Information for Vistors & Volunteers
The Dharmalaya Institute is still under construction, but is already offering volunteer opportunities and periodic special programmes, and welcomes visitors for most of the year. There are, however, occasional periods when the Institute is closed to visitors (such as during retreat programmes, certain holidays and festivals, and winter/monsoon breaks), so please contact us ahead of time before visiting the Dharmalaya campus.
Also, please read all of the information below, to make sure you understand the most important details about visiting the Dharmalaya Institute. After you have read the information on this page, you can contact us using the appropriate form based on the reason for your visit (see below).
Dharmalaya is a different kind of place. It is an holistic educational institute with an ashram-style environment (not a hotel or a holiday destination), and it welcomes volunteers who want to be a part of the working community. There are some things that we do differently from other places you might have been. Our volunteers and visitors are requested to understand and respect these practices. The first step is to read the information below, which will give you a general idea of what to expect. The second step is the brief orientation and tour that we provide for new volunteers and visitors (see below).
Arrival Dates & Times
We request all of our volunteers and guests to arrive on a Monday or a Thursday if possible. These are the days when we are most likely to be able to give you a proper welcome, orientation, and possibly a tour of the campus (weather and circumstances permitting). If you must arrive on a different day, please be aware that there may or may not be someone available to give you a proper orientation when you arrive (but in most cases we should be able to do it on the next Monday or Thursday after you arrive).
Also, please note that our staff works from 9:00am to 5:00pm (and finding Dharmalaya after dark would be nearly impossible if you haven’t been here before), so please plan to arrive at the Dharmalaya campus before 4:30pm at the latest so that someone will be here to welcome you. If you reach Bir after 4:00pm, you will need to spend the night at a hotel/guest house in Bir and then come up to Dharmalaya the next morning.
Finally, please note that it is not possible to travel all the way to the Dharmalaya campus by car, because the last part of the road is quite rough and steep and most vehicles cannot manage this last section. So, the normal practice is to have a taxi take you down the Bir-Sansal Road and drop you off just before Ghornala, at the bottom of the path that leads up the hill to Dharmalaya, and then from there you will have to walk up the hill to the Dharmalaya campus (carrying your belongings, if any). For most people, the walk up the hill takes about ten minutes or so, but people who have trouble walking on rough or steep paths will need to take it more slowly. It is a rough path that is steep in some places, so wearing proper shoes is advised.
Code of Conduct & Dress
Please note that the Dharmalaya Institute is an ashram-style centre in a rural village setting and, accordingly, all guests and volunteers are requested to abide by the appropriate code of conduct and attire:
- Conduct: We observe the ten yamas (principles) of the Hindu traditions and the panchshila (five precepts or mindfulness trainings) of the Buddhist traditions. In short, this includes practicing kindness and generosity toward all beings, and especially refraining from the following:
- killing or harming other sentient beings (including insects)
- stealing or selfish indulgence
- smoking, alcohol, and other intoxicants
- false or hurtful speech
- inappropriate displays of physical affection or sexual activity (e.g. no public displays of physical affection between men and women, no unwelcome flirting or advances, no intimate contact without explicit prior verbal consent, and no intimate contact between staff and guests/volunteers).
- Dress: Out of respect for our staff and our neighbours, please dress modestly at all times (wearing clothes that cover at least the shoulders and the knees).
- Respect for Silence: During yoga and meditation sessions (and other silent/quiet activities), please respect silence for the benefit of others, even if you yourself are not participating.
- Food: Please do not bring any form of meat, eggs, or other animal-derived food products to the Dharmalaya campus.
- Intoxicants: Kindly note that Dharmalaya is a smoke-free, alcohol-free, and drug-free environment.
- Rubbish: Please do not bring any kind of plastic rubbish to Dharmalaya (including plastic bottles, packaged food, etc.). There is no way to dispose of it properly here in this rural forest area.
- Helping Out: Dharmalaya is a community-living institute where all of our volunteers and overnight guests participate in the various jobs required to keep the place running, such as cooking, cleaning, etc. (see below).
For further details, see our principles.
Location & Directions
The Dharmalaya Institute is located in the Himalayan town of Bir in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. For maps and directions, see our location page. For more information on travel to, from, and around Bir, see the Bir Portal’s Visitors’ Guide.
Again, please note that our staff works from 9:00am to 5:00pm, so please plan to arrive at the Dharmalaya campus before 4:30pm at the latest so that someone will be here to welcome you. If you reach Bir after 4:00pm, you will need to spend the night at a hotel/guest house in Bir and then come up to Dharmalaya the next morning.
