India // Himachal Pradesh //

Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj

Home to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile, and starting point for some exhilarating treks into the high Himalayas, DHARAMSALA, or more correctly, its upper town McLEOD GANJ, is one of Himachal’s most irresistible destinations. Spread across wooded ridges beneath the stark rock faces of the Dhauladhar Range, the town is divided into two distinct and separate sections, separated by 10km of perilously twisting road and almost a thousand metres in altitude. Originally a British hill station, McLeod Ganj has been transformed by the influx of Tibetan refugees fleeing Chinese oppression in their homeland. Tibetan influence here is subsequently very strong, their achievements including the construction of temples, schools, monasteries, nunneries, meditation centres and the most extensive library of Tibetan history and religion. As well as playing host to hordes of foreign and domestic tourists, McLeod Ganj is a place of pilgrimage that attracts Buddhists and interested parties from all over the world, including Hollywood celebrities Richard Gere, Uma Thurman and Goldie Hawn. Many people visit India specifically to come here, and its relaxed and friendly atmosphere can make it a difficult place to leave.

Despite heavy snows and low temperatures between December and March, McLeod Ganj receives visitors year round. Summer brings torrential rains – this being the second wettest place in India – that return in bursts for much of the year. Daytime temperatures can be high, but you’ll need warm clothes for the chilly nights.

Dharamsala

It’s easy to see why most visitors bypass Dharamsala itself, a haphazard jumble of shops, offices and houses. The only place of interest is the Museum of Kangra Art, with a small collection of Kangra miniatures and some modern art. On foot, the quickest route up to McLeod Ganj is up a steep 3km track that starts from behind the vegetable market, passing the Tibetan Library and Secretariat.

McLeod Ganj

The ever-expanding settlement of McLeod Ganj extends along a pine-covered ridge with valley views below and the near vertical walls of the Dhauladhar range towering behind. Despite being named after David McLeod, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab when the hill station was founded in 1848, little evidence of British occupation remains. Intersected by two narrow potholed roads, the focal point of McLeod Ganj is its Buddhist temple, ringed with spinning red and gold prayer wheels. Today, Indian residents are outnumbered by Tibetans, who bedeck their ramshackle buildings with fluttering prayer flags: McLeod Ganj is not simply a political haven for them, but also home to their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and to the Tibetan government in exile.

It’s easy to find your way around McLeod Ganj. At its northern end, the road up from the lower town arrives at a small square that serves as the bus stand. Roads radiating from here head south to the Dalai Lama’s Residence and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, northeast to the village of Dharamkot, the Tushita Retreat Meditation Centre and to the Tibetan Children’s Village next to Dal Lake, and east to the hamlet of Bhagsu.

 

  • Meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama
  • Trekking from Dharamsala