To write about a place which largely forms a major part of my childhood summer vacations gives me literal occasional smiles.
Dharamshala holds a special place in my heart, not only while remembering childhood smiles but also while thinking about a place to permanently settle in and which also feels like home. Whose people are full of love and space where you feel the safest, Dharamshala is that abode for me.
1. Dalai Lama Temple
You may think of it as an overrated experience in McLoedganj but trust me once you see the best sunsets from here, you would feel like making your way back here.
This temple which is also the residence place of His Holiness Dalai Lama is also known as Tsuglakhang Temple. A few times a year, you can also see him preaching here amongst the monks.
I personally enjoy the vibes of this place. Seeing the monk debate and pray, enriches me with so many cultural thoughts.
I was once lucky enough to catch Losar, which is the Tibetan New Year, celebrations here. It falls in the month of February.
The whole temple complex houses a monastery, residence (Photang) of His Holiness Dalai Lama, a museum, monks` residential quarters and Namgyal Gompa.
Timings: 6 AM to 6 PM (Nov – Mar)
5 AM to 7 PM (Apr – Oct)
I spent a day in the Buddhist village of Ladakh. Read about it here.
2. Kora Walk
The walk is meant to be the Tibetan circumambulation done in a clockwise direction around the Dalai Lama Temple. It is one thing that you must indulge in for some inner peace and to understand the religious values of Buddhism.
At points, I got to see Dharamshala from new viewing sources, rolled all the prayer wheels falling my way, felt at peace and enlightenment while passing by the Tibetan flags and tried to decipher the mantras engraved in colour on the boulders.
It takes around 30 minutes to complete the whole walk.
3. Tibetan Museum
Set in the Tsuglagkhang Monastery complex, the Tibetan museum is the right place to know about the history of Tibet, the war with China and the life after refuge in India.
The museum has got some rare books and pictures which rightfully depict the struggle of war-torn times and Tibet as a place.
4. McLeodganj Market Hopping
Kotwali Bazar, Jogibara Road or the McLeodganj Central Square are perfect places for the shopaholic in you. I personally pick up tiny décor items and mountain souvenirs every time I visit these markets.
The walk to the Dalai Lama Temple basically is filled with roadside stalls full of various exotic items.
Some shops also teach you the art of macramé which is 350 INR for a basic class and 200 INR/hour for complicated designs.
5. Street Food
I can undoubtedly declare the location of the best street momos I ever had. You will find these fried veg momos near a small monastery while moving towards the Dalai Lama Temple. Find this lady sitting by the prayer wheels. A steal in 50 INR!
6. Best Restaurants
The whole McLoedganj market is dotted with some simple and exotic cafes. The food is as good as the views from them. If nothing else to do then you can simply sip on your coffee with some cake and gaze at the mountain views till the sun bids you goodbye.
Woeser Bakery which has now shifted under Black Magic is guaranteed to fill your heart with its tasty cakes and handmade coffee. I had Paradise cake for 80 INR, carrot cake and a cappuccino, both for 100 INR each. WHAT A STEAL!
For authentic Tibetan food, The Tibet Hotel is highly recommended. Their Thukpa is my all-time favourite.
Location: close to main McLeodganj Square
If you need to find the best Banoffee Pie in whole Dharamshala, you will get it here at Coffee Talk, on the temple street.
Namgyal Café serves some of the best pizzas with views. Try their pastas and sandwiches too.
Visit Illiterati Books & Coffee for the views more than the food. A library and now a co-working space too, the café is definitely a must visit for peace lovers.
Location: Jogibara road
Kalimpong RestaurantTop of Form serves the best of the best momos apart from that one corner shop near the main McLoedganj Square which remains open until only 4 pm.
Location: TIPA Road
Try Jimmys Italian kitchen for some nice Italian delicacies and gorgeous views.
The Clay Oven is another gem in McLoedganj market which serves some of the best thalis and pizzas too.
7. Indrunaag Hike
The Indrunaag Temple is located on the way to Khaniyara Village about 3-km from Kotwali Bazaar. This 30-minute hike to the top takes you even closer to the mountain views. You may also choose to do paragliding here.
8. Kharota Khanyara
There are numerous viewpoints in and around Mcloedganj to get panoramic mountain views but Khanyara is my favourite due to the smaller number of touristy crowds here. The spot is popular amongst the locals as a picnic place. The place is also rich in slate deposits where khanyara apparently means slate quarries.
9. Hike to Dharamkot
Soak in the true magic of living amidst the Dhauladhars by spending a few days in this quaint village which is located only at a hike of 30 minutes from main McLoedganj square.
The place is dotted with some really cool cafes and a hippie market. You can make sure to catch on some amazing short hikes from here.
Distance from Mcleodganj: 8 Km
10. Naddi View Point
It is one of the prime locations to see magical sunsets in a panoramic style against the Dhauladhars.
Distance from Mcleodganj: 4 Km
11. Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA)
TIPA is a place to spot cultural activities and rich text on Tibetan culture. Institutes like TIPA and Norbulingka are made to preserve Tibetan culture, Buddhist texts and anything related to the history of them.
