Dharmalaya Institute

Education and Empowerment For Compassionate Living

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Institute for Compassionate Living

The Dharmalaya Institute in Bir is devoted to education and empowerment for compassionate living, with a practical focus on contemplative service-learning and sustainable development.

The institute is an eco-campus where you can volunteer for any of the environmental programmes such as organic farming, sustainable village development, green building and more.

If you’re into yoga and meditation, this place is a must visit.

About Dharmalaya

Dharmalaya is an Indian charitable organisation devoted to education and empowerment for compassionate living, with a practical focus on sustainable village development, contemplative service-learning, immersive ecotourism, and the preservation and adaptation of traditional wisdom.

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Dharmalaya’s mission is to unite the best of traditional wisdom with creative innovation to produce compelling possibilities for sustainable and compassionate living in the Himalayas and beyond.


We envision local and global communities that apply humanity’s gifts of intelligence, creativity, and caring to synthesize the very best of both tradition and modernity, particularly as manifest in ecological sustainability, applied compassion, and shared prosperity.


In service of its mission, Dharmalaya conducts an array of complementary educational and charitable programmes spanning the fields of economic self-sufficiency, environmental stewardship, experiential education, community service, health, and personal development. Most of our programmes are offered either free of charge or for a modest fee or voluntary donation, for local, national and international participants alike. All these diverse activities serve a common prime objective: to develop and promote innovative, integrated approaches to sustainable development, meaningful real-world education, and altruistic service.  › More

Legalities & Formalities

Dharmalaya is a Charitable Society registered under the Himachal Pradesh Societies Registration Act of 2006 (registration number 4305) and approved by the Government of India as a tax-exempt charitable organisation under Section 80 G of the Income Tax Act, 1961. It is also a member project of the Earthville Network, an international non-governmental organisation (INGO) recognised by the US government as a 501(c)(3) public charity.  › More

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Dharmalaya is founded and managed by a multi-disciplinary, international team of people committed to creating a more compassionate and sustainable world.  › More

Principles & Practices

Dharmalaya is a neo-traditional NGO, meaning that we endeavor to learn from the past and experiment in the present to forge a more harmonious future.

Dharmalaya is a nonsectarian educational and charitable organisation that respects all the great wisdom traditions of the world but is not affiliated with any religious group. It is rooted in the traditional Indian ethical principles of karuna (compassion), ahimsa (non-harming), maitri/metta (loving kindness to all) and seva (service). A complete understanding of these values as applied in the modern world includes not only caring for all living beings, but also ecological responsibility expressed in a commitment to sustainable living.  › More

Visiting Dharmalaya Institute

Information for Visitors and Incoming Programme Participants (Students, Interns, Volunteers, et al.)

While the Dharmalaya Institute is still under construction and our campus and facilities are works in progress, we already offer workshops, retreats, and training courses, as well as periodic volunteer opportunities, and we welcome visitors at certain times (by appointment only) depending on our programme schedule (see below).

Please read all of the information below, to make sure you understand the most important details about visiting Dharmalaya Institute.

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Just Dropping By to Have a Look?

Visiting Dharmalaya Institute is by prior appointment only.

If you would like to make a short visit just to see the campus, it is as simple as 1-2-3:

  1. CHECK VISITING HOURS: The Dharmalaya Institute is closed to the public whenever it holds retreats, and during most of its workshops. During other times, visiting hours are normally from 11:00am to 12:00pm and 3:00 to 4:00pm, Monday through Saturday (closed Sundays and for holidays and special programmes).
  2. CONTACT US TO FIX A TIME FOR YOUR VISIT: Please contact us before planning your visit to be sure the campus is open to visitors at the time you would like to come, and to make an appointment for your visit. Only after receiving confirmation from us should you make your plans to visit.
  3. LET US HELP YOU FIND US: Dharmalaya Institute is deep in a forest, up a steep and unmarked footpath diverging from an unpaved road, so it is not easy to find. People have gotten very lost trying to find us on foot, and many taxi drivers don’t know how to reach us, so it is best to contact us and let us refer you to a trusted taxi driver who knows the way.