Staying at Dharmalaya: What to Bring & What Not to Bring
If you plan to stay at Dharmalaya, here are a few items we suggest you bring with you if possible:
- Water bottle (stainless steel is best for health and hygiene; avoid plastic and aluminium)
- Natural (e.g. herbal) soap and shampoo (without chemicals, to protect our environment; see below)
- Torch (flashlight), preferably one that is either hand-powered or rechargeable. Headlamps are handy.
- Sunscreen, preferably a natural (herbal) one (best are the ones without retinyl palmitate or PABA)
- Sun hat
- Jacket/pullover (night temperatures can be cool any time of year)
- Indoor shoes (sandals, flip-flops, or some kind of shoes that are easy to slip on and off)
- Outdoor shoes (hiking shoes with good traction are very useful on our site)
- Natural (herbal) hand lotion (useful for volunteers, as hands can get dry when working)
- Work gloves (not necessary, but can be useful if you’re volunteering)
And here are a few items that guests are kindly requested not to bring:
- No meat, eggs, or other foods of animal origin (this is an ashram environment).
- No alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs (this is an ashram environment).
- No soaps/shampoos with chemical ingredients (because our sinks and showers drain directly into the garden). All-natural hand soaps are easily available in Delhi — just ask for Ayurvedic soap (good brands include ‘Medimix’, which is available at most chemists/pharmacies) or check out the handmade soaps at Fabindia. Other products are harder to find, though, so it’s a good idea to bring some organic shampoo, toothpaste, and anything else you might need. We highly recommend Dr. Bronner’s soaps and lotions, and shampoo from Avalon Organics. Both of these can be bought online from iHerb.com, which ships internationally (and iHerb will give you a discount on your first purchase if you enter the coupon code VIL802 at checkout). In India, the best natural (but unfortunately not organic) shampoos and personal care products are from Himalayan Health Care and Biotique, so these might be your best option if you’re unable to bring completely organic products.
- Also, please do not bring any disposable plastic items. We have no proper way to dispose of plastic waste here, so our guests are requested to avoid bringing plastic disposables or anything with plastic packaging. If you do bring such items, you must keep your own plastic waste in a bag and take it back home with you where you can dispose of it properly. This is especially important for plastic water bottles: Please don’t bring them at all; instead, bring a reusable water bottle (stainless steel ones are better for your health than aluminium or plastic) which we can refill for you with safe drinking water.
Health & Safety
Life in rural India has some health risks. We do all we can to protect our guests from those risks, by preparing meals hygienically and so forth, but most of the work of looking after your health is up to you. Most people travelling in India do not realise some of the hidden risks (e.g. brushing one’s teeth with untreated tap water, which can lead to illness). To help our guests (and other travellers) understand the best practices for protecting your health, Dharmalaya publishes a guide called ‘Staying Healthy in India,’ which you can read here.
Also, please note that, since Dharmalaya’s campus is a work in progress (and parts of it are a construction site), there are various potential hazards, such as rough paths, holes in the ground, nails sticking out in unexpected places, and so forth. All who visit the Dharmalaya campus do so at their own risk and Dharmalaya is not responsible for any injuries, etc. Please be mindful of your surroundings and take care to keep yourself safe.
Staying at Dharmalaya: Community Living & Shared Responsibility
At Dharmalaya, we live and work as a community, with each person taking responsibility for carrying her/his own weight (e.g. washing our own dishes, cleaning our own messes, etc.) and also contributing her/his fair share to communal tasks. It is not like a hotel, where others clean up after the guests, but rather an ashram environment, where the cooking, cleaning, firewood collection, water management, and other tasks required to keep everyone comfortable are shared by all of us.
On the notice board, you will find a list of karma yoga jobs for each day. Please sign up for at least one morning job and one evening each day you are staying on campus. In this way, all the important jobs will get done without putting too much burden on any individual. As a general rule, if everyone cheerfully does a little more than what we think is our share, somehow it all works out.
As at any traditional ashram, guests are encouraged to approach these jobs as a meditation, doing them in a relaxed way and taking pleasure in playing a role in the smooth functioning of the community.
