Budget, Himachal Pradesh, India, Weekend Getaways
Comments 36

Mcleodganj aka Little Tibet.

Mcleodganj is perhaps every backpacker’s rite of passage to India. Except that it is so unlike India, I feel I’ve skipped a few legalities, missed a few stamps on my passport, and entered a world I was taught is forbidden.

I see a foreign face around every corner, interspersed with men and women robed in red & orange, lending a tranquil vibe to the chaos on the narrow streets. I am fascinated by the small stalls & shops selling colorful bric-a-brac, little memorabilia from Tibet that has been reproduced elsewhere in India or Nepal. The side walls are covered with graffiti about Tibet, a reminder of the refugee lives of the people in Dharamsala. This has to be the only hill station in India where no shop-owners are shouting to sell their goods, nor touting foreign travelers; I can feel a spirit of acceptance among the people, or maybe a disguised form of dejection.

Mcleodganj, dharamsala, street scene

Typical street scene in Mcleodganj. Photo credit: Liz Highleyman.

I wonder if in 1959, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama found shelter in Dharamsala from China’s occupation of Tibet, anyone would’ve thought that Tibet will sustain its magnanimous culture and continue the much-needed propagation of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. I’m given to hear that Mcleodganj is much more akin to Tibet than present day Tibet itself, a thought that makes me proud of India for physically & financially supporting a culture that could’ve been long dead.

I allow myself to be distracted, first by the typically-Tibetan handicrafts, and then by the alternate cafe culture that has housed itself in Mcleodganj. There are rooftop gardens, Italian joints, organic food cafes, and of course, authentic Tibetan food dhabas. I am amused to see the cafes being frequented by monks & nuns, but gradually become so accustomed to their presence that everywhere I go, my eyes subconsciously search for the deep red colors.

Dharamsala, mcleodganj, rooftop cafe, alternate culture

Evening view from a rooftop cafe.

In my head, I had formed a strong association with Dharamsala while in Spiti; everyone I met in the mountain desert had some roots in this relatively lower-lying valley. The spiritual similarities now surface themselves, though the mountains that were bare brown in the Spitian background have now been painted a lush green. I stroll behind some lamas, past blue tents selling knick knacks that remind me of the Tibetan market in Mussoorie, and resist an elderly lady scooping fresh momos from her high stool just outside the monastery.

Mcleodganj, dharamsala, himalayas, greenery, waterfall

Bhagsu waterfall.

In the alley that leads to both the monastery and HH Dalai Lama’s house, the first signs of security surprise me. I miss the innate trust of the people of Spiti, but things are different here in Dharamsala for good reason. I expect a solemn ambience at the monastery at this late-evening hour, but I’m greeted by a buoyant atmosphere; it’s debating hour and the monks are animatedly clapping & talking in what sounds like the Bodhi language. I can’t help but smile at the prevailing cheerfulness.

The monastery is beautiful, open and airy, as most monasteries I’ve visited before. I seat myself on a bench in the verandah, and watch the clouds play hide & seek with the Himalayas, as they gradually descend to greet us mortals and reveal to us a gorgeous sunset. No power, I assure myself, can rob the people of such natural beauty, and the conviction that comes with it.

Mcleodganj, Dharamsala, monastery, Dalai lama, monk

Prayer wheels at the Mcleodganj monastery. Photo credit: Liz Highleyman.

Mcleodganj, Dharamsala, Himalayas, clouds

the clouds play games.

Mcleodganj, dharamsala, sunset

Colors of the sky at sunset.

[Photo credit: Liz Highleyman]

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Shivya Nath

I quit my full-time job in 2011 with a dream of travelling the world. I gave up my home, sold most of my possessions and embraced a digital nomad life. I'm passionate about going off the beaten path, solo travel, sustainable travel and veganism. I'd love to connect with you!


  1. The place looks amazing! It’s great that you’re traveling to so many places that are not in the ‘standard’ travel list!

    • Actually Dharamsala is on the travel list of many backpackers who visit India. But yes, I’m glad it hasn’t gone mainstream. Hopefully many people will be satisfied just reading about it 😉

  2. Wow this feels like a world away! (and I guess it is). Would love to visit one day. It looks and sounds so peaceful.

    • It is all of that! Hope you can visit it some day too. It’s beautiful in a way that’s hard to describe.

