While it’s been on the travel circuit from quite some time now, there are a lot of lesser known things to do in Mcleodganj and Dharamshala. You might get a lot of listings that’ll direct you to the Tibet Museum or the Dalai Lama Temple, but there’s so much more to the hilly retreat of Mcleodganj that you can spend a month or more here (my first choice for this article’s title was how to spend a month at Mcleodganj!).
This little town is so under-utilised as a travel destination, that I packed my bags and camped here for a week to bring this list of the most offbeat places and things to do at Mcleodganj. Take your pick from ixigo’s special feature on this little hill town, also known as the mini Tibet.
Go for CBU Wood Carving Classes
If learning a new art while on the go makes for a great travel experience for you, this is the place to be. A jolly, Tibetan man takes wood carving classes, specialising in art work on teak wood. The little shop where he takes classes is more like a museum of wood work, with hand carved pieces strewn about and not more than two students working on chunks of wood. The teacher will be happy to show you his masterpieces as well his many awards and photographs. The classes are ideally 5 days long (for INR 3000), though you can opt for more classes.
Trek to Triund
Trekking to Triund is a must for those who are really in love with the Himalayas. Not a difficult one if you’re used to trekking, you can reach the top in 3-4 hours (I took 5!). Once there, you can soak in uninterrupted views of the Dhauladhar range. You can stay at Triund for a night or two. There are two shacks, a Himachal Government rest house and a two room facility available there starting from INR 500 a room. You can also pitch a camp up there if it’s not bitterly cold. There’s no running water or power here, so gear up for an unadulterated thrilling adventure.
Travel Tip – Rather than staying at the government rest house or the tiny shacks, you can better go for the two room facility. It has neat rooms and a well stacked kitchen. The caretaker here cooks the most wholesome food compared to the other two. Plus, the place also has solar lamps.
Travel Tip – Carry just water and clothes if you intend to stay at the top. Food, snacks, water are all available at the shacks up there, albeit at higher prices.
Explore the Trilokinath Cave Temple
After many google searches for the little known cave temple went almost blank, I took the Mandi-Pathankot Road (NH 20) to find it on my own. An ancient temple, this is equally famous for its religious value as well as the rock formation. Fascinating stalactite and stalagmite formations will take your breath away. Other than the shivalinga and rock formations, interesting carvings on the walls of the inner complex of the Trilokinath Temple are something to look at.
Stay at Trilokinath Village
There are travellers, and then there are travellers who roam around for culinary delights. While Mcleodganj has always been famous for its awesome food, you can learn how to cook it too. Food tasting sessions are just a part of the deal at Sangye’s Kitchen. Sangye, a little man, who walked for 28 days to reach India from the invasion hit Tibet, will be your teacher here. Specialising in Tibetan cuisine, he takes classes that are wholly interactive and fun. Learn how to cook momos, thukpa, thukpa soup, khapsey, tingmo and more. There’s chocolate momos too. For INR 250 and upwards, it’s an experience you just cannot miss.
Try Volunteering at LHA
Teachers, writers, photographers, musicians or anyone, if you have got a skill than there is LHA to put it to good use. You can work as a volunteer at LHA, a non profit organisation working for the betterment of the displaced Tibetan community. Though a month is the minimum required for an ideal volunteering experience, you can contact the Volunteer Co-ordinator for a short term experience. It’s an unforgettable experience if you love teaching and don’t mind mixing travel with some do good activities.
Watch a movie at CINEMAA 1
Okay, before you go assuming things, I want to make it clear that Cinemaa 1 is not a cineplex. With a seating capacity of not more than 30 people, who are mostly foreigners and Tibetans (for Indians haven’t got a whiff of this one yet), this is good place to spend an evening or a lazy afternoon. Movies, from a variety of genres, like the Hobbit, the Blue Umbrella and Hindi ones are screened onto a projector at this place that’s more like a smaller hall. For INR 200 per person (coffee plus popcorns on the house!), it’s a great experience. Posters are put a week before, mentioning the whole week’s schedule on all the major stopovers of the town. Don’t miss it!
Touch the skies. Well, almost.
Mcleodganj is a little more than an hour away from Asia’s best paragliding sight. Do this fact justice by driving down the Palampur road to Bir and Billing and flying on air. For around INR 2200 (do some bargaining), you can glide over the Himalayan air for 30-45 minutes with some
luck wind on your side. For a chance that allows you to pore over the whole of Dhauladhars, this amount is more like a discount deal!
Learn How to Touch the Skies. Learn Paragliding.
If you fall into the category of real experience seekers, you will surely fall in love with paragliding after flying down that hilly meadow. And if I’m right, you must be craving to learn this awesome sport yourself. Courses range from a month to three months for a sum between INR 15000 or more. The only caution you need to practice is to check for your trainers’ license and concerned authorities. After that, the sky is the limit!
Picnic at Bhasgu Falls
Land back on the land after touching the Himalayan skies and head off for this most amazing place. A 40 minute trek to Bhagsu Falls starts from near the Bhagsunath Temple. All the huffing and puffing will be worth it when you finally reach this waterfall that comes gushing from up above the hills. While the water is heavenly cold and you can walk over the little, colourful rocks, do not forget to order a cup of masala chai and maggi from one of the two shacks up there. Thumbs up to this place for the lovers of photography.
Trek to Snow Line
Once you recover from that 4 hours of trekking to Triund top, hit the trek again. Take the narrow, rocky path further up from Triund towards Snow Line (which is much more than a cafe named the same). This marks the end of tree line in the region and takes you till a tiny lake that’s mostly frozen in winters. A trek of around an hour from Triund will get you here. You can watch the towering snow strewn Dhauladhars, which seem just like at an arm’s distance away from here. Stay up there at the Snow Line Shack, or return back to Triund or Mcleodganj after a hot plate of maggi or bread toasts and omelettes.
