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8 Reasons To Put McLeod Ganj On Your Travel List

April 18, 2016 | Gwen Bellinger

In a country infamous for its crowds and congestion, McLeod Ganj serves as a beacon of tranquility and beauty. Tucked away in the Himalayas, this suburb of Dharamshala is home to a large Tibetan refugee population, including the Dalai Lama himself. The city impressed me during my short trip, making it one of my favorite destinations in India. Here’s why McLeod Ganj should be next on your travel list:



Photo Courtesy: Gwen Bellinger

The Dalai Lama Temple Complex – Tsuglagkhang

A tranquil dwelling at the edge of the city, the temple offers a glimpse into the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. Built in the 1960s after the Dalai Lama and many Tibetans sought refuge in McLeod Ganj, the complex houses a number of buildings and statues. Not only a location of spiritual vivacity, the Tibetan architecture serves as another means of cultural preservation of the 150,000 refugees living in India. Its serenity almost feels tangible in the midst of Buddhist prayers. Observe the monks debating in the courtyard or listen to the calming sound of their chanting and music within the temple. Home to the Dalai Lama, some lucky travelers might sneak a glimpse of His Holiness around the temple complex. Yet even on a typical day, the complex is a must-see. Circumnavigate the temple, spin the golden prayer wheels, and enjoy the view of the Himalayan mountains from this peaceful and soothing attraction.



Photo Courtesy: Cristina Vaquer

Paragliding Over the Himalayan Mountains

What better way to experience the mountains than to soar over them? Launch into flight from Billing, the location of the world championship of paragliding and experience the weightlessness associated with flying. Sail above the Dauladhaur mountain range and Kangra Valley and enjoy the spectacular views. Billing is about 84km (2 ½ hours drive) from McLeodGanj. But don’t let the distance discourage you. It’s a scenic route through small villages, over rivers, and up snow-capped mountains.




Teaching English to Refugees

On the main Temple Road, across from the restaurant Indique, is a small staircase leading up to the LHA Charitable Trust. This non-profit focuses on Tibetan social work. One of their initiatives involves “drop in English hour.” Anyone fluent in English can literally “drop in” Monday-Friday from 4pm-5pm and have English conversations with Tibetan refugees hoping to improve their English comprehension and speaking skills. The classrooms are small, and dozens of people are packed together, sitting on the floor. However, the casual nature of the classroom creates a very laid-back environment for both the teacher and the student. This is not only a great way to give back to the beautiful community of McLeod Ganj, but a wonderful opportunity to interact with locals and Buddhist monks and learn about their daily lives in India.



Photo Courtesy: Gwen Bellinger



There are a number of treks one can do around McLeod Ganj. For short treks, try Bhangsu falls and Shiva café, easily manageable in a day. Triund is a popular destination as it hosts a breathtaking view of the Dhauladhar mountains on one side and the Kangra Valley on the other. It is a fairly easy trek for the first 5 kilometers, the last bit being a bit more difficult. However, there are many chai {tea} stalls for hikers to rest along the way.




Haggling over Handmade Products from Tibet, Nepal, and India

The streets are lined with vendors selling all kinds of hand made products. Colorful tapestries, Tibetian singing bowls, figurines, paintings, jewelry, etc. McLeod Ganj is a shopper’s paradise. Most of the products are made in India or Tibet, some have been made in Nepal. The vendors can identify which are handmade and which are machine made. One could easily spend a full day just shopping here. Additionally, McLeod Ganj is a fairly easy location for bargaining. Typically asking for a third or a half of the price will allow a shopper to reach a sizable discount without spending too much time or energy haggling like in some areas of the country.



Photo Courtesy: Gwen Bellinger


Yoga with Awe-Inspiring Views

There are signs and fliers all over McLeod Ganj advertising yoga sessions. For the dedicated yogis, there are several courses spanning over multiple weeks that you can enroll in. For those just in town for a few days, there are plenty of hour-long sessions, mostly in the morning around 8am or in the late afternoon, where you can drop in for a refreshing yoga class.




Indulging in Tibetan Cuisine

Thukpa and Momos are the two local favorite dishes that you must try in McLeod Ganj. Thukpa is a type of Tibetan noodle soup that comes in many varieties and can be found in any Tibetan restaurant. Momos are dumplings stuffed with vegetables, chicken, or mutton. They can be either steamed or fried and are often eaten with a tomato-based dipping sauce. A favorite spot to try these local delicacies is the restaurant, Snow Lion which offers an extensive menu of Tibetan food items. It is located on Jogibara Road, opposite to the prayer wheels, near the main square. For those who especially enjoy the cuisine, a Tibetan cooking class is offered by LHA.



Photo Courtesy: Gwen Bellinger


Relaxing in the Cafes

Scattered throughout the city are quaint cafes with delicious food, good coffee, and great views for people watching. Popular meeting places for tourists, locals, and Tibetan monks alike, the café culture in McLeod Ganj is better than many places I have visited in India. A favorite spot is Moonpeak Espresso café, located on Temple Road with the best chicken salad and carrot cake in town.






Gwen Bellinger

An American expat dashing around the planet, currently living in Chandigarh, India. Found herself drinking chai with Indians, partying in the Middle East, and teaching English to Italian children in the last six years. Follow her global adventures below.


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