Located one km from McLeod Ganj is an ancient Hindu temple dedicated to Bhagsu Nag, the snake god, and to Lord Shiva. A freshwater spring, in which pilgrims to take a holy dip flows through the temple. A beautiful waterfall, well worth visiting, is located about a 20-minute walk from the temptle. The Bhagsu temple is located in the picturesque Bhagsu village, a Gaddi tribal village whose traditional livelihood was herding and farming. The village has become one of the main tourist centre in the area during the last few years, and many of the local people are now engaged in tourism. The village has a large number of restaurants and guesthouses.
Dharamkot and Bhagsu Nag, on the periphery of McLeod Ganj are the main villages inhabited by the Gaddi, a shepherd tribe and the original inhabitants of Dhauladhar. Both these villages house a multitude of small guest houses, and are good venture points for short and long hikes around Dharamsala and the Dhauladhar mountain range.
The town of Bhagsu, 2 km from Dharamsala, has been fully settled by young Israelis, fresh from military service, and hanging out large groups
The Israelis in Bhagsu come in such large numbers that there is no culture shock; everything is written in Hebrew, and India is transformed into a familiar land of nice hikes, cheap food/drink, and no parental supervision.
History of BhagsuNag
The ancient Shiva Temple of Bhagsunag stands two kms above Mcleodganj, Dharamshala. According to legend, 5000 years ago, Nagdevata, the snake God was drawn into a battle with a local King Bhagsu, who dared steal water from the sacred NagDal Lake. King Bhagsu was vanquished and forgiven by the Snake God and the site consecrated as BhagsuNag. Amongst all the devotees, the temple holds a special significance for the Gorkhali community.
Temple patronage had been the essence of Gorkha culture. The name Gorkha itself originated from Baba Gorakhnath, the 11th century AD Hindu Saint of the Nath Siddhi Order. In a letter dated Bikram Samvat 1866 (1809?) (Shri Paanch Sarkar, Archive division, National Museum, Kathmandu), the Gorkha Army Commanders Amar Singh Thapa, Ranjit Kumar and Jaspao Thapa received the royal seal of approval granting cultivable and waterside villages for temple rituals and maintenance in the Kangra District. They included one village in Balihar for Shri Jwalamukhi and another for the Shri Gorakhnath Gorkha Dibbi, village Kuned for Shri Brajeshwari, village Kaled for Shri Ambika, village Tyara for Shri Jayanti and village Noorala for Shri Anjani amongst others.
The 1814-15 Anglo-Gorkha wars concluded at the Fort of Malaun, Solan district, HP with the signing of the Treaty of Sugauli. From the remnants of the Gorkha army was raised the First and Second Nasiri and Sirmoor Battalions. Thus began the history of the British-Gurkha Regiments. The Nasiri battalions became the First Gorkha Rifles and the Sirmoor the 2nd Gorkha Rifles. On 21 March 1861, the First Gorkha Rifles moved to its new permanent home at Dharamshala Cantonment, Kangra Dist, HP. As the Gorkha pensioners and their families settled in the district, a new ‘paltan’ community was born. They called themselves Bhagsuwalas after Lord Bhagsunag, whom they adopted as their patron deity.
Bhagsunag Temple, and the Dal Lake nearby, were the anchors around which the Gorkhas settled feeling at home and integrating with their new country as peaceful, law-abiding citizens. With contributions from their salaries and labour, they built the two magnificent water tanks with the Nepali-style tiger-head water spouts. They also built a beautiful double-storied wooden community rest house or Sarai for pilgrims to congregate for religious and other social gatherings. This was never locked and opens to all. Also built was a smaller temple of Pashupatinath above the second water tank and a towering gate at the entrance.
