What set out as a plan for 3 nights turned into 5 days in Mcleodganj and Dharamshala, and honestly, I could’ve happily stayed on for a month.
What happened? Love. Love happened.
It’s funny how traveling is such an emotional experience, and how it gets so addictive that you get restless when you’re in a single place for far too long. The itch is real. It could be as mildly insignificant as the slow tickle you start feeling in the soles of your feet, or something as spectacularly ginormous as the feeling of a rock dropping through your chest at the sheer thought of staying indoors another day.
Why am I telling you this? Because it happens to me all the damn time. I’m typing this from my home, and I LOVE this place, don’t get me wrong, but the soles of my feet are, well, starting to tickle a little bit.
Feels like the best time to revisit some of my favourite journeys, and also create my little memory-diary from my sojourns. And also, I really want you guys to visit McLeodganj, so I’m writing this one to tell you ALL the spectacularly amazing things to do there, so that you can pack your bags and GOOOOO!!!
McLeodganj is a part of Dharamshala, located just a little ways off, in the Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh. Himachal Pradesh is probably one of my most loved places. I could stay there for weeks at a stretch, maybe even months, and not get bored.
Because it’s beautiful, for starters. I mean, it’s the freakin’ HIMALAYAS. It’s peaceful, happy, full of friendly people wherever you go, always welcoming travellers (so you ALWAYS meet a bunch of new people), hippie-chill (if you know what I mean), lovely cafes, and great food. It’s everything you could ask for. You wake up to a view of the towering Himalayas, you walk through slopes lined with trees, you hike up to magnificent viewpoints, you have your fill of gorgeous sunsets EVERY SINGLE DAY, and then you marvel in wonder at the blanket of stars winking at you. Sounds pretty perfect to me!
Dharamshala has an airport, y’guys! Yay! Aircrafts operate out of all major cities to Gaggal Airport, the cheapest being from Delhi.
Alternatively (and this is what I do), you could reach Delhi (Delhi has an international airport, so if you’re visiting from outside India, this is where you need to land first), and take an overnight bus from Kashmere Gate ISBT to Dharamshala. The Himachal Tourism buses are quite comfortable, safe, and reliable. Once you reach Dharamshala, local buses and taxis operate to McLeodganj and Dharamkot.
Best Time to Visit
So the summer months are supposed to be the busiest, with tourism taking off March onwards. It’s also when all the cafes and shops in the main streets will be open, so if you want to experience all of that, head over March onwards.
The monsoons might get a little tricky, so I’d avoid July/August, since I’m not a huge fan of torrential downpours (I live in Mumbai, I know how messy it can get), although there’s a different charm of being in a city that’s freshly washed and glowing emerald as the aftermath. Temperatures start getting cooler towards September, so that’s a GREAT time too.
I was there in Feb. Winter. It’s a pretty good time to visit, because it’s shoulder season (you gotta know by now I LOVE shoulder season!). The crowd was so much lesser than what one would expect, but some of the cafes and streets were closed. Ah well.
Where to Stay
If you’re put up in McLeodganj (which is what I would recommend), here are your options –
Dharamkot – Zostel / Bunkers
Both hostels. Both good.
Jogibara Road – 8 Auspicious Him View Hotel
I stayed at this little hotel that’s run by two extremely sweet Tibetan women. They’re super helpful and will happily guide you on things to do, how to get around, and everything else.
Jogibara Road is perfectly central, well within walking distance to the major attractions of McLeod and the Main Square. If you want to stay in McLeod, this is your best bet.
What to Do
There is PLENTY to do to fill your days in McLeod and Dharamshala. Mine was a slow trip, so I took my own time to do whatever I wanted. Take your pick from this list, be it hiking, or sightseeing, or eating all the food, or simply staring at the mountains and chilling.
Trek to Triund
By far the most popular route, considered a must-do when in Dharamshala and Mcleod. If you’re staying in Dharamkot, great, because that’s where you head first. Make your way to the Galu Temple, and then hit the trails.
2. Namgyal Monastery and the Dalai Lama’s Residence
Pretty self explanatory. You can head over here from the main market square, or walk down Jogibara Lane and take a right uphill. You’ll get to see a beautiful monastery, and check out the residence of His Holiness The Dalai Lama.
3. Bhagsu Naag Waterfall
Post monsoon is probably the best time to find this waterfall gushing down the slopes. Take the right lane from McLeodganj main market and keep walking; it’s an easy enough path to the waterfall (by which I mean to say you won’t get lost. Be prepared for uphill climbs and stairs though).
