So all set to explore the twin cities of Mcleodganj-Dharamsala on your next trip? Well, I did that recently and must say that it was an unforgettable experience in all senses. A vacation at these beautiful hill stations in Himachal Pradesh will surely be rejuvenating and refreshing.
Dharamsala: Your landing point
An overnight bus ride from Delhi will take you to Dharamsala (there are loads of options; the best being Himachal Pradesh Roadways’ Himsuta Volvo Bus) or you can also book a cab if you want your very own private ride.
In all these centuries, in all its incarnations, Dharamsala — or the Pilgrims’ Rest House — has unfailingly lived up to its name. Welcoming tired travellers in search of spiritual bliss, it provides a brief, noisy, colourful, hectic respite before the snow-clad Dhauladhar Range beckoned them onwards.
How about visiting a snow-capped cricket stadium on your Dharamsala trip? Well, if the idea excites you then I suggest you to visit HPCA Stadium in town which has hosted several national and international matches.
Include places like Gyuto Monastery, Naam Art Gallery and Kangra Art Museum in your itinerary as these are some not-to-miss places to visit in Dharamsala. As for the dining, the hill station has a number of nice restaurants like Hotel Mid Tower, City Heart and Espresso Restobar- take your pick from these options and satiate your hunger pangs with the best of dishes.
Photo from official Facebook page of Espresso Restobar
It is recommended to plan a night stay in Dharamsala as you won’t be able to cover all this in one day. The hill station has a number of decent accommodation options, ranging from budget to luxury hotels.
Shopping in Dharamsala
Dharamsala is also a shopper’s paradise with places like Kotwali Bazaar and Gurudwara Road Market offering anything and everything under the sun. Shop for snuggly woolens, unique handicrafts and other interesting knick knacks for your loved ones. Have at least half day to shop and then you can leave for Mcleodganj in the second half of the day.
2 days in Mcleodganj
The upper reaches of the Kangra Valley are a curious mish-mash of cultures; Tibetan and Kashmiri curio shops, pizza shacks with alu chaat and tandoori dhabas, Tibetan hippies and American monks, prayers and Hindi film songs. You have to spend at least two days to get the feel of this happening hill station.
Peaceful Monasteries and Churches
Start your Mcleodganj trip by visiting Tsug Lhakhang, a place which is Dalai Lama’s residence with his private office and temple. The elegant two-storeyed temple is so unobtrusive that it blends seamlessly into the landscape.
The next stop is Namgyaima Stupa, which is a complete contrast to the understated charm of Tsug Lhakhang. Its rows of prayer wheels are as loud and colourful as the marketplace in which it stands. The stupa is a memorial to the Tibetans who died fighting in their homeland.
Just outside Little Lhasa, as you descend towards Lower Dharamsala, is a stone building that stands aloof under giant deodar pines. The sturdy Church of St John-in-the Wilderness, with its exquisite stained glass windows depicting John the Baptist with Jesus, was among the first buildings to be constructed here by the British in 1852. It is now the only surviving monument of that time — most were destroyed in the devastating earthquake of 1905.
Lake and Theatre
Theatre, in the form of the traditional opera, is big in Tibetan culture and that is why we have TIPA (Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts) in Mcleodganj. It attracts hundreds of avid fans to its annual 10-day Shoton Festival. The festival includes performances by TIPA. The high-pitched singing accompanied by drums, cymbals, splendid costumes and a wealth of oddly appealing characters — including witches, kings, wise men and fools, dakinis and yogis — make for an unforgettable experience.
Another gem in the list of places to visit in Mcleodganj is Dal Lake which is sacred to locals and teeming with goldfish, and many come to feed them. It’s a beautiful walk (about 2 km) to the lake from the town, though you can also drive. Ask a local to direct you to the jungle trail to Dal Lake from McLeodganj.
In McLeodganj main bazaar are vendors of Tibetan carpets, thangkas, ponchos, jackets, chubas, masks, votive objects, silver and stone jewellery and trinkets, lamps, statuettes, sleeping bags, fruit preserves, tahini and muesli. You can also pick up Tibetan cheese and excellent tea, prayer wheels and flags. And, of course, don’t forget to pop into Nowrojee’s for unusual finds and everyday essentials. In short, shopping in Mcleodganj is a pure delight with a plethora of options.
Photo by Michael Scalet
You will surely feel famished in between your shopping and sightseeing expeditions and this is when the cafes and restaurants come into picture. It has become quite the international food plaza with German bakeries, Tibetan momo shops, Delhi chaat bhandars, idli-dosa, Continental steaks or fish and chips and, of course, banana pancakes and pizzas. You name it, McLeo has it!
You will love to savour authentic Tibetan food at restaurants in Mcleodganj and don’t miss places like Tibet Kitchen, Namgyal Cafe, Illiterati Cafe and German Bakery Cafe.
The Bhagsunag Shrine, as old as the Dal Lake, if not older, though local lore puts its age at 10,000 years, is a short distance from town. The shrine, whose origin revolves around a myth about a great fight between the demon king (Bhagsu) and the snake god (Nag), has been rebuilt more than once. Head here in the early morning hours and don’t miss the Bhagsu Waterfall when you visit Bhagsunag.
Snow-capped mountains call out to you. Set out on this thrilling trek and you will not be disappointed. There are two routes for trekking. The first one is from Bhagsu Waterfall where you will cross the famous Shiva Cafe, however this trekking route is not recommended in winters due to heavy snow. You can take the other route of Rakkar and Dharamkot and the starting point of this trek will be Gallu Temple.
The trek to the peak is certainly worth all the huffing and puffing. Offering you a gorgeous view of the entire range and the deep valley below, Triund is surrounded in surreal and breathtaking beauty. With small campsites at the top, you can plan a camp night amongst the wonders of nature. It normally takes about 8 hours for a roundtrip trek and you can contact the authorities at Forest Rest House in Dharamsala for more information on trek guides.
Photo by blackfog
Stay Options in McLeodganj
The pretty hill station has something for every budget, from INR 500 to INR 1,500 plus properties. Some of the notable options include Glenmoor Cottages, Chonor House and Surya Resort.
Photo from official website of Glenmoor Cottages
I hope that after reading so much about this pretty hill station, you will be packing your bags and heading for a trip to Mcleodganj-Dharamsala on your next vacation.
About the author:
Jigyasha loves to read and travel.