In the 1940s, as the winds of India’s freedom struggle blew, the small community of Bhagsuwalas also made invaluable contributions. Celebrated writer, singer and poet, Late Mitrasen Thapa of Dal Totarani, quit his regiment and traveled around Punjab performing plays of the likes of the sacrifices of Raja Harishchandra and the bravery of ‘Veer Abhimanyu’ to stir the social conscience of people. His spirit moved the young Gorkhalis who organized groups to help poor students and other kinds of social service. Many also joined Netaji Subhash Chandra’s Azaad Hind Fauz. INA martyrs, Durga Mall and Dal Bahadur Thapa of the INA, were caught, tried and hung from the gallows at Tihar Jail. A bronze statue of Mall on a horse, holding aloft a khukri stands proud at the Parliament grounds in New Delhi today. Commendable musician, Bhagsuwala,Late Captain Ram Singh Thakur of Khanyara, wrote and composed some of India’s most stirring patriotic songs including ‘Kadam Kadam Badahe Ja’ and set Iqbal’s ‘Sare Jahan Se Acchha, Hindustan Hamaara’ to a memorable tune. On Netaji’s behest, Ram Singh composed the music score for Tagore’s ‘Jana Gana Mana’, which was transcribed in Germany to be played by a full military orchestra. Post independence, the Gorkha Regiments consisting of Gorkhas from India and Nepal made sterling contributions to India’s welfare.
Generation after generation of the First Gorkhas continue to live in HP, still maintaining their traditions and regular patronage of the Bhagsunath temple whose blessings they seek for every occasion. In 1959, after the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans moved to Mcleodganj in Upper Dharamshala, the locality developed as a busy tourist and Tibetan habitat. Maroon-robed monks enjoying a bath in the water tanks and an ever-increasing flow of global tourists became a frequent sight at the BhagsuNag temple and the nearby waterfall. Soon, the 2 kms ancient trek with natural water drinking sources, to the site became a motorable road. The pristine ambience of the beautiful, hilly slate quarries disappeared with the mushrooming of hotels, restaurants and shops engulfing the temple. The earlier Nepali priest disappeared and the temple shifted into the hands of Akharas. The Bhagsuwalas meanwhile continued with their religious visits.
In 2001, the Bhagsuwala Pritam Singh Thapa, noticed that the commerative photograph and inaugural plate of the 1939 First Gorkha Rifles at the Sarai were missing. Nothing shakes the peaceful Gorkha more than any tampering with his religion. The Bhagsuwalas moved into action. A copy of the original photograph was found with great difficulty after searching all the Gorkha homes. Finally the picture and a new marble plate were formally installed in a function with the honors done by the hands of the then DC Mr.Pramod Saxena.
This year, first week of May, 2006, the Bhagsuwalas who visited the temple Sarai to make arrangements for their annual function received a shock to find it padlocked and entry denied by a guard. It was then discovered that the temple had been nationalized. However, the function was held in May, attended by a young Lieutenant from the First Gorkha Regiment as per tradition. In August, 2006, the SDM quoted in a local vernacular, of plans of demolishing the old Sarai to make for rooms for rent. Delegations and letters from the Bhagsu Gorkhali Senior Citizens approached the concerned authorities, voicing their protest. A letter to the CMO has been referred to the Himachal Department of Language and Culture. Meanwhile last week, the DM has given assurance to a representative group of Bhagsuwalas that the government will not break the sixty-seven years old Sarai.
In 2007, the First Gorkha Rifles, under the initiative of Maj General PCS Khatti, Colonel of the Regiment took charge of the Bhagsunag temple as a Gorkha heritage. Last year and this year, all the battalions of the First Gorkha Rifles held an annual pooja at Bhagsunag temple along with the Gorkha residents. This is to be held every year from now onwards.