4. Norbulingka Institute
This was set up to preserve Tibetan culture. It’s a beautiful, beautiful complex, built in Tibetan style with some Japanese influences, and houses rooms for guests, and workshops for Tibetan arts. Artists sit along the walls of the room and create some stunningly intricate pieces, and guess what, you can enrol for a workshop too! There’s wood carving, wood painting, Thangka painting, metallurgy.. Go on, take your pick!
Tickets to enter Norbulingka cost Rs. 40, and you can take a free guided tour to acquaint yourself with the place.
5. Gyuto monastery
Tibetan architecture is spectacular – colours and gold and intricate carvings, with a statue of Lord Buddha gazing serenely down at you. The peaceful vibe will have you wanting to spend hours in the monastery, either just reading a book or talking to the monks or simply enjoying a moment of quiet. What’s different about Gyuto is the style of architecture. It’s a Tantric monastery, and this is clearly reflected in the way it is built, and in the way the idols are sculpted. Worth a visit, for sure.
6. Dharamshala Cricket Stadium
This is the highest cricket ground in the world, and if you’ve ever caught a match here, or even watched one played here on TV, you would have noticed the classic Tibetan style reflected in how it is built, and you would NOT have missed the mighty Dhauladhar ranges towering in the distance. If you’re a cricket buff, you’d probably want to visit this one.
7. Go for a Pottery workshop!
Now this is super-fun, and I’d definitely recommend this if you’re going to Dharamshala. A bunch of creative folks have come together and set up a pottery studio at Blossoms Resort at Sidhpur in Dharamshala. I did a trial class with these guys, and it was SO MUCH FUN! They teach you how to work with clay, to how to create a pot by ‘pinching’, as well as by using the potter’s wheel. You get four mounds of clay as part of the trial class, and once you get the hang of it, you can go crazy. Do your thaaaang.
It’s Rs. 500 for a trial class, and Rs. 6000 if you want to do a month-long course. This will cover techniques of pottery – wheel throwing, hand-building, the whole shebang – in 10 sessions.
Mountains and cafes just sort of go hand-in-hand. If you want to chill with locals, head over to Blossoms Resort in Sidhpur (same place as above) for their rooftop bar and lounge. Or hang around at McLlo’s for a cold beer and fun chatter. Go to Illiterati for coffee and books. The main square in McLeodganj has plenty of places to grab a coffee and some momos. There’s lots to see and eat and drink, so much that I actually did an entire post on it 🙂
9. Amble down to Tsechokling Monastery (and then puff and pant your way back up)
Not a lot of people know this one. You need to walk just off Nowrojee Road till you reach a flight of stairs on your right, and then keep walking down till you reach the monastery. It’s a small one, but the entire complex has the monk quarters as well (you ain’t allowed in those). What you’ll love (and what I loved) is that this monastery is located in utmost peaceful surroundings. A valley on one side, and trees on the other, it’s serene and stunning, and you leave feeling at peace with yourself.
Go rotate the Tibetan prayer wheel located right behind the main sanctum. It’s filled with a roll of printed mantras, thousands of them, so when you rotate the wheel once, it is said to be equal to have chanted all those mantras.
10. Explore the lanes of Dharamkot
Dharamkot is where you’ll find the ‘hippie’ vibe. The streets are lined with shops selling clothes and accessories, hair braiding stalls, and cafes selling the local sweets. You can walk up and down here all day long with your folks, and just have an easy one.
Try the Bhagsu cake at Singh Corner. It’s a very local sweet made of a biscuity base, caramel and topped with chocolate.
11. Chase sunsets!!
Perks of being in the mountains? The sunsets will spoil you for life. Go to Naddi. You will DEFINITELY see one of the most GORGEOUS sunsets ever from this viewpoint.
Another spot is right opposite Moonpeak Cafe, there’s a little swivel gate that leads to a viewpoint (a watch tower of sorts) where you can sit and look over the valley as the sun sets. This is how I remember it, y’guys! If you happen to go there and figure out the name (if it has one), DO let me know!
How to Get Around
Walk. Yeah, it’s hard, because the entire city is built in the mountains, and there’s slopes EVERYWHERE, but you gotta werk ‘em thighs and glutes! It’s the best way to get around, and I walked everywhere (with a busted knee, no less, God help me).
You could also take a bike or a Scooty on hire, but why would you do that when you’d rather walk in the mountains? 🙂
If you’re looking to spend 5 days in McLeodganj and Dharamshala (or more, or less), I hope this post helps you plan the most amazing trip ever. Send me a picture, would you?
Hit me up if you find something I’ve missed. I’ll go back 🙂