches of spur. As a result, the present-day district courts and kotwali bazaar areas came into being which earlier had only a jail, a police station and cobbler's shop to boast of. Until India attained independence from Britain on Aug. 15,1947 McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj continued to serve as health resorts and resting places for the British Rulers. But all this changed when the government of India decided to grant political asylum to the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatsho, in 1959. In 1960, he was allowed to make McLeod Ganj his headquarters. Continuous inflow of Tibetan refugees since then has transformed the town into a miniature Tibet with buddhist temples, schools, crafts organisations, meditation centres, library and medical centre.

History of Dharamsala is incomplete without reference to the Katoch Dynasty, the oldest serving royal family in the world. Katoch dynasty finds mention in the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and also in the recorded history of Alexander the Great's war records. One of the Indian kings who in the time of Alexander ruled area near Kangra is said to be a Katoch king. From the earliest times until the British Raj, Dharamsala and its surrounding area was ruled by the Katoch Dynasty of Kangra. The Royal Family still keeps a residence in Dharamsala, known as 'Clouds End Villa'.

Rajanaka Bhumi Chand founded the Katoch Dynasty around 4300 BC. It was under a Katoch ruler (1786 AD-1805 AD) that Kangra witnessed a Golden age. The glorious period was observed under Maharaja Sansar Chandra (1765 AD-1823 AD). Sansar Chandra established law and order in the valley, and subdued the unruly hill chieftains. He encouraged art and crafts and construction of buildings, and is remembered as a patron of the arts, and the Kangra paintings. Kangra miniature painting flourished under him. Himself a great builder, Sansar Chandra constructed a palace at Alampur and laid a garden which rivalled the Shalimar garden at Lahore. The ruins of the garden are impressive even today and justify the appellation 'the city of gardens', by which Alampur is still known in the hills.

The Kangra Fort built by the 234th Katoch ruler, Raja Susarma Chandra, an ally of Kauravas in the Mahabarata war, was the seat of power of the Katoch Rajas. The fort is now declared as a National Monument and is protected by the Archeological Survey of India.