Bhagsu " a Hippy Paradise"
Bhagsu is like a picturesque taste of Indian village life combined with techno hippy mecca. The locals go about their daily business of tending vege gardens, goats and dairy cows to the drifting accompaniment of trance techno and muffled bass from one of the many Israeli hangouts. Most of the area is inaccesible to vehicles and everthing is connected by forest trails and steep, stone pathways leading up the hillside. But many of the old ‘authentic’ houses here share the landscape with recently built guesthouses catering for the increasing number of visitors. In fact, the local Indian families seem to make a tidy living from converting part of their homes and gardens into accomodation with homestyle hospitality for lone travellers such as myself, and a reluctant tolerance for the noisy tribes of young Israelis and backpackers getting their first taste of freedom.
Psuedo-hippy hangout, Bagsu is a place of learning, with a myriad of courses in the field of alternative medicines, self-development and healing. It is encouraging to see youth who are balancing their rebellious partying with the positve and life-affirming energies of Reiki, Ayurvedic Medicine, Chakra healings, massage, Tai Chi and many different styles of Yoga and meditation.
The Israelis come here for the lush scenery, cheap living.. The cafe scene is all floor cushions, tie-dye wall hangings and coloured lamps, tinged with the sweet aroma of natural atmosphere. The young jews lounge around in groups dressed in every colour of the rainbow, smoking, eating, playing music together and just chilling out. They describe their scene as Shanti, a Hindi word for peace, and their shanti is very warm and welcoming. It is easy to start friendships here, the Israeli youth love to talk about their experiences and perspective of world issues, politics, life, love and healing. Passionate, intense and deeply personal conversations are frequent and many are genuinely interested in learning
Bhagsu offers a shanti (peaceful) vibe that brings me to a relaxed state that makes it possible for everybody to reflect the lessons and growth.
About two kilometers from McLeod is a holy pilgrim site for Hindus. Bhagsu, as it is better known has an ancient Shiv temple. The main attraction for the tourist and the crowd puller here is not the temple but the public swimming pool. It is a treat for tourist making it to Dharamsala during the hot months. But if you are not a great fan of crowded places then stear clear of this swimming pool as it is always crowded. Of course except during the cold winters when the water is freezing. Further from the swimming pool is the stream which flows rather narrowly down below but then here also the main attraction is the waterfall which is about a kilometer from the swimming pool. If you have a lot of clothes to wash and you don't want to give it to the laundry man to save some bucks then this is the ideal place to do your own laundry and take a bath in the cool, clear water from the Dauladhar ranges.
Special Notes on Bhagsu
Hummus Curry “ Israeli Film”
Israelis in India that sometimes forget there are actually Indians living there. Hummus Curry offers an intimate look into the lives of the local Indians living in a small village packed with Israeli tourists. Up in the Himalayas is the village of Bhagsu, the rainiest place in all of India. During the hard winter the rain never stops & Bhagsu does not get a whiff of tourism.
It is called a Bhagsu Cake. A delicious treat that is well worth the walk uphill to the strange next town over of Bhagsu. The Bhagsu Cake. It begins with a cookie-layer, a layer of caramel and topped with chocolate.
Bhagsunag basic government school catering for around 50 students aged from 4 to 11 years, of which the great majority are 8-9 years old. English proficiency is low. With just two local Nepalese teachers, and three classrooms, different classes have to share the same classrooms. And because there are no tables or chairs, the children have to sit on the floor. This is clearly not an assignment for the faint-hearted, but it is ideal for an idealist!
Unlike most of the other schools HELP in the Indian Himalayas, this school runs all year, with a five-week holiday from mid-July and a two-week holiday from 25 December. However, because of the cold, the best times for volunteers are from April or May to October.
Photocopies pasted on walls are ubiquitous. Most are in English. A sampling, verbatim:
- Tibetan Healing Massage
- Tibetan Cooking Classes
- We serve Pure Organic Vegetarian Tibetan Food
- Learn Hindi with Sunil
- Learn Hindi. Contact KAILASH.
- Traditional & Modern Tibetan Cooking Class: Sangyo's Kitchen
- Tibetan Cooking: Lhamo’s Kitchen
- Learn Tibetan Astrology
- Palm Reading
- Learn Reiki
- "Reiki is a relaxation technique also a way of transferring healing energy. Reiki can bring great relief to physical mental emotional level. Reiki also develops spiritual level. It bring state of balance and harmony."
