Complete Dharamshala Travel Guide: Mcleod Ganj & Little Tibet

Dharamshala travel guide

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Welcome to my Mcleod Ganj and Dharamsala travel guide! It’s been six weeks since my visit and it still seems surreal. Snowy peaks, swooping eagles and Tibetan temples? It’s just not how you picture India, is it?

The weeks since have been full of busy cities, scalding desert and equally scalding temperatures. Nothing has been remotely comparable to this misty, mountainous region in the Himalayas.

MCLEOD GANJ ESSENTIALS

India Lonely Planet

Accommodation: Booking.com / Hostelworld

Getting around: bus / train (12Go)

Travel insurance: World Nomads

Snowy mountains Mcelod Ganj Dharamsala travel guide
Pink house in Mcelod Ganj Dharamsala

Quick background

Dharamsala was a British hill station during the colonial era. Once the British left and it was abandoned, it became occupied by fleeing Tibetans including the Dalai Lama who is now based here.

Today, they’re joined by tourists who flock to this popular area, particularly during the summer when apparently it’s packed out.

Dharamsala travel guide

Let’s clear up some confusion. Dharamsala (also spelt Dharamshala) is the name of the region but it’s also the small city at the heart of it.

Mcleod Ganj is a town within the Dharamsala region and, in my opinion, the best place to stay. It’s a great place for budget travel in India because you can explore on foot and there are plenty of cheap guesthouses.

There are other nearby towns to explore like Dharamkot which you can visit whether you’re based in Dharamsala or Mcleod Ganj.

The area of Dharamsala is in the state of Himachal Pradesh, up in the north of India and surrounded by the Himalayas. Along with other towns like Shimla, Dalhousie and Manali, the region experiences freezing winters and pleasant summers.

Away from the clamour of India’s cities, it’s one of the top destinations for solo female travellers in India.

Colourful buildings Mcelod Ganj Dharamsala

Getting to & from Dharamsala

First in my Dharamshala travel guide, how to get here and away…

From Amritsar: Two buses run daily between Amristar and Dharamsala, one departing Amristar at 12pm and one at 6.30pm. The windy journey through the mountains dropped me at Dharamsala bus station and I took a taxi up to Mcleod Ganj. Book tickets using 12go.

From Dharamsala, I travelled to Rishikesh on a very unpleasant 13-hour night bus through the mountains. Without any trains up in these parts, it was basically the only option.

You can also travel directly to and from Delhi. It’s 13 hours by bus, the same as from Rishikesh.

Bottom line: Dharamsala isn’t very close to anywhere but it’s worth the journey. Once you’re in the region, you can travel by bus to Manali and Shimla, too.

Mcelod Ganj Dharamsala

When to visit Dharamsala

Well, how much do you like the cold?!

Winter in Dharamsala is from November to March and temperatures drop below freezing. This is a stunning time to see the snowy mountains if you can handle it. High season is from March to September and this is also the best time for trekking.

I visited in late February and it was still really cold. I was actually quite excited to leave for that reason, but it was amazing to see the Himalayas capped in snow. Only a few weeks after I left (March), I heard it started to get much warmer. For daily upcoming weather in Dharamsala, check out Holidify.

Snowy mountains Dharamsala guide

Where to stay in Mcleod Ganj

There are options for all budgets in Mcleod Ganj. No doubt there are some fancy ones to be perused on Booking.com but I can only tell you about the two I stayed in:

Ram Yoga House

This gorgeous guesthouse was the dream and perfectly placed to admire the mountains from my balcony. Double ensuite rooms start at 1,000 rupees a night, around £11. The homecooked restaurant food, which you can eat in the rooftop cafe or in your room, is just amazing! The guesthouse a little hard to find so get your taxi driver to call them en route.

Book Ram Yoga House here.

Ram Yoga House Mcelod Ganj Dharamsala guide

Yogis will love Ram due to the daily classes held in the rooftop studio overlooking the mountains. These cost 400 rupees and are led by the in-house teacher. Super idyllic.

Yoga studio at Mcelod Ganj Dharamsala

Note – Ram Yoga House is really popular and often books up a few weeks in advance. Reserve ahead as it’s totally worth it!

Backpackers Inn

Backpackers Inn Mcelod Ganj Dharamsala

I wanted to stay longer in Mcleod Ganj but Ram Yoga House was full so I headed to Backpackers Inn which is a bargain at 300 rupees a night for the dorm. There are also private rooms from 1,000 rupees.

Honestly, while I do recommend this hostel, only go if you are a budget backpacker. The rooms were definitely basic, there was never any loo roll, and the check-in/out process was slow.

However, the views over the valley and mountains from the lovely outdoor terrace more than made up for it. The owner, Ganesh, is so lovely and basically waited on me when I was sick.

