St John Church In The Wilderness Oldest Cathedrals In North India - Dharamshala Tourist Guide , Himachal Pradesh Tourist Guide , Himachal Pradesh Tourism - Holiday Travel

St John Church In The Wilderness Oldest Cathedrals In North India

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St John Church in the wilderness - Oldest Cathedrals in North India

St. John in the Wilderness is an Anglican church dedicated to John the Baptist built in 1852, located enroute to McLeodGanj, at Forsyth Gunj. It is set amidst deodar forest, and built in neo-Gothic architecture & is known for its Belgian stained-glass windows donated by Lady Elgin (Mary Louisa Lambton), wife of Lord Elgin.

Popularly known as “St John’s Church in the Wilderness”, located in a densely forested area between ForsythGanj and McLeodGanj, this church is one of the oldest cathedrals in North India.

The church was built during British rule, in the year 1852. It is an Anglican church, complete with bell tower and spire. As the name says, the church is dedicated to St John (1 of 12 apostles of Jesus Christ).


Cemetary at St John in the wilderness

Its churchyard has a cemetary, where many prominant british were buried, important names among them are the graves of David McLeod, lieutenant governor of Punjab, who founded Dharamshala in the mid-19th century, The Churchyard is also final resting place of Lord Elgin, who became Governor-General & Viceroy of India in 1861 during the British Raj, and died at Dharamshala on November 20, 1863, and was buried there.


James Bruce - Lord Elgin - Memorial at St John the Wilderness

The pastures and helpers tell stories and anecdotes regarding the viceroy, and the legacy he left behind. Born in Scotland, there were things that reminded him of his home country that he asked of having his final rights be done within the premises of the St. John’s Church. It is believed that Lord Elgin used to enjoy the walk he often took between Forsytheganj and McLeodganj, this place reminded of his town in Scotland. The memorial of Lord Elgin is truly a wonderful sight. Not everywhere would people be able to see the soul of a great man rest in peace. The church also holds a memorial of Lord Elgin.

Lord Elgin  was Viceroy of India in 1862, and was the first to use Peterhoff, Shimla as the official residence of the Viceroy. He died in 1863 of a heart attack while crossing a swinging rope and wood bridge over the river Chadly  between Kullu and Lahul. He is buried in the church of St. John in the Wilderness in Dharamshala and also has a mamorial built in his name.

Church structure survived the 1905 Kangra earthquake, its spire, Bell tower, was however destroyed. Later, a new bell, cast in 1915 by Mears and Stainbank, was brought from England and installed outside in the compound of the church.


Exceptional Beauty of  St John in the wilderness

The place is an archaeological memorabilia. It has one of the highly characteristic & sophisticated architecture. James Bruce, also known as Lord Elgin, wanted his body to be cremated in the premises of the church of St. John in the Wilderness. 

Surrounded by the deodar trees and establishing a sense of peace and quiet surrounding the church,  This church was built in 1852 AD and is made of stone. The church has a very gothic appearance to it and the interior and exterior walls of the church are of exposed stone whose forbidding appearance is reduced by fine Belgian stained glass windows which is the main attraction and one of the unique features of the church. These stained-glass windows were donated by Lady Elgin since the church graveyard is the final resting place of her husband Lord Elgin.

The other unique features of the church architecture are the polished wood of the altar railing and the brass of the old oil lamps – which now have been modified to hold electric lights. The church has police officers to keep watch and see that no one destroys or damages anything of this ancient monument. 

St John in the wilderness - Timings

Church Timings – The visiting hours are from 10 am to 5 pm each day. On every Sunday, there is service at 11:00 AM. The Church is closed on holidays.The church is kept closed everyday of the week other than for Sundays when mass is held in the morning at 10am in English and 11am in Hindi.





Dharamsala can be approached by air from Delhi. The nearest airport is at Gaggal, 13 km away. Pathankot, the nearest broad gauge railway station is 85 km away, Una is 132 km and the toy train station is 17 km at Kangra. Buses for Dharamsala are available at both places. From Pathankot the drive takes about three hours or you can drive from Delhi (489 km) via Chandigarh, Kiratpur,Una,Amb,Bharwain,Kangra and takes about 10 hours. 

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Best Season / Best time to visit Dharamsala

Dharmasala has a cool climate all through the year but the best season to visit Dharmasala is from mid-September to June.

Winter (December to February) is chilly and freezing. During January the mercury dips below -1 °C. Snowfalls in winters (especially January) are ideal for enjoying honeymoon but extra care needs to be taken.It is advisable to carry woollen clothes.

Summer (March to June) is warm with temperatures between 22 °C to 38 °C. Trekking enthusiasts prefer this season.

Monsoons (July to mid September) with heavy rainfalls can be messy. The months of July and August witness heavy and are avoided by tourists. From the mid of September, rainfall stops.

Autumn (mid-September to November) is beautiful and is ideal for sightseeing and adventure activities.

While winters is ideal for spotting snow capped hilly areas, summer is best for all kinds of tourist activities including trekking in the hilly terrains. The months from September to November are ideal for sight seeing, temple visits, outings and trekking. July to August are not the best time as heavy rainfall can causes road blocks.


Mc Leodganj is the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile and the residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.The Budha temple is situated opposite to the present abode of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama and is worth a visit. The Tibetan Institute of performing Arts(TIPA) is 1km. walk from McLeod Ganj and preserves a number of musical dance and theatrical traditions of Tibet.It is also known as ‘Little Lhasa in India’. Dal Lake is situated at a height of 1775m above sea level and is just 2kms from Mc Leodganj. 