Sample Daily Schedule
The exact daily schedule at Dharmalaya is subject to change according to needs and circumstances, but a typical daily schedule is more or less as follows:
Wake Up: 7:00am
Morning Practice* (Medition/Yoga/Exercise): 7:15-8:00am
Morning Work Session: 9:00am-1:00pm
Lunch Break: 1:00-2:00pm
Afternoon Work Session: 2:00pm-5:00pm (with tea around 3:30 or 4:00)
Evening Break (for bathing, rest, etc.): 5:00-6:00pm
Group Activities* (e.g. discussions, meditations, etc.): 7:00-8:00pm
Free Time: 8:00-9:00pm
Quiet Time (for meditation/reading/writing/etc): 9:00-10:00pm
Lights Out: 10:00pm (silent until 7:00am)
*Note that the morning practice and evening group activities are situational: depending on circumstances, sometimes there are structured activities that happen regularly but sometimes there is no organised programme so those times are available for individual practice or spontaneous group gatherings. If you are staying at Dharmalaya at a time when there is no organised morning or evening activity and you would like to request a particular activity or offer to organise something, you can speak with the management.
Staying at Dharmalaya: Accommodation & Food
Dharmalaya currently provides accommodation only for volunteers. If you wish to stay at the Dharmalaya Institute (overnight, short-term, or long-term) as a volunteer, we currently offer two types of accommodation: shared accommodations (beds in tents and a simple dormitory) and private accommodations (two private rooms in the main building, and the option to reserve a private tent, subject to availability).
Campground: Dharmalaya’s campground currently offers four or five comfortable, four-person tents (year-round except during the rainy monsoon season from approximately 15 June to 30 September). All tents are furnished with mattresses, sheets, pillows, and blankets, and most have an electric light bulb (subject to occasional power outages, of course). Our campground can accommodate up to 20 people (plus more if you bring your own tents). Groups leaders are welcome to enquire about availability of the campground for group reservations. If you’re coming to volunteer or study and you have your own tent, you’re welcome to set up on campus for free (donations welcome but not expected).
Dormitory: There is a basic dormitory room in the main building of the Dharmalaya Institute with five simple beds (mattresses on the floor), each with pillow, sheet, and blanket. Unlike the tents, dormitory accommodation is available throughout the year.
- WCs: Toilets and showers are available in the main building and the cottage. Hot water for bathing is heated in bukharis (simple and efficient, wood-burning water heaters).
- Kitchen: At this stage, we have a simple kitchen that we use to cook group meals. We do not have adequate cooking facilities for individuals to use the kitchen to make their own meals, so if you are staying at Dharmalaya and plan to take your meals here, it will be as a part of the group meals. If you have special dietary needs, please let us know in advance and we will do our best to accommodate you. Please note that the Dharmalaya kitchen is 100% vegetarian and vegan (no animal products) and, to the best of our knowledge, it complies with guidelines for halal and kosher meals. Catering for special events or group meals can be arranged on request with advance notice.
- Electricity is available most of the time. There is just enough power for recharging mobile phones and laptops, but not enough for power-hungry appliances like heaters, hot water kettles, etc.
- Valuables: The Dharmalaya Institute has a locker for keeping valuables safely, but cannot accept responsibility for any loss or theft (so please consider not bringing wads of extra cash or expensive electronic items if you can avoid doing so).
Costs: Beds in the tents and dormitory are offered on donation basis (see below). When the guest rooms in the main building are completed, they will be offered on a sliding scale.
Reservations: Advance booking is strongly recommended, as accommodations are subject to availability and currently are very limited. See below for bookings and enquiries.
Costs for Accommodation at the Dharmalaya Institute
While the Dharmalaya Institute is under construction (till late 2013), we offer basic yet comfortable accommodation in tents and dormitory beds according to the dana principle (on donation basis). We also offer two private guest rooms in the main building, which are priced on a sliding scale (see below).
Shared Accommodation (on Donation Basis)
Some of our guests have asked us to suggest an appropriate donation amount for shared tent and dormitory accommodation at the Dharmalaya Institute. Recognising that our guests have varying financial means, we offer a suggested range rather than a specific amount, taking into consideration both the costs of maintaining these accommodations and the typical rates in the region. Suggested donations per person are as follows:
- Bed in shared tent: Rs 50-100 per person per day (or Rs 1000-1500 per month for volunteers)
- Bed in shared dormitory: Rs 50-150 per person per day (or Rs 1000-2000 per month for volunteers)
Note for volunteers and students on a tight budget: Dharmalaya does require donations to enable us to provide these accommodations, but we do not wish to turn anyone away for lack of funds, so if you are unable to give the suggested minimum donation for shared accommodations, please let us know in advance and we can discuss work-study options with you (subject to limited availability).
