Make a guess about the trip I made this summer! Okay, your first clue is I made a trip under the scorching sun and didn’t even break a sweat. Can’t guess? Oh, come on! It’s Summer! Where else would I prefer to be other than a hilltop, enjoying the cold breeze with a cup of coffee? Isn’t it lovely?! So now, it is sorted that the place is town between the mountains in the north. Wait! Did I just say north? Oops! I spoiled the fun of it for you, no worries, I’ve got it covered to not let you uncover the destinations so easily. ‘The North of the Wall’ may have been a hell of a nightmare for Westeros but the north of India is no less than a daydream for vagabonds throughout. With multiple states and ample of beautiful vistas, there are many to choose from. So which one will you go for? Here goes another hint: don’t we all just love cricket, cakes, cute little Tibetian kids and Dalai Lama. Now you get it right, Mcleodganj and Dharamshala! The sister towns fostered in the cradles of Dhauladhar mountain range.
Both the places are so serene and surreal for travellers that they tend to come back again to visit the towns. Dharamshala is the second capital of Himachal Pradesh and more importantly, the headquarter of the 14th Dalai Lama where he shifted during the exile and still continues to live. No doubt the place is hard to leave for anyone who comes here. It is the abode of such peace and spirituality that could make an atheist revert to religion. Mcleodganj is a small town situated at a height, 10km far from Dharamashala which defines aesthetics to another level. With both your eyes and mouth gaping wide at the picturesque sceneries, you won’t help but put your camera on work and will find yourself chilling in the balcony every now and then. Also, it is the starting point of the 5 hours long Triund Trek.
Plan. Pack. Go
Going to Dharamshala or Mcleodganj, although takes time but is pretty convenient. Direct buses and cabs are available from cities like Delhi, Chandigarh and the nearby railway station Pathankot. Air options are available with the Kangra Airport just 20km from Mcleodganj but direct flights are rare and if you’re bound by the budget, I suggest you take a bus from Delhi or Chandigarh. Both private and government transport runs on cheap prices and will cost you Rs. 1000. Distance from Dharamshala to Mcleodganj (and vice versa) is a walking one, so if there is less of luggage with you, you might be in for a mini trek! A bus is highly preferred as the views are breathtaking throughout the entire route.
Where to stay
Stay at youth hostels at Mcleodganj for the view or family inns in Dharamshala or camps in Dharamkot or the luxury resort at Naddi nearby, you have all the options in the world to choose from. Decent hotels range from Rs. 1000-5000 but it is a delight to stay in the hostels with cozy hipster vibes if you are a bunch of college going youngsters, and that too at such low cost! Zostel, Backpacker’s Inn and Worlds Hostel are to name some. It is better to book online prior to the journey than finding hostels on the spot as they are almost always booked beforehand by travellers. I stayed at Zostel and absolutely loved the place. You should go check out too.
What to eat
Who doesn’t love momos and Maggi on the summit of a mountain after the toil of a hard trek. But here, oh my! The sister towns do not just have momos and Maggi to offer but much more in bag. Brace yourselves, folks! They are an absolute paradise for gluttons like me and if you have a sweet tooth, there’s no stopping you from gobbling up all the marble cakes from the cutest German bakeries and so Instagram-worthy cafes in town. Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen, Woeser’s Bakery, Crepe pancake hut, Tibet Cafe, Four Seasons are to name a few. Some cafes cater to your desire of ‘coffee and a view’ to such epitome, you’ll surely be soaking all the mountain vistas through your eyes. There are multiple cuisine cultures to choose from: be it Italian, Indian, Oriental, Kashmiri, Israeli, Korean, Japanese, English, Vegan or just desserts for a brunch, all are yum! But the Tibetian food here is the real show stealer. Thukpa, Bok Choy and Thenthuk are some of the must eat.
So, here’s the thing: you need to spare a minimum 2-3 days and maximum of a lifetime to visit these beauties. One day for covering all the sites in Mcleodganj, one day for that of Dharamshala and one day (not mandatory) you can opt for Triund trek or places nearby like Kangra fort and valley, etc. The best thing that I found about the two towns is that they cater to the purpose of a family trip and a college tour with a group of friends equally well. You feel that nothing can be hippie enough sitting near a bonfire and a guitar and bottle of vodka by your side, the very next moment you are wandering around Kalachakra temple thinking you should’ve brought your mother with you. Mcleodganj and Dharamshala share a lot in common when it comes to tourist places. Hence heading straight to the must visits, here we go:
Tsuglagkhang temple (the Dalai Lama House)
This place has such ethereal feel to it. When we entered the temple we could really understand why are monks such placid beings. The tranquillity here hovers your head. The temple complex also comprises of museums and monasteries reflecting the Tibetian history of exile and their struggle with the Chinese. One of them is the Namgyal Monastery which you should definitely visit. Who knows, you might meet His Highness Dalai Lama strolling around! Also, do visit the Tibetan photo museum to get the taste of what your own land feels like. Fortunate are we, to have our own land free.
