Little Lhasa of India
The last phase of my trip to Himachal was spent in the picturesque town of McLeod Ganj. McLeod Ganj is located on the slopes of the mighty Dhauladhar Range at an elevation of 7000 feet (approx.). It is an extension to the city of Dharamshala; both which are in Kangra district. It is known as “Little Lhasa” because of the sizeable Tibetan population. This is because McLeod Ganj is the headquarters of the ‘Tibetan Government-in-exile’- a government-like organization setup with the intention of rehabilitating Tibetan refugees. There are numerous Tibetan sites in and around McLeod Ganj; the most significant one being Tsuglagkhang- the Dalai Lama’s temple. To follow are things that you’ll need to know to plan a trip to this beautiful town on the outer chain of the Himalayan mountain range.
How to get there?
McLeod Ganj is about 260 km from Chandigarh and about 230 km from Manali. The travel duration from both the cities are more or less the same to McLeod Ganj. If you’re travelling from South India, the best itinerary would be to fly to Chandigarh and then take a bus to McLeod Ganj. In our scenario- well, we were in Manali already and so it was just about booking a direct bus to McLeod Ganj.
Where to stay?
You can find all kinds of accommodation in McLeod Ganj and Dharamshala- home stays to lodges that are backpacker-friendly or even slightly luxurious hotels for couples who want to spend their honeymoon. We packed our 3-day itinerary at McLeod Ganj with loads of activities which included a 21 km trek and so we were on the lookout for a hotel which had a comfy bed, 24/7 hot water and of course Wi-Fi. I noticed that there is a huge cluster of hotels around the Bhagsunag area, which is why we booked a hotel right next to the Bhagsunag temple- Hotel Anuj Residency. The video shows the view from our hotel room- so you know that’s the spot! If you require something a little more luxurious, try Spring Valley Resort.
“10 things to do in McLeod Ganj – Dharamshala”
We spent a good three days in McLeod Ganj and quite frankly did everything that we could possibly indulge in. While preparing the itinerary for this trip, Nazeef and myself browsed numerous travel websites and came up with a list of ’10 best things to do in McLeod Ganj – Dharamshala’. This list pretty much is now the Gulp ‘n’ Munch top-10 things to do in McLeod Ganj – Dharamshala.
1. Paragliding in Bir Billing
The Bir Billing area is a popular site for paragliding- considering the fact that the Paragliding 2015 World Cup was held here. With ₹3000, Nazeef convinced his Paraglider to take him higher than everybody to nearly 14,000 ft and do a ‘CROW’ on the way down. Bir Billing is about 75 km from McLeod Ganj and a cab ride will cost you ₹1500.
2. Tsuglagkhang – the home of the Dalai Lama
Tsuglagkhang complex is located on one end of the Temple Road and houses the Tibetan Museum, the Tsuglagkhang temple and Namgyal monastery. Above all, it is home to the 14th Dalai Lama – Tenzin Gyatso. The Tibetan Museum was established on October 5th, 1999 and has a collection of 30,000 photographs that even documents the journey of the Tibetan people into exile over the Himalayas. Some of the images are very heart-rending; to think about the atrocities that the people of such a peaceful kingdom had to go through (or still goes through) while the whole world stood and watched.
3. Visit Gyuto Monastery
The Gyuto Monastery was first established in Tibet and was known for its study of Tantric meditation, rituals and philosophies. After Tibet was invaded by communist China, the monastery was re-established in India. The Gyuto monastery is also the residence of the claimant to the title of 17th Karmapa- Ogyen Trinley Dorje. Karmapa is a title for the head of the Karma Kagyu school- one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Gyuto monastery is about 20 km from McLeod Ganj and is easily accessible.
4. Visit St. John in the Wilderness
Church of St. John in the Wilderness is one of the oldest cathedrals in North India. Built in 1852 AD, it is known for its unique gothic character, stained glass windows and for being a memorial for Lord Elgin- the British viceroy of India who died in 1863. Constructed of hand cut local granite, it is one of the only buildings in the Dharamshala area to have survived the devastating 1905 earthquake.