Private Accommodation (Sliding Scale Rates)
Should you wish to have more privacy, you are also welcome to reserve a private room or a tent for your exclusive use (subject to availability). Please note that private accommodation is on a sliding-scale basis (not donation basis), which means guests may pay any amount within the specified range, according to the following scale (and long-term volunteers may avail of discounted monthly rates):
- Private tent: Rs 200-400 per day (or Rs 2500-5000 per month for long-term volunteers)
- Private room (ground floor): 200-400 per day (Rs 3000-6000/month for long-term volunteers)
- Private room (upper floor): 400-800 per day (Rs 5000-10,000/month for long-term volunteers)
Please note that Dharmalaya currently has very limited private accommodation options, so we cannot always guarantee a private room or tent, depending on availability, so if it is important to you to have your own room or private tent, please tell us so beforehand (with as much advance notice as possible) and we will let you know whether we can confirm availability of your preferred accommodation.
Meals (Sliding Scale)
The Dharmalaya kitchen offers 100% natural, vegetarian (plant-based, vegan), mostly-organic, mostly-local meals. We recognise that different people have different appetites and different budgets, so we offer these wholesome meals priced on a sliding scale from Rs 70-150 per person per meal. In other words, you can spend anywhere between Rs 210 and Rs 450 per person per day (total for all three meals), depending on what feels most appropriate to you considering your budget and your appetite. If you are a committed long-term volunteer (three months or more) and you are unable to pay the minimum amount for meals, please let us know in advance and we can discuss work-study options with you (subject to limited availability).
Please settle all bills (including food and donations for accommodations) with Raju every Sunday.
At this time, we accept only cash payments, so please bring enough cash with you. (Eventually, we will be able to accept cheques and credit card payments, but this is not yet possible). There are ATMs (both SBI and HDFC) in Baijnath that work with many Indian and international ATM cards.
Ghornala Resort (Private Guesthouse near Dharmalaya)
Private rooms and meals are also available nearby at the Ghornala Resort, which is just down the hill from the Dharmalaya campus. For those who prefer guest-house style accommodations yet still wish to be in a peaceful setting as close as possible to the Dharmalaya Institute, Ghornala Resort may be your best option, as it is just a short walk (10-20 minutes) down the hill from the Dharmalaya campus. Set in a verdant valley with mountain views, Ghornala Resort is run by two members of Dharmalaya’s board of directors, Ravi and Savita Paul, who are gracious hosts. There are currently three double rooms (all with attached bath) and a common dining area. Ghornala Resort’s rates for double rooms range from Rs 500 to Rs 1500, depending on the room and the length of stay. Please enquire before you come.
Reservations & Bookings
The appropriate way to reserve accommodation at Dharmalaya depends on the purpose of your visit. At this stage, Dharmalaya generally provides accommodation only for volunteers and interns. If you are coming as a volunteer, the volunteer application includes a question about your preferred accommodation, and answering that question is all that you need to do (there is no need for volunteers to submit a separate request for booking accommodations at Dharmalaya, but of course if you plan to stay elsewhere, not at Dharmalaya, then you’ll need to book your own accommodation separately). If you have not already completed the volunteer application, you’ll find the link to it on our Volunteer Information page.
For those who would like to request accommodation at the Ghornala Resort instead of Dharmalaya, you can do so using this form.
Other Accommodation Options in Bir
For other possibilities, see the Bir Portal’s listing of hotels, guest houses, and other accommodation options in the Bir area: Bir Beds.
Protected Area Permits (For Guests Planning to Stay in the Bir Tibetan Colony)
If your plans include a possible overnight stay in the Bir Tibetan Colony, either before or after your visit to Dharmalaya, or as a base for your activities in the area, you may need to apply for a Protected Area Permit (PAP), which since 2012 is required by law for overnight stays in the Tibetan colonies of Bir and Tashijong. Note that, according to the clarification we have received from the government, the PAP is not required for overnight stays outside of the Tibetan areas, which means a PAP is not required for Bir proper (Upper Bir) or Dharmalaya. Also, in practice there seems to be a grace period of 2-3 days, so if you arrive at a hotel in the Bir Tibetan Colony without a PAP, they might let you stay for a night or two before you need to get the permit. The PAP can be obtained either when you apply for your India visa or at the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO) in Bir. For more information (or to download a copy of the application), see this post at the Bir Portal.