I first visited Dharamshala in 2012 for a two week break and that experience germinated a seed within which made me think of moving there for a longer duration. I never visited the place with an intention of moving and the idea was to take a break and come back to Bangalore where I was working. But a certain quest made me come again for a month and within a year, my heart had convinced the mind to move to the Himalayas. It sounds glamorous and in hindsight it may be is but there was never a conscious thought of ‘moving’. Plans have a tendency to have plans of their own.
Anyways, it’s been eight years and I’ve lived for five years in the Sidhbari region (lower Dharamshala) and Bir has been a base from 2018. And ofcourse, the pandemic made moving to the mountains and beaches a choice for many more people and there has been a flurry of Indians considering this option. When things come to Dharamshala and around, I get this question a lot and hence, this blog. I’ll do an FAQ to keep things simple.
- Can I buy land in Himachal?
Legally, no. There are ways and ways but the complexity of the situation is enormous. If you want to move, don’t make this your first step. Rent a place atleast for an year and then take a call on what you want to do.
2. What are my options? Renting/leasing?
Rent and lease are almost the same. I am speaking from my experience in the Kangra Valley which is a hotspot for people wanting to move currently. I’m sure things are pretty much similar all across Himachal (and probably Uttarakhand as well).
Rental is looked at as month to month and lease is basically a long term rental. There are no brokers here, maybe Dharamshala has a handful now. If you are looking rent a place, you basically come in contact with someone who has already moved or book a small guest house for a week and then ask around. Ask chai thelas, cab drivers, random houses, just ask for any leads to houses on rent. Have a budget of 10k/month (higher side) for the first couple of months for a reasonable 1bhk. Bare in mind that the construction sensibilities for modern concrete houses is still evolving, small villages will have brightly painted walls, grilled windows and all that jazz. This price used to be 3-4k not too long ago but things have changed in the last 3-4 years.
Once you get yourself a place for 3-6 months and know a little bit of the local scene, there are different deals you can strike for a longer term. In Bir, we signed up for a house for 3 years (it was getting constructed which meant we could give our input in terms of paints, windows, plug points, etc.). Now, we gave the entire rent in advance for a 3bhk via which the price came down from 16k/month to 12k/month and it enabled the owners to complete the house construction since they had run out of money to invest further. There is a small agreement which you can do to serve as an address proof (this stamp paper doesn’t have real legal value but it’s just a word of honour). This can be done on a stamp paper usually outside the local court (kachehri). For Bir, one has to go to Baijnath and for Sidhbari, one had to go to the court in Dharamshala.
The other option can be once you know some local people and they might have land which they are willing to lease out for 5-10 years (I don’t think anyone will give for more than 10 years unless you offer a huge sum). You now have the piece of land and then you invest to construct on it. Say you build a 1bhk for 15 lakhs and have the place for 10 years. After 10 years you renegotiate or move on. A lot comes down to the trust between the two parties and how the relationship plays out.
3. What’s the cost of living?
Completely depends on your style of living. If you want to continue the city life style, you might end up paying more because there is hardly any system of finding a house help or other city amenities. This is why the first one year. A full season is crucial to see all the flavours and then take a call on whether you want to continue living or not.
The Himalayas, traditionally are a place where people would move to meditate after work life or during work life. But that seems to have changed and a lot of people also travel for the flavour of exploration and the city life has percolated throughout the villages owing to the modern connected life.
One can live frugally and 10k can be enough for a month but if you have no prior experience of doing your own chores, cooking, walking for groceries, budget 20-25k for a comfortable place to stay, food and internet.
4. How about the internet and connectivity?
Internet is almost everywhere now. Even Ladakh and Spiti have got Jio 4g networks I hear. The Jio revolution has percolated to rural villages and a reasonably popular tourist village/town will have good connectivity. Your best bet is the dongle that you can carry anywhere and even phone hotspots should do the job. And these are good enough for doing video calls, streaming videos, etc. For running servers, etc., some places also have the fibre availability now and you can strike different deals with a provider like BSNL or locals players like Airjaldi and Vayudoot. There are hundreds of people engaged in remote work from Himachal.
Electricity is also not an issue, Himachal is a power surplus state and supplies to other states. There will be power cut offs during extreme rains/storms and some times, we’ve seen day cuts for maintenance. Day cuts are usually announced via local newspapers. In this scenario as well, 3-6 months is a good time period to figure out the local nuances.
And regarding roads, Kangra Valley has this bit covered. Bir has daily buses to Delhi and the airport is 2 hours away. Local commute is expensive (only cabs) and hence walking is recommended for within the village. These are all lifestyle considerations to choose.
5. How has it been for you?
It has been a journey of spiritual exploration for me. The first 3-4 years is what I life to call the honeymoon period but the realities of life are the same everywhere. Human nature is the same everywhere. Yes, you’ll see life is slower and simpler but more inspection and one realises humans have the same anxieties, same fears, same aspirations, everywhere. Be it the mountains, the beaches, the forests or the city. Each human being is a mixture of the same elements in different proportions. This is a journey and the trees, mountains, rivers, ocean are all great mirrors but at the end of the day, the dive is within. Nature elements may give an inward push but the onus lies on us to be the change that we want to see. So, yes, it has been great for me. The mountains taught me that home is within me and not a particular place.
6. I still want to come to the mountains!
Ofcourse, the Himalayas have their arms open. Lots of options are opening up with co-working spaces, intentional communities, hostels, organic farms and various other experiments. Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC website) is an option we often overlook but they have the best locations in almost all tourist towns. These can be a great starting point for exploration. Uttrakhand has GMVN (Gharwal region) and KMVN (Kumaon region). And this is a list of organisations in the Kangra district via which you may be able to visit the Himalayas with a purpose:
- Peepal Farm (Dhanotu, near Dharamshala Airport)- An animal recovery centre + organic farm
- Deer Park (Bir)- A centre for studies of classical Indian wisdoms + intentional community
- Tushita (Dharamkot)- Buddhist meditation centre
- Dharmalaya (Village Ghornala, Bir)- Eco-architecture and compassionate living
- Aavishkaar (Kandbari, near Palampur)- Centre for Science, Math, Arts and Technology
- DIFF – Dharamshala International Film Festival
- AryaMarga Yoga (Bir)- Yoga Institute
- Saadho (Dharamshala) – Spiritual community + yoga retreats
- Sambhavnaa (Kandbari, Palampur)- Institute of Public Policy and Politics
- AltCampus (Khaniyara, Dharamshala)- Technology, building an alternative to college
- Shunya Farm– Permaculture Farm + Research on farming
- Bhoomi Cafe (Bir)- Micro bakery + bookstore
- WorkationX (Bir)- Co-working/co-living + bridging urban-rural
- Ghoomakad (Dharamshala)- Co-working/Co-living/Trekking
- Cold Mountain Pottery (Dharamshala)- Pottery Studio
- Andretta Pottery Village- An artists community (Mirage and around)
- Jagori (village Rakkar, Dharamshala)- Women’s Resource Centre
- Nishtha (village Rakkar, Dharamshala)- Health and Environment work
- Waste Warriors (Mcleodganj)- Waste Management and Environmental awareness
- AirJaldi (Dharamshala)- Internet +Technology company
- Development Logics (Dharamshala)- IT services company
- Gai Technologis (Dharamshala)- Drupal Development
- TED initiative (Mcleodganj)- Tibetan Entrepreneurship Development
- Parabooking (Bir)- Organising paragliding industry
I’m sure there are many more organisations coming up and some existing ones I don’t know about, drop in a comment and I’ll update the post.