It’s a good place to meet people, plus the location in the centre of town is perfect. The other hostels in Mcleod Ganj including Zostel are quite far away up in Dharamkot.

Book Backpackers Inn here.

Things to do in Mcleod Ganj

There aren’t hundreds of things to do in Mcleod Ganj so it’s a great place to relax and recover in the middle of a busy India trip. Hiking and cafe-hopping are both popular so I’ll dedicate a section further down to the best food in Mcleod Ganj (something I’m a bit of an expert on).

These are some of the best things to do in Mcleod Ganj:

The Dalai Lama Temple

Dalai Lama Temple Mcleod Ganj Dharamshala

Also known as the Tsuglagkhang Complex, this little religious site in Mcleod Ganj is worth a visit. It won’t be the most incredible temple you see in India but it’s certainly different; nothing like the Hindu and Sikh temples you find elsewhere.

The Dalai Lama set up this temple when he fled Tibet and still visits to give talks. As well as an important pilgrimage site for many, it’s free for tourists to visit.

Spin prayer wheels, listen to Tibetan gongs and soak up the mountain views.

It’s a peaceful place minus the monkeys that make a racket jumping on the roof. No cameras are allowed inside the main temple but it’s gorgeous with really colourful, unusual artwork on the walls.

Prayer wheels Dalai Lama Temple Mcleod Ganj Dharamshala

See if the Dalia Lama is holding talks

As I mentioned, the temple is still the practising headquarters of the Dalai Lama so you should see if your visit lines up with one of his teachings.

I had one booked and missed it due to being sick but I luckily made it to his official ceremony the next day. This is where people come to give offerings and pay their respects while free food and drink are handed out to guests.

The teachings are more interesting than the ceremony, however, and get translated by FM radio into a few different languages (obviously you won’t be able to understand the Dalai Lama unless you’re fluent in Tibetan!).

Check the dates on the Dalai Lama website.

Bhagsu Falls

Bhagsu Falls Mcleod Ganj Dharamshala

For a mini hike in Mcleod Ganj, take a walk over to Bhagsu Falls which is up in the Bhagsu Nag area of town.

This takes about 40 minutes to walk to from Mcleod Ganj and you can stop off for coffee and mountain scenery at Open Heart Cafe, a good rest point with lovely views.

Bhagsu Falls isn’t the biggest or most amazing waterfall ever, but it’s a nice thing to do in Mcleod Ganj for a dose of fresh mountain air. I befriended some goats, monkeys and selfie-loving locals on the way.

Nature surrounding Bhagsu Fans Mcleod Ganj Dharamshala

The Tibet Museum

If you don’t know, Tibet was once its own thriving country until China invaded in 1949. Not only do they now occupy the area and call it China, but they were also responsible for the deaths of 1.2 million Tibetans through executions and battle.

While some Tibetans escaped to Nepal and India, those who remain face a cultural cleanse: they’re forced to speak Mandarin and learn from Chinese textbooks. Their religion, culture and cuisine are being eradicated and it seems no one wants to help, probably because of the daunting prospect of getting on China’s bad side.

Visiting the Tibet Museum is the most important thing to do in Mcleod Ganj. It only takes an hour to walk around and read everything, plus entrance is free. Not only will you understand more about Dharamsala, but you’ll go away able to spread the word about what’s happening in Tibet.

Triund (and other treks)

If you visit Dharamsala in high season and feel energetic, you can experience more of the countryside. The Triund trek is the most popular, taking 3-4 hours and covering 9kms. You could obviously do this independently as a day trip but it might also be fun to do as an overnight camping trip. I saw this offered in Mcleod Ganj by lots of tourism offices.

Book your Triund trek on TripAdvisor

Meditation at Tushita

A peaceful spot in the mountains, Tushita Meditation Centre offers all sorts of retreats, as well as Buddhism and meditation courses. I was interested in the guided meditation drop-in session which runs daily at 9am (apart from Sundays).

I was gutted it was closed during my visit as I had been keen to try meditation in the Himalayas. I’d recommend giving the centre a call on 89881 60988 in advance as the website doesn’t always seem to be updated. It’s a 25-minute walk uphill so you wouldn’t want to be turned away.

Bhagsu Naag Temple

Bhagsu Naag Temple Mcleod Ganj Dharamshala

If you go to Bhagsu Falls, stop at this temple site on the way. It’s dedicated to Lord Shiva and Nag, the snake god. There’s a swimming pool at the bottom where locals come to wash and pray. Not a place for you to have a dip, sorry!

Tibet World

I didn’t do this myself but I heard people talking about volunteering at Tibet World. It would be great to learn more about Tibet and (I imagine) a rewarding cause to get involved with.

It seems you can bring any skills you want, even copywriting, web design or language teaching. Check out the Tibet World website.

Dharamsala Cricket Stadium

Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium is often voted the most beautiful cricket stadium in the world thanks to its mountain backdrop.