After Namgyal, we headed to another temple famous for its heritage and prayer wheels: the Kalachakra temple. Located centrally in the town, it is also the place where Dalai Lama offers his teachings to a large crowd of his followers.
Bhagsu nag waterfall
Completing the temples and the monasteries, set off for Bhagsu nag before dusk advents. It is a 20 minutes trail which you can complete walking your way up to there and walking, in my personal opinion, gives you an edge as you stop by multiple places. You pass via The Bhagsu Nag Temple and then, mark my words when I say with every step that you reach there, you’ll be enchanted by the beauty from up there! The waterfall is Aphrodite in disguise.
When someone says they visited Bhagsu waterfalls, most of the time, it is not just the falls but also the well known Shiva cafe that lies on a 10 minutes walking distance from the fall to the top. The view, the vibes and the food, all are read deal amazing in here! Not to miss this spot if you visit the falls.
And while we’re at it, might as well talk about another enthralling cafe situated at yet another peak, 15 minutes away from Shiva cafe. It’s funny how the name of this cafe serves as an oxymoron for the place that it is: full of books and literati. This place can beat all your Instagram filters with the aura it has and the panorama of Dhauladhar it caters to. And oh, the food! Dude, don’t get me started! Sitting here, reading an old classic with a luscious dessert is all that you ever asked for, isn’t it?
St. John in the Wilderness
As much as its name intrigues you, the church does even more. A reminiscence of the British Empire in India, it holds the grave of Lord Elgin, the Viceroy of India during 1861-1863. Built from Belgian stained glasses and seated in the meadows, it seems as if a movie set of the Victorian era.
No, you’re not heading back to Kashmir for sightseeing the alluring lake. You have a mini version of it right near Mcleodganj which you can reach by an auto. It is famous for its rich fauna and turquoise water.
Come back from sightseeing and it is evening already. That is the best time for some leisure (although, you’ll have it through the entire trip ;). Go shop some traditional Tibetian jewellery for your mom and hog on the delicious local cuisine in th Kotwali Market. The market here is full of colours and antiquities. You can also add to your memories a little bonfire by your stay place with folks around.
After you’re done with the day in Mcleodganj, it is time to visit another pretty town: Dharamshala. Now, this part you can plan in accordance to your stay, if you are staying at Dharamshala you can do Mcleodganj on the second day, honestly, whatever floats your boat!
Dharamshala it is!
Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium Dharamshala
This is the place where we loved watching the stadium more than the cricket match itself. Constructed on the foot of Dhauladhar ranges, there is nothing like watching any other stadium but this one with the rising sun. So the first thing you ought to do is go here in the morning as it opens at 10 in the morning and at somedays like Monday, it closes early at 12 at noon.
You can’t not visit this place if you come to Dharamshala. I highly recommend this place. Once you get in, you’ll feel you’re in a colourful Japanese dwelling. With small water springs every here and there and dolls statues of deity, there is so much to learn about the Tibetan culture here. Not to forget you can interact with the local artists here who learn traditional Thangka paintings here.
Set on a beautiful location, about 8km from Dharamshala, this monastery is such a picture perfect place, you won’t stop taking snaps here. Also great for a little trek, this monastery exhibits religious practices and performances by monks worth watching, especially during Buddha Purnima ( the birth occasion of Lord Buddha).
Get there! Just get there anyhow! By Jeep or trek. It is at 2 hours distance from Dharamshala but you don’t want to miss this place for sure. When we reached there, I remember, it was at the verge of dusk and such an enchanting experience it was for us, I simply wished to make a cottage and live there forever!
Lay back and watch the moonlit night or just trot through the markets into the cafes! The peace here is unmatched. No matter which way you prefer: goth or hipster, you’ll fall in love with the place anyway!
These were some of the ‘not to miss’ places in Mcleodganj and Dharamshala. On the Third you can choose for a trek to Triund or move ahead towards Dalhousie because after all this, you would not want to go back to your mundane life. Bon Voyage! And, my friend always beckoned me while we packed for the journey, don’t forget the shoes 🙂