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McLeodganj, Himachal Pradesh

  • (worth a trip)
  • 5-10 km
  • Moderate
  • Low
  • 2-3 days
  • 3 3

The official residence of the Dalai Lama and a major Buddhist and Tibetan centre

McLeodganj Himachal Pradesh
Most restaurants and eateries offer almost identical menu to suit all travellers and backpackers. The menus mostly include pizzas, pastas, omelletes, some Mexiacan and European dishes, and Indian and Chinese delicacies. Nick’s Italian Kitchen is famed as apparently Richard Gere’s favourite restaurant when he stayed here. The restaurant serves tasty vegetarian pizzas, lasagne, and gnocchis. End your meal with a cup of coffee and a slice of lemon cheesecake. Tibet Kitchen is highly popular for its spicy Bhutanese delicacies such as kewa dates (potato and cheese), and unique Tibetan dishes such as shapta (roasted lamb and onion). There are Thai and Chinese dishes served at the restaurant as well. Some of the must try snacks and dishes in the town includes momos (veg/non-veg), chow chow (stir fried noodles with veggies or meat), and thukpa. There are several beer and wine shops for takeaways. McLeod restaurant and the Laws of the Hotel Bhagsu are two best places in town to have a drink.
If you plan to visit here during the Indian monsoon months (June to August), bring a raincoat or an umbrella. It comes in handy during sudden downpours. In the winter months (November and March), carry warm clothes as it can get chilly here. Most businesses and shops remain closed on Mondays.

Highly popular as the centre of Buddhism and Tibetan, McLeodganj is a small hill town roughly 4 kilometers north of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. It is also known as the upper Dharamshala or the home the Dalai Lama. McLeodganj is also the HQ of the Tibetan Government in exile. Along with Manali and Shimla, McLeodganj completes the BIG traveller hang-out in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Necessarily, the area is swarming with budget hotels and hostels, restaurants, internet cafes, souvenir shops, and travel agencies offering varied adventure sports such as trekking. This small hill town crammed up with all these facilities and travellers’ hub-like vibe feels like a mini version of Kathmandu (Nepal). Most of the population in this town comprises Tibetans 9mostly refugees) and Buddhists. Expect to see lot of robes around, especially during a Buddhist festival or when the Dalai Lama is in residence.


The town of McLeodganj is named after David McLeod, Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab. It was founded in the mid-1850s as a British military base and served as an administrative centre until the earthquake of 1905. Until about 1960, the area remained a backwater, however, it was then that the Dalai Lama claimed asylum here as a result of the Chinese invasion of Tibet.


Since then, the town has become a very significant centre for Buddhism and Tibetan culture studies. There are several spiritual activities and courses that are and can be pursued here. Additionally, there are many volunteering opportunities for travelers to take part in. With a unique mix of travellers, monks, volunteers, and locals, the town is always lit with conversations and liveliness.


Let’s explore some of the attractions and activities available around the town:

    • Tsuglagkhang Complex: This is one of the primary attractions in the list of every visiting traveller, monk, volunteer, and pilgrims. The complex houses the photrang –the official residence of the Dalai Lama, the Namgyal Gompa, the Tibet museum, and the Tsuglagkhang itself. The honoured Tsuglagkhang is the exiles’ equivalent of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. It houses a huge 3 metre high gold-plated statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, flanked by Avalokitesvara and Padmasambhava, who is accredited for introducing Buddhism to Tibet. Before visiting the main temple, pilgrims mainly visit the Kalachakra Temple. This temple was constructed in 1992 and contains the beautiful frescoes of Kalachakra (wheel of time) mandala, specifically linked to Avalokitesvara, of whom the Dalai Lama is a manifestation. Photography is allowed in Tsuglagkhang but not in the Kalachakra temple. However, during prayer sessions and sessions, mobile phones cameras, cigarettes and lighters aren’t allowed inside the temple premises. The remaining edifices form the Namgyal Gompa where you can observe monks in the afternoons except for Sundays.  Just inside the main entry to the complex is the Tibet Museum which is a must visit if you wish to learn about the history of Chinese trade and the following Tibetan exodus through a display of photographs, video clips, and interviews. There is a documentary which is played every afternoon at 3.


    • Men-Tsee-Khang Museum: The museum houses interesting exhibits of traditional Tibetan medicines via preserved specimens and descriptive thangkas (Tibetan cloth paintings). Learn unique and fascinating medical properties of cinnamon and red-hot hammers and other such day to day products. Entry is INR 5 and the timings are 09:00 A.M. to 01:00 P.M and 02:00 P.M to 05:00 P.M Monday to Saturday.


As mentioned before, there is no dearth of activities that one can indulge in during their stay at McLeodganj. There are dozens of practitioners in the town who offer courses in holistic and alternative therapies. Some are legit and some aren’t. Check the authenticity before joining any course. You can refer to the free magazine named Contact which provides almost all such listings available in town plus many short-term and long-term volunteering opportunities. Lha is one of the most famous and often considered the best place to start. It offers reliable massage treatments starting INR 800 approximately and also occasionally conducts two-week courses in Tibetan and Swedish massages. It also arranges placements at a variety of local community products. Projects include Language trainers (English, French, etc.), photographers, grant writers, and IT professionals. Though these organizations may accept short-term volunteers, however, a volunteer with a month or more to spare is preferred. Other such volunteering organizations include VolunteerTibet, Tibet Hope Centre, and Learning and Ideas for Tibet.


Additionally, there are handful of agencies which offer trekking packages to the nearby valleys of Kullu, Chamba, Lahaul, and Spiti. The most popular trekking route here is the Mcleodganj to Bharmour Trek which takes around 5 days and passes over the Indrahar La to the pre0historic village of Bharmour in the Chamba Valley. The pass is open from June to early November but September and October are generally considered the best months for the trek.


There are also many Yoga, meditation and Philosophy centres. Vipassana Meditation centre is the most famous centre for a 10-day silent retreat on vipassana. It is located in Dharamkot.


There are a number of national and International festivals which are held in Dharamshala including the annual Opera Festival which takes place in either February or March, the TIPA Anniversary Festival in August, the Dalai Lama’s birthday, International Himalayan Festival from 10th to 12th of December, and a few film festivals.


How to get there

The nearest railhead to McLeodganj is Gaggal which has two daily flights from Delhi. A taxi from the airport to McLeodganj takes around 45 min. There are several daily trains from Delhi to Chakki Bank and Pathankot. Once you reach Pathankot, you can either take a taxi or a bus to McLeodganj. There are daily buses from Delhi and Manali to McLeodganj. Confirm that the bus goes all the way to McLeodganj and not just Dharamshala.