Mcleodganj is a paradise for trekkers and mountain lovers. Like many, I have visited Mcleodganj, Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh twice. It’s the residence of the respected Dalai Lama, a place of refuge for persecuted Tibetans, and the second capital of Himachal Pradesh after Shimla. I stayed both times I visited at the Backpacker’s Inn guesthouse. Let me share some of the many reasons why this place was on my bucket list. More of a vacation and less of a trip, Mcleodganj (Dharamshala) is a paradise with many trails and experiences that keep changing with the seasons. From Triund to Mt. Dhauladhar to Chamba, Kangra etc, there are also numerous destinations from there that are adventurous too. 

Mcleodganj is a suburb of the Dharamshala region in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, India and is full of character. Mcleodganj offers a wide variety of options for a curious traveller, but because of its popularity tends to get very congested too. Since Dharamshala is only 10 km away and is well connected via shared taxi services, I would recommend it as it’s more peaceful. 

It’s a beautiful destination to immerse yourself in Tibetan culture by visiting places to see in Dharamshala such as monasteries, by doing volunteer work at various institutions in the region, through its excellent food, shopping and interacting with people, and more. But of course one of the highlights of a trip to Mcleodganj city is its immense scenic beauty.

Things I Did

As a young girl who simply loves the mountains, being exposed to the mountain range of Dhauladhar for the first time was an awe-inspiring experience. I explore holiday spots in and around Mumbai, something I’ve done through my childhood. This was my first trip to the north of India and also among the snow-capped Himalayas. Making my way to see the places I had listed, I passed through the rugged mountain terrains, and walked and walked to discover some of nature’s most exquisite hidden gems. 

Mcleodganj, in its most natural and raw form, has been attracting travellers from across the globe, and is home to multiple intriguing attractions. It was a winter morning in December when I landed in Mcleodganj after a 10-hour bus journey from New Delhi. The temperature was as low as 10 degrees and was dropping because it had snowed. The chilly breeze on my face sent  shivers down my spine and made my teeth chatter for a while, until I finally made it to the Backpacker’s Inn guesthouse (approximately 15 minutes away from the main bus stand). I noticed that this place was an absolute delight and it filled my soul with happiness. Set amid lush greenery and breathtaking scenery, in a pristine atmosphere, these are the things I experienced during my trip (3 nights and 4 days). 

There is a lot to see in both Mcleodganj and its city Dharamshala. The unique thing I noticed were the many modest guest houses and small restaurants. My favourite restaurant was Tibet Kitchen, located near the main square and nearly always crowded. The food here is as tasty as you can imagine and with its traditional yet cosy ambience, I’m sure this will be your favourite place to eat too. Do try out the Tibetan dish Shapta (a popular gravy usually comprising chicken, ginger and red chilly) along with momos, the tasty dumplings of Tibetan cuisine. Besides, you can also try out some Japanese restaurants (if you crave sushi, the vegetarian restaurant called Lung Ta, run by Japanese owners, serves some great authentic dishes); and don’t miss the German bakery which is great for a perfectly-brewed cup of cappuccino and small baked goods. 

Tibet kitchen in Mcleodganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh,
Photo courtesy: Aahna

Places To Visit

Quite a bustling town during winters, some of the most notable landmarks I experienced include: 

  • Namgyal, the home monastery of the Dalai Lama.
  • Bhagsu Falls, for its grandeur and breathtaking beauty.
  • Tsuglagkhang, where the Dalai Lama resides, and one of the main places of worship for Buddhists.
  • Bhagsunag temple, located at a height of 1,770 metres above sea level. Built for King Bhagsu (a revered snake god), it’s a massive attraction for devotees. Situated on the way to the famous Bhagsunag Waterfalls, you can make a quick stop at the temple for some blessings. 
  • Church of St. Johns in the wilderness, a neo-gothic architecture built in 1852 and dedicated to John the Baptist.
  • Dal Lake, the beautiful small lake just 10 minutes from Mcleodganj town.
  • Shiva Cafe, the best place for a viewpoint (also one of my best hikes).
  • Naddi Point Viewpoint, an absolute delight for your eyes and Instagram.
  • Cricket Stadium in Dharamshala.