- "Recommended by Lonely Planet"
- "Recomended by Lonly Planet"
- Universal Yoga with Vijay; Ashtanga Yoga; Vinyasa
This village, twenty minutes' walk further up the hill from McLeod Gunj, is a favourite picnic spot with a panoramic view of the Kangra Valley. It is possible to rent houses from local Indians if you are planning a longish stay
Dharamkot looks like mini-Israel. Shalom in blue and white greets you at places. Blaring music and Hebrew fill the air. Gleaming 350cc mobikes manoeuvre their way in and out of the potholed roads. But what hits most is the strong smoked smell emanating from cafes.
3 kms. north from McLeodganj past the Mountaineering Institute you reach the settlement of Dharamkot. Set amidst tall pines and rhododendron forests, the site offers good views of the Dhauladhar range and has the Tushita Research Centre that runs courses in meditation. A fair and festival dedicated to Shiva is held at the small Dal Lake at a height of 1,837 metres. At Dharamkot is the Tibetan Children’s Village, which runs a school and training institute to about 2,000 students. Many of the children who stay here are orphans, while some have been left in safe custody by the parents who returned to Tibet.
Dharamkot, which is a really nice place to be. You cross dharamkot and reach at a height of 2130 mts. and find yourself in a ridge covered with high trees and hills. A small temple of Galu Devi stands there. This is the place, where vehicles stop, and a tough journey of Triund starts.
Dharamkot is just a mile or so up the mountain from McLeod Ganj. It’s a very rural village which didn’t even have roads. There were small houses scattered along the hillside connected by rocky paths. We spent went on a few hikes from there. One of which took us up to Triund where we had a tea inside a makeshift shelter. It was 3200m up there so I got very dizzy. The clouds covered the mountain so visibility was very low. You can see the tea tent in the photos bellow. It’s the blue shelter in thick fog. Really nice hike overall though.
There is even a rabbi with an office among the German bakeries and wood-oven pizza joints of Dharamkot
A small village in Kangra valley, which presents a beautiful view of the Kangra valley and Dauladhar ranges, also a starting point for a lot of treks. Many people from Isarel and Europe visit this small village; some are permanent (meaning 6 months and above) inhabitants too, they come here primarily for Vipassna and Yoga. Otherwise, you would hardly find an Indian other than the locals. Anyways, I wasn’t here to check out the scenic beauty of this place. I came in search of peace! I was here to attend my (first) 10 day course in Vipassana meditation.
Alfred Hallett: born 1914 in England, he exhibited twice at the Royal Academy, London (1937 and 1938) before migrating to British India in 1940 where he managed a cloth mill in Dhariwal, Punjab and from where he was able to buy the property on Dharamkot to pursue his love of painting full-time. Known primarily as a figure painter, his prolific
Pizzeria in Dharamkot serves the most heavenly wood fired oven pizzas. Try the Tuna Fish pizza and the stunning Banoffee pie! To reach Pizzeria, you can either walk uphill from the market chowk to Bhagsu or take an auto rickshaw, Pretty fields and villages greet you on the way.
The best weather in this part of Himachal Pradesh is from October/November, with warm sunny days and pleasant nights. It can be quite hot during the day (up to 25°C) at lower altitudes and at higher altitudes (over 10,000ft) the temperature can drop to -1°C at night. In late March/April there is the added attraction to many of rhododendron in bloom. The monsoon season starts from Mid June until the end of September.
Although the departures are timed to coincide with good weather, please bear in mind that in any mountain area the weather is never wholly predictable and that you should be prepared for any adverse conditions.
Altitude: maximum altitude 4,328m (optional); average 3,000m. Most of the paths on this trek are well maintained, being trade routes between the villages. At the top end of the valley there are only shepherds' paths to follow.