The Shoton festival, which is a 10-day annual festival is a spectacle to see and enjoy the colourful dance shows. It happens between August to September.
Distance from Mcleodganj: 6 Km
12. Bhagsu Naag Waterfall
An Amalgamation of religious richness and nature`s gift, Bhagsu Naag is famous for Lord Shiva`s Bhagsunath temple and a gushing waterfall.
The beautiful path which goes downhill takes you to this 20 m tall falling stream of water. The place is now full of cafes with scenic views.
Distance from Mcleodganj: 5 Km
13. Aghanjar Mahadev
It is a serene stream running over large boulders. Located by the side of the Aghanjar Mahadev temple which also has a deep connection with Mahabharata. It is a beautiful place to spend the morning at.
Also, do not miss these delicious pakoras from a joint by the side of the temple.
14. St. John in the Wild Church
This neo-gothic styled church in a forest area literally justifies its name. It was built in 1852 as a dedication to John the Baptist. You will find it settled peacefully amidst the deodar trees. By the side of this church, there are also ruins of a graveyard, where British people who were killed in the 1905 earthquake, are buried.
Top things to do in Dharamshala and Kangra
1. Dharamshala Cricket Stadium
A cricket stadium located at a height of 1457 metres above the sea level sounds like absolute gorgeousness to me. The HPCA Stadium holds a special place in the tourist bucket list while visiting Dharamshala because of the bright green cricket ground set against the indigo backdrop.
2. Norbulingka Institute
Definitely, this place is a must visit in the lower Dharamshala (Sidhpur) region. The calmness of its surroundings instantly disconnects you from all the noise and pace.
The institute is dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture and rarest form of Tibetan crafts.
Do visit the Losel Doll Museum at the Norbulingka Institute having the world’s largest Losel doll collection.
Timings: 9 AM – 5:30 PM (offices and workshops closed on Sundays)
Distance from Mcleodganj: 16 Km
3. Masrur Rock Cut Temple
Gems from the early 8th century are located in this complex of Kangra valley. The rock-cut Hindu temple is in a group of 15 monolithic rocks. The temple is said to have been the residing place of Pandavas during there exile period.
Distance from Mcleodganj: 50 Km
4. Kangra Art Museum
Art lovers and history buffs, the museum is a must visit for you. A lot of artefacts, old-age coins, scriptures, sculptures, war costumes and paintings are on display here.
Visiting timings: 10 am-1:30pm, 2pm-5pm (closed on Mondays)
5. Kangra Fort
This is the largest fort in the Himalayas and was built by the royal Rajput family of the Kangra state. The fort is an epitome to a lot of violent clashes from the history. Here you will not find a lot of tourists but if you visit it, you won’t regret it.
Also, make sure to visit Nagarkot fort museum which is just in the vicinity.
Distance from Mcleodganj: 32 Km
From here once can easily reach Palampur as well. Read my detailed travel guide to Palampur here.
6. Kangra War Memorial
The memorial is dedicated to the post-independence martyrs who lost their lives in Indo-China war of 1962, the Indo-Pak wars of 1947, 1965 and 1971. The huge black marble panels are etched with names of all the martyrs.
7. Narghotta Tea Garden
The vast Narghota tea gardens give sights to witness magical sunset against the diminishing layers of Dhauladhar mountains.
8. Chinmaya Tapovan Ashram
A young journalist, Balakrishnan Menon, started the Chinmaya Mission. The institution is named after his guru Swami Tapovan and is now a centre of Chinmaya Rural Primary Health and Training Centre.
It is a great place to learn something new about history and beliefs apart from looking at panoramic greenery of Sidhbari area.
Things to remember while visiting Dharamshala or McLeodganj
• This place, sometimes also called as little Lhasa, is beautiful in every way. From cafes to the people running them, from little alleys dotted with colourful flags, to roads full of red-clothed monks and till the villages around with people of big hearts, Dharamshala and Mcloedganj are now booming with tourism for obvious reasons.
• Try carrying your own cutlery wherever possible, in cases where you are served in plastic ones. This way the problem of single-use plastics in the area would be controlled to some extent.
• The region is plastic free in terms of that plastic polyethene are banned here. Make sure you don’t carry and dispose around any plastic polythene.
• Don’t barge with cameras in the face of monks especially when they are meditating. Make sure to smile at them and ask for permission.
• Avoid going to this region on extreme summers, even this region suffers from acute water shortage. Let’s not burden the locals with even more problems.
• You can also volunteer to join organisations like Waste Warriors and Healing Himalayas who actively organise cleaning drives while hiking in these regions.
How to reach McLeodganj?
McLoedganj is located at a distance of 10 km from Dharamshala. One can get a local bus or shared taxis from Gandhi park (in lower Dharmshala) bus stand up till Mcloedganj.
Pathankot is the nearest railway station which is 92 km away from Mcloedganj. Toy trains run from Pathankot to Kangra which might take longer but as they say, it is always about the journey. Buses and taxis are available further on from Kangra to Dharamshala.
The beautiful Gaggal Airport is the nearest to the Kangra valley and is 24 km away from Mcloedganj. A taxi from the airport to Gandhi Park bus stand will charge you 500 INR and takes 40 minutes to reach.