I also visited this hill station during the monsoons, and guess what? It offered me a completely different experience compared to the one I had in winter. The place had turned more surreal with the smell of rain fresh on the pavement, the sound of droplets hitting the umbrella or raincoat, the feeling of walking on wet streets. The numerous sightseeing options are still open with the spectacular view of the mountains, which make it a great backdrop for lush green landscapes. 

Dal Lake in Mcleodganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh
Dal Lake, photo courtesy: Aahna

My Cultural Experience

Spending some time in the monastery was the best few moments of silence I’ve ever experienced. Witnessing how monks greet and pray was a blessing by itself. The highlight of the Tsuglagkhang Dalai Lama Temple are the Buddhist prayer wheels. Walking along the prayer wheels and spinning them is said to bring good karma and purge the person who spins them of negative energy. And while you do this, you must chant a mantra—Om Mani Padme Hum. Reciting it is said to soothe your senses and send energy to the seven chakras. A pure calming sound, it’s meant to heal your body and soul. A must-do experience, you can also visit in the morning to take part in the daily meditation and chanting along with the monks.

For more spirituality and serenity, take a walk around The Tsuglagkhang Complex. It comprises the Tsuglagkhang temple, the Namgyal Monastery, the Tibetan Museum, a cafe and a library, along with many shrine rooms with statues. A holy site for Buddhists, it offers beautiful insight into the life of Tibetan Buddhism. 

Prayer wheels at the Tsuglagkhang Dalai Lama Temple in Mcleodganj, Dhramashala, Himachal Pradesh
Prayer wheels, photo courtesy: Aahna
Tsuglagkhang Complex in Mcleodganj, Dharamshala
The Tsuglagkhang Complex, photo courtesy: Aahna

What Surprised Me

The most prominent thing I noticed was a group of shopkeepers enroute to Bhagsu waterfalls working hard to collect natural water. They had built a natural stream of water with coke bottles (seen in the video below) which served a good purpose for household use. 

How cool is this? Video courtesy: Aahna

There were also a few volunteers who made an effort to carefully pick thrownaway cold drinks or water bottles, biscuits and chips’ wrappers and more. This made the route clean and safeguarded the environment. After a long hike to the top of the waterfall, it was worth spending time at the Shiva Cafe, a very popular spot. It serves authentic Tibetan cuisine, along with some munchies. The walls are embellished with psychedelic artwork and Bob Marley posters that will easily take you back into the hippie era. The breathtaking view is worth the hike.

Shiva cafe in Mcleodganj, Dharamshala
Shiva Cafe, photo courtesy: Aahna

A New Way To Shop

When we travel to any destination, we usually shop at the local markets for clothes, magnets and souvenirs. I did the same in Mcleodganj but also found that it has a fair share of shopping spots when it comes to locals selling authentic paintings, wood carvings and other handicrafts. Every local shop has its pros and cons, as well as tactics to sell their wares. Nevertheless, you always pick things you love from the most creative looking shop, don’t you? Do check out the Nowrojee and Son General Store, a 157-year-old shop known for its souvenirs and local knick-knacks, as well as Kotwali Bazaar where you can find some of the best rugs and carpets. 

What More Can You Do

The only thing I could not do both times I visited was the Triund Trek, which is considered to be a moderately challenging trek that takes you amid verdant forest of oak trees. Much has been said and written about this. So, I recommend that you go trekking and camping in Mcleodganj if you love adventures. 

Read more: Guide To Triund Trek, The Best Trek For First-timers

If the hills are your favourite place to be, then why think twice? There is nothing better than a weekend trip to Dharamshala. Obviously, I recommend you traverse further and end up in McLeodganj or even better, Dalhousie for the best travel journey. I hope my experiences inspire you to take a trip to this Tibetan town.

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