5. War Memorial at Daramshala
The War Memorial in Dharamshala is located almost opposite to the famous HPCA Cricket Stadium. It is a tribute to India’s unsung heroes and is located in the middle of a scenic park, surrounded by tall pine trees and creative landscaping. It is said that a lot of thought went into its construction for example the wall of the memorial is curved which signifies the continuity of life. Indeed, to remember them and to think of them as immortal beings is the least we can do. To respect them for proudly marching on to make the supreme sacrifice in the face of the greatest of adversities.
6. Dharamshala Cricket Stadium
The stadium is home to the Himachal Pradesh cricket team for Ranji Trophy and other limited overs matches. The venue is unique in that it is situated at an altitude of 1,457 m (4,780 ft) above sea level and has the snow-capped Dhauladhar range in the background. It is the world’s highest cricket stadium which hosts International matches. The reason why I specified ‘hosts international matches’ is because the highest cricket ground is again in Himachal. In a hill station called Chail at an elevation of 2,250 m above sea level, but is not yet a stadium.
7. Trek to the top of Triund hill
Triund Hilll at 2827 meters (9275 feet) is an elevated ridge from where one can see the mighty Dhauladhar range. From the top of Triund, you can also see the beautiful Kangra Valley where McLeod Ganj and Dharamshala are located. Triund is often considered to be more of a hike than a trek since the trail is properly marked. Then again, Triund is also the best option for amateur trekkers since the trail is rocky and cut into steps at certain places. Triund is also a base-camp for trekkers climbing to higher points like the Snowline; it helps them acclimatise.
8. Visit Norbulingka Institute
Norbulingka Institute is on a mission to preserve Tibetan culture not just for the benefit of Tibetan people but for everyone. There are workshops where people paint on wood and make Thangkas ranging from ₹5000 to a ₹1 lac. They are a self-sustaining community dedicated to ensuring that the integrity of Tibetan artistic traditions is maintained for generations to come. In the shadow of the Deden Tsuglakhang temple this is definitely an awesome place to visit and pick up souvenirs.
9. Visit Bhagsunag waterfall
Bhagsunag Fall, (around 11 km from the Dharamshala, (3 km from chowk) it is easily approachable by road from Mcleodganj). Bhagsunag has an ancient temple, a public swimming pool, numerous slate quarries and a fresh water spring. From the Bhagsunag temple, the waterfall is at a trek of 1 km. The view from the waterfall is breathtaking.
10. Visit Dharamkot village
Dharamkot is a small village at a distance of 9 km from McLeodGanj, much of which is a steady climb. Dharamkot is a quiet locality that has a stunning view of the Kangra Valley and the Dhauladhar ranges. There are a few popular eateries and cafes at Dharamkot- Trek & Dine cafe to name one. You will also see scores of foreigners who reside in this village; some in village homes and others in guest houses. Dharamkot is also referred to as the ‘hippie village in the Himalayas’, much like other localities in Himachal populated with foreigners. Unfortunately, I do not have pictures of Dharamkot village or Bhagsunag temple- although the latter was right outside my accommodation (how sad right??).
Nonetheless, these are places that you would definitely not want to miss out on. Dharamkot is on the same route as Triund hill, so I advise visiting Dharamkot after your trek to Triund to grab a quick bite- Trek & Dine cafe has amazing wood-fired oven pizzas. As for Bhagsunag temple, you can take a dip in the swimming pool- which in the cold weather would be an experience in itself. There are other locations that many websites would recommend; for example, Naddi viewpoint, Dal lake and Kalachakra temple in Dharamshala. All of them, I did not find fascinating at least and which is why I would not insist upon visiting them.
Well, that pretty much brings me to the end of another travel diary about my recent trip to Himachal. Being the last one, I hope you enjoyed them all- Kasol, Malana, Triund, Chopsticks and finally Mcleod Ganj – Dharamshala. Next year, the biggest trip of my life awaits- road trip to Leh-Ladakh. Lot of exciting times ahead and with that we- from Gulp’n’ Munch would like to wish you all- our readers- a very happy and prosperous new year 2017. To many more food and travel diaries!