Mcleod Ganj may not get as much attention internationally as its big sister Dharamsala, which is generally hailed as the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But once you look a little closer you see that McLeod Ganj is actually the place HH calls home, and the place that has really taken on the Tibetan culture as a result. Mcleod Ganj adds yet another facet to the already widely varied and diverse locations within India.
McLeod Ganj, the little town that’s full of activities!! You can listen to buddhist teachings in the local library, take a course in yoga, take a course in massage to help your yogi friends recover from their flexing and bending, and on your day off from all the learning you can sit back and leisurely make some macramé jewellery, or you can even indulge in some food under the pretence of learning Indian or Tibetan cooking in classes! Once you have done all this and fallen in love with this little mountain town with a Tibetan flair, you may want to give back by volunteering to teach English to some of the Tibetan exiles or by cleaning up the town and spreading awareness of the importance of looking after the environment.
There is such a mixed bag in this little Tibetan refuge, this is a great place to spend a little extra you time after a long period of shuffling from destination from destination. This post just scratches the surface of the many activities on offer and some of our favourite places to eat and drink in Bhagsu and McLeod Ganj.
Must Do.The number one attraction in McLeod Ganj, in my opinion, has got to be His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whom has resided here since his exile from Tibet. If you happen to ask Trip Advisor instead of me, however, they are going to tell you that the number one attraction is in fact Triund Mountain. The hike to the summit of Triund (2,900 meters) is going to take you anywhere between 2 and 4 hours depending on your fitness, and there are a few tea houses to stop at along the way that are excellent places to rest and take in the lovely views, and contemplate life. Once you reach the top you can hire camping gear and spend a night or two with this view at your doorstep!
There are also limited guest rooms if you need a little more luxury (don’t get your hopes up too high). We went up in late April and at this time you will need a few layers to keep you warm overnight as well as your sleeping bag- so pack accordingly! Although the hike is of an easy difficulty with well-marked trails, there are a few areas of rocky stairs that will get you puffing. This view definitely makes it all worthwhile though, don’t you think!?
Waste Warriors.While you’re at it, why not clean up Triund with Waste Warriors!? Every Monday and Thursday these guys run organized clean ups of two popular tourist sites near McLeod Ganj. On Monday at 9am they meet at their office behind the Omni hotel in Bhagsu, before setting off on the Triund hike to clean up both the trail and campsite. This is an awesome hike with exquisite views at the top. It takes closer to 4 or 5 hours depending on your fitness when you are picking up rubbish! On Thursdays they clean up the Bhagsu waterfall. This is a great initiative and we are so glad we got to help out!
Take it easy on the hike to Triund though- the peak is 2,900 meters above sea level and we raced up, filling our garbage bag multiple times with rubbish. Then I was hit with altitude sickness! Most other people had headaches but I ended up incapacitated with pain and I threw up everywhere. We had to hike back down in the pitch dark. Thanks to Sonnam for taking such great care of us on the way down, and Vikram for picking me up at the bottom at midnight! Its amazing the difference the lower altitude made to my condition- its not a joke guys!
Macramé.Most jewellery stores offer classes at a rate of 150 rupees per hour, including string but not stones or metal pieces. A 15-day course that takes you from basic bracelets to intricate necklaces, and include all materials were going for 5000 rupees. I’d recommend shopping around before deciding on a store to work with, not for price, every place I asked offered much the same deal. But for personality! You’re potentially spending quite a long time with these people, and you want to make sure you will be comfortable, and get along well!
Yoga.I did weeks worth of Iyangar classes with Alpesh Yoga. He charges 1500 rupees for 6 classes or 300 at a casual rate. He is in Baghsu from April-Sept every year and his classes are between 8.30-10, 10.30-12, 4pm Meditation/yoga depending on the day. I had never tried the Iyangar style before and I found the focus on alignment kept my brain from wandering too much as it had in the past.
Volunteer.Conversational English with Buddhist Monks and Tibetan exiles run at 2pm Monday-Friday at the Hope café under the Hope gallery in McLeod Ganj.
Visit the Dalai Lama.Check this website to see the dates of his scheduled appearances. We were very lucky to have the Kalachakra Temple fill with monks just as we finished having a look around. They then chanted for such a long time, and it was an amazing thing to witness. Even my non-believing boyfriend could feel the vibrations in the air- a magical experience for sure!
The Tibetan museum.This is a small building that you walk past to get to the Kalachakra temple (Dalai lama temple) and is well worth a visit. Entrance is free and you can watch a great, very sad documentary about “Modern Tibet” for 10 rupees. I have read the book ‘Tibet, a history’ which is written with the Dalai Lama. So I already knew a lot about what has happened in Tibet over the past few hundred years, but that book finishes somewhere after the Dalai Lama’s escape. What the museum shows is how Chinese propaganda and censorship (we know first hand about this having lived in China) has cut the world off from what is happening in Tibet, and it really is shocking!
There are hundreds of Tibetans who have burned themselves alive to try and raise awareness and the news just doesn’t get out of China. If they survive, they seem to disappear just like everyone else who has spoken out publically within Tibet.
Tibetan fried momos.You can’t beat the lady on the corner of the temple in middle of town . She charges 20 rupees for 5; and she seems to be a bit of a local legend. Her sauce has lots of ginger and just enough chilli!
Lhasa Cookies.After finding the momo lady, follow this road and on the right you’ll find the Tibetan bakery try the Lhasa cookie, the Tibetan slice or the beetroot slice- all amazing!Peace café.Further down from the Tibetan bakery still on the right- best masala chai in 2 months in India! Great cheesy momo soup too!
Even further down again there’s a great place called Crepe café. It has a big red apple as the logo- great vegan/veg food and kombucha tea
For sustainable travellers.There’s also a travellers second hand store where you can swap your unwanted items for something else for a small price.
A note about Hotels!We stayed in Bhagsu, which is about a 15-minute walk from McLeod Ganj. We were able to negotiate a room for 300 rupees per night, as were our travel companions. We definitely recommend catching a taxi to Bhagsu and then doing a bit of legwork, as all the cheapest places are not online!McLeod Ganj and Dharamkot were also full of accommodation options.We hope you enjoy this Distinctly Tibetan area of India as much as we did.
Have you been to McLeod Ganj? What did you think!?