Please be advised that Dharmalaya Institute cannot provide overnight accommodation for visitors (only for registered programme participants). Also, note that filtered water is available to rehydrate yourself after the hike up our hill, but otherwise no food or drinks are available. We do not have a restaurant or café and we are not able to provide meals or drinks for non-resident visitors (because we have to plan our canteen meal preparations in advance).

Guided Tours & Conversations (by appointment only)

Dharmalaya Institute receives a steady stream of visitors wanting to learn more about the Institute, and we are very pleased that there is so much interest in our work.

To satisfy the interest of our many visitors without disrupting the work of the Institute, we offer guided tours (with question-and-answer sessions) once per week, during non-programme periods only, and by prior appointment only. The time is usually Saturdays at 12:00pm, but can change from week to week.

To be clear, tours and Q&A sessions are not available for drop-in visitors. These services can be arranged only by prior appointment, and only during periods when the Institute is not hosting a retreat or workshop. To request an appointment for a guided tour and/or Q&A session, please contact us (preferably at least one week in advance) and await confirmation from us before making your plans to visit.

Orientation: Dharmalaya Is a Different Kind of Place

Dharmalaya Institute is an holistic educational institute with a community-oriented, contemplative, ashram-style environment (not a hotel or a holiday destination), and we welcome students, programme participants, and volunteers from all backgrounds who are enthusiastic about being a contributing member of the working community and helping the campus grow and shine.

There are some things that we do differently from other places you might have been. All who come to Dharmalaya Institute are requested to understand and respect these practices and, for that, we provide an orientation in two steps. The first step is to read the information below carefully, which will give you a general idea of what to expect. The second step is the orientation tour that we provide for all new arrivals (read on below).

Compassionate Code of Conduct

Dharmalaya Institute is an ashram-style learning centre in a rural village setting, with a commitment to do our best to minimize our harmful impacts on the earth and its inhabitants. Accordingly, all guests and volunteers are requested to abide by a compassionate code of conduct and attire:

  • Conduct: We keep a code conduct that is harmonious with Himalayan wisdom traditions, as expressed in 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 (taking what isn’t freely given)
    • 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 village neighbours with traditional sensibilities, 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. Also, if you wish to listen to music at any time, please use headphones so as not to disturb anyone. Many people come to Dharmalaya in search of peace and quiet, so kindly refrain from playing music on speakers at any time (with the exception of specially arranged musical events).
  • Food: Please do not bring any form of meat, eggs, or other animal-derived food products (including milk products) to the Dharmalaya campus.
  • Intoxicants: 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, ‘disposable’ feminine hygiene products containing plastic, etc.). There is no way to dispose of plastic waste responsibly 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).

All of the above practices are motivated by simple caring. They are not put forth self-righteously as moralistic absolutes, nor are they meant to be viewed as restrictions or judgments. Rather, we hold these practices as opportunities to explore the joys and rewards of voluntary simplicity and the exciting creative possibilities for sustainable thriving.

The Dharmalaya community is founded on a core aspiration to see how far we can go in taking better care of ourselves, one another, and the earth that supports us, and how much better all of us feel and function when we make our best efforts in this gentle endeavor to do a little less harm and hopefully a little more good.

For further details, see Dharmalaya Institute’s principles.