I could spy it from my balcony at Ram Yoga House so didn’t bother taking a taxi all the way to Dharamsala. The photos on the Insta tag do look pretty immense, though!

Best food and cafes in Mcleod Ganj

One of the best things to do in Mcleod Ganj is eat!

Well, maybe cafe-hop is what I mean. While you can eat loads of tasty Indian food in Mcleod Ganj, you can also get your fill of anything Western and indulgent if you’re in need of a break from curry.

It’s also the ideal place to try Tibetan food, so save space for moreish momos and warming noodle soups.

Next in my Dharamshala travel guide, the best places to eat and drink in Mcleod Ganj…

Illiterati Cafe

View of mountains from Illiterati CafeMcleod Ganj Dharamshala
Pancakes at IlliteratI cafe Mcleod Ganj

Hands-down the prettiest cafe in Mcleod Ganj, this bookshop and restaurant is every Instagrammers dream. The food is all Western but it’s very well done.

If you’re not bothered about ordering food you could at home (though who doesn’t love pancakes?), you could just come for coffee and gaze at the views.

There are so many books which you can sit and read so it would be the perfect place for a ‘me’ day.

Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen

Jimmys Italian Kitchen Mcleod Ganj

Usually Italian food in Asia isn’t amazing but this was very good! The list of ravioli and gnocchi dishes goes on and on, plus there’s a woodfire oven for pizzas.

Blackcurrant cheesecake and banoffee pie are on the menu for dessert. Plus, how stunning are these views?

Tibet Kitchen

Tibet Kitchen Mcleod Ganj

For Tibetan food in Mcleod Ganj you have no shortage of options but this is renowned as the best. The Tibetan community eat here which means more to me than any TripAdvisor review!

Tibet Kitchen is a modest restaurant with a focus on hearty food at reasonable prices.

I had the cheese and veg momos which were absolutely divine and a steaming bowl of thukpa noodle soup. Honestly, I didn’t find this overly flavoursome but maybe I’ve been spoiled by too much amazing pho in Vietnam.

Crepe Pancake Hut

Crepe Pancake Hut Mcleod Ganj Dharamsala cafe

The first cafe in Mcleod Ganj I visited was Crepe Pancake Hut. Looking out over the mountains with a Nutella and banana pancake and a honey lemon ginger tea was bliss!

I soon found out every other cafe in Mcleod Ganj had comparable views and food but still, this is a lovely spot and never too busy.

Moonpeak Espresso

For the best coffee in Mcleod Ganj, come down to this cosy cafe. I spent a few afternoons working at Moonpeak Espresso as the Wi-Fi was decent. They serve tasty Italian sandwiches and Indian favourites like Thali and curry.

Woeser Bakery

Woeser Bakery Mcleod Ganj

Those with a sweet tooth need to head to Woeser pronto.

Aside from the gooey chocolate cake, the best thing about this cafe in Mcleod Ganj is that they make the Dalai Lama’s birthday cake each year. Last year it weighed 33 stone and you can see photos of it on the wall! I want it.

Lung Ta Japanese Restaurant

Japanese pancake Mcleod Ganj Dharamshala

Since I’ve now told you about pasta, Tibetan food and cake, you’re probably not surprised that there’s Japanese food in multicultural little Mcleod Ganj.

This vegetarian restaurant is run by Japanese owners so you can bet it’s authentic. Sushi is served on Tuesdays and Fridays which was initially a disappointment since I visited on a Monday, but I couldn’t complain when I paid only 170 rupees for okonomiyaki and miso soup.

At Lung Ta, there are endless bookshelves to browse and an outdoor terrace. It would be a lovely place to spend an afternoon, post-hiking!

Thanks for reading my Dharamshala travel guide!

Check out my other India blogs:

See you next time for more adventures,

Rose

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VISITING INDIA? 

These are my trusted resources:

Getting around by air
– it’s easy to get between cities by flight. I use Skyscanner and search by whole month to find the best value dates.

Buses
buses are comfy and efficient. Use 12Go to book.

Trains
these are a good option for long journeys because you have a bed rather than a seat. Use 12Go to book.

Confused about visas?
I use iVisa to check visa requirements and apply for visas online.

For hotels
, I use Booking.com – they also have self-catering apartments. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.

Browse tours and activities
on GetYourGuide. I also check Viator and Klook in case they have a better price.

For food tours with passionate local chefs and foodies, check out EatWith.

Pack the latest copy of India Lonely Planet.

Need travel insurance? I use World Nomads. They cover 150 countries and have 24-hour emergency assistance. 

Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and tips!

One thought on “Complete Dharamshala Travel Guide: Mcleod Ganj & Little Tibet

  1. Dominique | dominiquetravels.com says:

    There’s so much more I’d still like to explore in India. The north of the country is definitely part of my wishlist! 🙂

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