Trek to Chamba via Indrahar Pass
With some luck and lots of guts, you can reach the quaint region of Chamba while trekking through the Himalayas. Often compared to Switzerland, the region can easily surpass the beauty of Alps if you take my word. A trek of 4-5 days and camping can land you at Chamba. While you can do Triund and Snow Line yourself, taking a guide is a must for trekking up the Indrahar Pass. This one is remote and you need to carry all the essentials like water, dry food and more on this one. A must for mountain lovers.
Smell the air at Kangra & Darang Tea Gardens
While some still swear by the tea gardens of Darjeeling, there are some fascinating ones at Darang and Kangra. While you might have seen the plantations at Palampur on your way to Bir and Billing, you have got to visit Darang and Kangra tea estates as well. And if you fall in love with the sprawling greens, you can stay at Darang Tea Estate, a 150 year old property. More of an option for an idyllic vacation.
Visit the Martyrs’ Memorial
On your way to the Kangra Tea Estate, take a stop at the diversion that leads to HPCA Cricket Stadium. You’ll find Martyrs’ Memorial on one side of the road – a place worth visiting though most of the tourists overlook it. Nestled between the towering pines, it has a huge wall dedicated to the martyrs of Kargil War, built between lush green gardens. Also worth watching are fighter aircrafts, battle tanks, hi-tech arms and ammunition, war machinery and much more. A cafe at the entrance is more than just perfect for a midday lunch.
Spend a Musical Evening at the Black Tent Cafe
Though there’s a night club in the main square at Mcleodganj, hills are simply not meant to be spent at a night club. While you can, of course, take your pick, I suggest you a visit to Black Tent Cafe on a Wednesday evening. Live music, including Tibetan folk music, is played on request, accompanied by some interesting strumming of dramyin or the Tibetan guitar. There’s nothing like a cup of cream rich coffee (they make it really good here) coupled with live music sessions in the hills.
Make Your Own Jewellery
On your way to the Bhagsu Waterfalls, you’ll see this board (see the pic). While most of the tourists don’t visit the shop, I suggest you to pay a visit. You might end up designing your own shiny silver, crystal or rock jewellery at the end of it. Yes, that board lead you to a jewellery making classes, mostly silver. While you might not be able to learn it all if you’re on a short visit, you will come home with a bag full of glittery, interesting, hippie style jewellery pieces if nothing.
Learn History at the Kangra Fort
If forts and history have always been boring subjects for you, visit this fortress atop the hills at Kangra. For an entry pass that costs just INR 5, this place is like a time warp for free. Pay extra INR 100 for an audio guide, put on those headphones and enter this fascinating fortress. While the narrator will take you through the many battles, seizes and victories that it saw, you have the chance to experience the royal age of the hills. A visit to the Ambika Devi Temple, near the fort terrace, is a must.
Try a Motorbike
As they (read I) say, there’s no better way of exploring this town and its surroundings other than a motorbike. While you can have a taxi as well, my vote goes to making your own route map and finding your own way. All that you need to shell out is INR 1000 for a Royal Enfield (350 cc) and INR 800 for a Baja Pulsar (usually 150 cc) for a day. Some bargaining is likely to bring the price down. So kick start your time at Mcleodganj in the way it’s meant to be, and off you go on the meandering hill roads.
Learn Motorcycle Repair and Maintenance
Ahh.. okay. In case your bike break downs. As they say (again I), never ride a vehicle that you don’t know how to fix. With some time in hand (around a week), you can go for a beginners’ course in motorcycle repair and maintenance. Starting from INR 2000, these courses will come in handy for the rest of your lifetime. Don’t skip it for anything. There’s nothing like knowing your machine.
Exchange Your Dirty Laundry!
Err… that was no pun (notice the upper case). I’m just referring to this store named Dirty Laundry where you can walk off with your old, no longer in use stuff and walk out with bags of other stuff. All on heavy discount (usually 50%). Here, you have everything from phone chargers, binoculars, cameras, lenses, batteries, clothes, shoes, hats, baskets and more. If you take my word, they have got some really good stuff here (I bought a North Star Indiana Jones like hat that’s really cool!). All the goods that are not literally torn or look wasted are accepted here. If you’re a true traveller, you’ll find something or the other to pick from here.
Add Some Calories With the Chocolate Log Apple Cake
The homemade cakes at Chocolate Log can all be described in just one word – heavenly. While there is plenty to choose from like the Blueberry Cake, Muffins, Orange Cake, Hot Chocolate Cake and more, you just can’t skip a bite (or more) of the Apple Crust Cake. While I rarely experiment with food while travelling, this place had me falling in love with the sheer aroma. Don’t miss it.
Five minutes away from the Tashi Choeling Monastery, you will come across a tiny shack like bakery by the name of Tibet Quality Bakery. While it does look like one of those run of the mill places, give it a second look. This place is like a slice from the kitchens of Tibet, selling Yak Cheese, Beetroot Nut Slices, Yak Muffins, Lhasa Cookies, Apple Rolls, Tibet Special Nut Bars, Chocolate Balls and what not. You’ll have a tough time while making a choice here. My suggestion, pack if you become too full to devour more.
With this whole new offbeat itinerary and loads of things to do at Mcleodganj, you shouldn’t spend more time at home. Pack your bags and hit the roads to Mcleodganj. Believe me, you can really spend an entire month there. So while I’m off to Gujarat soon, you can hit the hills for the snow is falling really thick there.
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