What to Bring & What Not to Bring

If you have been accepted to stay at Dharmalaya, here are a few items we suggest you bring with you:

  • Water bottle (Stainless steel is best for health and hygiene; avoid plastic.)
  • Natural (i.e. 100% plant-based) 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.
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun hat
  • Jacket/pullover (night temperatures can be cool any time of year)
  • Indoor shoes (sandals, chappals/flip-flops, or some kind of footwear that’s easy to slip on and off)
  • Outdoor shoes (hiking shoes with good traction or work boots are very useful)
  • Natural (herbal) skin lotion or coconut oil (skin can become dry here)
  • Sunscreen, preferably a natural (herbal) one (best for your health are those without retinyl palmitate or PABA)
  • Towel
  • Toilet paper
  • Work gloves (highly recommended for workshops and volunteering)

Note that mountain weather is especially prone to fluctuations, so we recommend you bring at least one set of clothes for warm weather and at least one set of clothes for cold weather, no matter the season. (You can check the weather forecasts for the area online here and here, but be aware they may not be very accurate, so it’s best to be prepared for variations.)

All of our rooms and tents include beds and bedding, so there is no need to bring your own bedding unless you are also bringing your own tent to sleep in (in which case you should bring a sleeping bag and mat as well).

And here are a few items that guests are kindly requested not to bring, as the following items are not permitted at Dharmalaya Institute:

  • No alcohol, tobacco, or drugs (This is an ashram-style environment, a place to leave unhealthy habits behind, and there is a strict no-drug, no-acohol policy.)
  • No meat, eggs, dairy, or other foods of animal origin.
  • No soaps/shampoos with chemical ingredients because our sinks and showers drain directly into the organic gardens. 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 commercially-made natural shampoos and personal care products are from Biotique.
  • Whatever you buy, it’s essential to read the ingredients label: If there’s any ingredient that sounds like a chemical and not the name of a plant, chances are it’s an unnatural chemical and thus unsuitable for use at Dharmalaya (and quite likely unsuitable for your body as well).
  • Electric heaters, kettles, or other items that draw a lot of electricity (there is not sufficient electrical supply here).
  • Last but not least, please do not bring any disposable plastic items. Since there is no responsible way to dispose of plastic waste in our region, we must requests our guests to avoid bringing plastic disposables or anything with plastic packaging. If you must bring such items (e.g. medical or baby products, etc.), then you will need 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: Instead of bringing bottled water, please bring a reusable water bottle, which we can refill for you with safe drinking water (note that stainless steel water bottles are better for your health than aluminium or plastic ones). Also, women should not bring ‘disposable’ feminine hygiene products that contain plastic; instead, please bring an ecologically-responsible alternative (of which there are many, including products made entirely of cotton or cloth, or menstrual cups).

We thank you for not bringing any chemical-based toiletries (shampoos, soaps, etc.), intoxicants, animal products, plastic-packaged food, or drinks in plastic bottles to 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 (and maybe even a little more) 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 the residents and guests.

On the notice board, you will find a list of karma yoga tasks for each day. All residents (including volunteers, students, interns, programme participants, and overnight visitors) sign up for at least one morning task and one evening task for 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 well.

As at any traditional ashram, guests are invited to carry out these jobs meditatively, as karma yoga — working in a relaxed and mindful way, taking pleasure in the task itself and in playing a supportive 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: 6:00am
Morning Practice (meditation/yoga/exercise): 7:00-8:00
Breakfast: 8:00-8:45am
Clean the dining room and kitchen: 8:45-8:49am
Morning Circle (mandatory for all)*: 9:00am (or 8:00am during the hot season)
Morning Work Session
: 9:00am-1:00pm (may start at 8:00am during hot season)
Lunch Break: 1:00-1:45
Clean the dining room and kitchen: 1:45-1:49
Afternoon Work Session: 2:00-5:00
Evening Karma Yoga & Free Time (community chores, bathing, etc.): 5:00-6:00
Dinner: 6:00-7:00
Clean the dining room and kitchen: 7:00-7:25
Personal Time or Group Activities**: 7:30pm until 8:00-9:00pm (varies)
Quiet Time (for meditation/reading/writing/sleeping early, etc.): 9:00-9:30pm
Lights Out: 9:30pm (silent until breakfast, out of courtesy to others)

*Circles: Every day at 9:00am before the morning work session (or 8:00am during the hot season), we meet in a circle in front of the main building to make important announcements, discuss the day’s work, etc. If needed, we might circle up again at 2:00pm before the afternoon work session. There are also times when we circle up before the Morning Karma Yoga (especially during intensive workshops).