Masroor is about 55 km from Dharamshala. There are 15 rock-cut temples in Indo-Aryan style and are richly carved. It is a unique monolithic structure in the sub-Himalayan region and is a protected monument.The main shrine contains three stone images of Shri Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. The temple complex is located on a hill and also has a large rectangular water pond. The view of snow clad Dhauladhar is amazing from the temple premises.


Triund is a popular picnic spot at an height of 2827 m. The area is on the foothills of Dhauladhar range and is 17-kms from Dharamsala. The snow line starts at Ilaqa, which is five kms from Triund. The breathtaking views of the mountains and the valleys make Triund an ideal picnic spot and trekking spot.


Chamunda Devi temple is 17 kms from Dharamshala, dedicated to Goddess Durga or Chamunda, the surroundings of the temple provide an excellent venue for meditation prayers and spiritual attainments. It is an enchanting and charming spot with fascinating view of the Dhauladhar Mountains, rivers and forests. The location of temple was used as a cremation ground by the people of 22 villages and supposed to be a place of solace, spiritual attainments. The temple has artistic carvings on its lintel, pillars and the ceiling. A large number of devotees travel to this place for worship and to attain spiritual peace for their ancestors. The 700 years old temple, Chamunda Devi comprises of big complex with a ‘Kund’ (pond) in it.  There is a cave-like scoop located at the back of the temple, representing the stone lingam (embodiment of Shiva).


Brajeshwari Devi is situated in Kangra town & is just 14 kms from Dharamshala- This temple is one of 51 Shaktipeeths in India. The Brajeshwari Devi Temple is located in main Kangra city and has achieved a reputation for wealth, in gold, pearls and diamonds and tempted many invaders over centuries. The State Govt. maintains the temple now and the deity (Maata Brajeshwari) sits under a silver dome with silver umbrellas.


Jwalamukhi is the deity of Flaming Mouth, recognized as one of the 51 Shaktipeeths of India. It is  believed to have nine permanent flames named after the goddesses- Mahakali, Anpurna, Chandi, Hinglaj, Bindhya Basni, Maha Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ambika and Anji Devi. Sati's tongue had fallen at the very place where Jwalaji Temple is now situated. The tongue of Sati is represented by Jwala (Holy Flame) that is perpetually burning.It is about 56 kms from Dharamshala.







Adventorous Activities in Dharamshala:

Dharamshala is an ideal destination for adventurous enthusiasts as the town offers plenty of activities that one can enjoy here. Some of the adventurous activities in Dharamshala include trekking, paragliding, fishing, rock climbing and angling. 

If you are not an adventurous person by nature, you can explore this picturesque town by going for leisure walks in the lap of Himalayas. Trekker’s delight, Dharamshala is a popular base for trekking in the forested Dhauladhar range, equipment can be hired here. The best season for trekking is from April till June and again between September and October. 

Seasoned trekkers may try the exhilarating and adventurous stretch from Dharamshala to the Chamba valley, over the Indrahar Pass. Trekkers may also take the route through snowbound Dhauladhar Range terminating at Lamu. 

There are some easy treks as well for beginners including the McLeodganj and Dharamshala that stretches from Tang Narwana to Toral Pass. If you are a hard-core trekker then take the route through Bhagsu via Dharamkot to Triund and enjoy an exquisite view of the peaks of the Himalayas.

Rock climbing is another activity in Dharamshala that you can indulge in a remote part of the Himalayas. Dharamshala-Nayagraon is one of the popular tracks for rock climbing. 

You can spendyour  time in the lap of nature and enjoy  fishing and angling in the small streams and rivers around Dharamshala. The 20-km stretch in River Beas from Nadaun to the Pong Dam is popular for fishing. 

Paragliding is another outdoor activity that you may enjoy in Dharamshala

At Dharamshala you can do so many things .

McLeodganj is famous for various authentic Tibetan products like carpets, thangkas, jewellery, and other knick-knacks. Just a kilometre away from McLeodganj is the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) where you can find musical, dance, and theatrical traditions of Tibet. 

Visit Losel Doll Museum which is located in the Norbulingka complex to explore the history of Tibet. The museum showcases elaborately detailed beautiful dolls that depict the costumes of each region of Tibet. You can also visit Museum of Kangra Art at Kotwali Bazaar. The museum has a rare collection of miniature paintings from the Kangra School, in addition to local jewellery, traditional wood carvings with some of the exhibits dating back to the fifth century. 

If all that sightseeing has made you hungry then you can just drop in to one of the restaurants or café scattered around McLeodganj for some traditional Tibetan, Israeli or even a German cuisine.


The main shopping area in Dharamshala is in McLeodganj, offering range of handicraft items including woollens, carpets, metal ware, Thangkas, and jewellery. 

The handicraft items sold in Dharamshala are created by the local artisans; these products reflect excellent craftsmanship and artistic calibre of the people. 

The Kotwali Bazaar is the prime shopping destination. The Tibetan carpets and rugs sold in this market are worth buying. The vivid colours, traditional motifs and unique artwork on the carpets depict the Tibetan culture. 

You may also like other Tibetan handicrafts including hat, the Chubas (traditional outfit of the Tibetan women) and bags that make for some great souvenirs as well. Don’t forget to buy Thangkas, as your r shopping in Dharamshala will be incomplete without buying them. 

Easily available in almost all the shops in Dharamshala, Thangkas are brightly coloured cloth paintings depicting Buddhist culture, fair and festivals. Kangra Style of paintings depicting the court scenes or the love story between Radha and Krishna of the mythological era, are other must-buy items in Dharamshala. 

Wooden carvings on bamboo are popular among tourists visiting Dharamshala. Tourists can visit Norbulingka Institute on Khanyara Road to check out the artwork. Silk and woollen woven scarves, embroidered kurtas are also worth including to your shopping list. Don’t forget to add Kangra Valley Green Tea as well to the shopping list.