It is important that everyone attends these circles so as not to miss important announcements. Out of respect for others, please be at the circles on time without exception (set an alarm if necessary to make sure you arrive on time).

**Group activities: Note that the morning practice and evening group activities are situational: Depending on circumstances, sometimes there are structured activities, while at other times there is no organised programme, in which case those periods are available for individual practice or personal time. If there is an evening activity you would like us to consider during your stay, please let us know. We are happy to offer group meditation programmes, morning  yoga or chi kung (qi gong), documentary films, videos on meditation/wisdom traditions, etc. Or, if you would like to offer an activity yourself, let us know.

Health & Safety

Life in rural India has some health risks, so awareness is important. We do all we can to protect our guests from such risks, by preparing meals hygienically and so forth, but most of the work of looking after your health is up to you. Many 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 Rural 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.

Accommodations & Costs

Dharmalaya currently provides accommodation only for volunteers, programme participants, and retreat practitioners. If you wish to stay at the Dharmalaya Institute as a volunteer or as a participant in one of our programmes, we currently offer two types of accommodation: shared accommodations (beds in tents and a simple dormitory) and private accommodations (two or three private rooms in the main building, a private cottage, and the option to reserve a private tent, all subject to availability). All accommodations at Dharmalaya Institute include mattress and bedding (pillow, bedsheet, and quilt or blanket). For details, see our Accommodations page.

Arrival: How & When to Reach Dharmalaya

Please note that our staff works from 9:00am to 5:00pm (and finding Dharmalaya after dark would be nearly impossible if you don’t know the area well already), so please plan to arrive at the Dharmalaya campus before 4:00pm at the latest so that someone will be here to welcome you. It takes about 30 minutes to reach Dharmalaya’s campus from the town of Bir, so if you reach Bir after 3:30pm, you will need to spend the night at a hotel/guest house in Bir and then come up to Dharmalaya the next day (after 9:30am).

Please note that it is not possible to arrive on a Sunday, as Dharmalaya is closed on Sundays and would not have any staff members to welcome you and help get you settled. Likewise, it is not possible to visit on days when we are hosting retreats or certain workshops.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Please do not try to find Dharmalaya Institute by yourself the first time. Our campus is nestled deep in the forest, along a steep an unmarked footpath diverging from an unpaved road — so it’s a paradise that is hard to find and takes some effort to reach. Some people who have tried to find their own way have gotten lost for hours. So, please take our advice, at least the first time you come.

 Not all local taxi drivers know how to find us (and non-local drivers wouldn’t have any idea), so contact us before you come and we will help you arrange a local taxi driver who knows the way, who can pick you up in Bir and deliver you safely to us.

Finally, please note that you can travel most of the way to the Dharmalaya campus by car, but the last part of the road is quite rough and steep and most vehicles cannot manage this last section. So, the normal and recommended practice is to hire a taxi to 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, so if you need help carrying luggage, you must arrange that with us in advance).

For most people, the walk up the hill takes about ten minutes or so, but people who have knee trouble or are not accustomed to hiking in the hills are advised to take it more slowly. Wearing proper shoes with decent traction is recommended for the hike (i.e. not chapals/flip-flops/jandals).

If you’re bringing luggage, we recommend a lightly-packed backpack rather than a suitcase. (Note for the elderly and others who cannot carry your own luggage up the hill: We will be happy to arrange for someone to help you, but that requires advance planning, so please contact us well before your visit to make arrangements.)

Location & Directions

The Dharmalaya Institute is located in the Himalayan village of Ghornala, just 3km northwest of the town of Bir in the Baijnath subdistrict of 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.