  3. McLeod is a wonderful place. Though your beautiful log didn’t mention too many details but I can sense that you had a good time there. There are great walks which you can take and if you are up for it, which I believe you are, you can trek to Triund. Guided trek, very praiseworthy. I have not been to this trek.

    Would read more of your stuff Shiva in coming day. Best wishes for you travel – Nandan

    • Welcome to The Shooting Star, Nandan 🙂 I had a great time there infact, but I think while I was writing this post (in retrospect), it was just sad to think that someone is trying to wipe an entire culture, and one so beautiful and peaceful.

      The wet weather didn’t allow a trek up to Triund, but that gives me reason to go back. I enjoyed walking up random mountain paths though; the misty views were gorgeous.

  4. It indeed is a wonderful place and so as the people and culture that prevails. The trek to Triund from McLeod Ganj and further towards the snowline of Laka Glacier is extremely awe inspiring.

    • That’s true. You’re the second person to mention Triund, and now I’m kicking myself for not going there on the only clear day of my trip. I must visit again with this trek in mind 🙂

      • Oops, sad part you missed this trek. Oh yes, guess Triund must be a part of every ones itinerary to Mcleod Ganj. Though, a bit long hike for unfit people like me, who prefer to drive more rather than hike but the efforts are worth every penny. We climbed even ahead of Triund about 2-3 KMs from where the snow line of laka glacier starts (just went crazy for snow in June). That trek though a bit more steep also had some views out of the world. We had a dip in icey cold water which was coming right from the melting glacier snow and it was quite an experience. We came back to Triund in dark with just a tiny lighter to show us the path. You can check some pictures of this beautiful trek here: http://devilonwheels.com/index.php/delhi-to-mcleod-ganj-nostalgic-moments-4/

  5. Lovely write-up and great photos! Brings back some happy memories from Dalai Lama Land. Thank you for dropping by my blog. Am happy to have found yours. Now, will keep following and reading regularly 🙂

    Cheers and Happy Travels!

    • Sankara, welcome to The Shooting Star! Yes, I look forward to connecting with you on the blogosphere 🙂

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  7. Nisaa Naznin says

    I am so very obsessed with Himachal especially Manali… I am sure gonna visit Mcleodganj after reading this.. Thanks..

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  9. deepak says

    awesome about dharmshala. kindly suggest best time to visit there and budget hotel .

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  11. Kanika Dhupar says

    Stumbled on to your blog accidentally and I am glad I did.
    Was planning a trip to Mc lodganj….will visit it all.

    • Glad you did, Kanika! Mcleodganj was lovely in the monsoons when it was raining & misty and not crowded at all. It was sad to see it infiltrated with tourists on a brief visit in early June. Wait till the monsoon if you can =)

  12. Hi Shivya!
    Have enjoyed reading your blogs and about your journeys for quite a while now (although haven’t written in till now) I’m planning to take off to Dharamsala/Mcleodganj next week and was wondering if you had a few tips on stay/travel/must-experience options there?
    PS: your posts about Goa right now make me want to drop everything and head there right now 🙂

  13. Pavan Meshram says

    Wow! Superb post, Beautiful imagery! I have heard a lot about Mcleodganj and have been wanting to go there! Hopefully I’ll go there soon!:-)

  14. Shivya Hey firstly love your blog. You have pretty good tales in there. Wanted to ask inquire if you’d know of any organizations that provide volunteering like teaching etc.? Did you travel alone?Since Im planning on visiting this April on my own. hoping a reply soon since you’ve been there and ur suggestions should be of help..

  15. Trekking to Triund is the best part of a visit to Mcleodganj. When you reach the top, it feels like a surprising heaven.

    One should not miss the evening beers and the view at the rooftop of the bar over there.

  16. Nishesh Kumar says

    Hi, loved to read your blog.
    I am planning to go there in second week of august. Could you please let me know if I can have trek to Triund or not. Also, are there any more offbeat places where I can visit during my 5 days visit in mcleodganj?

  17. Shruti says

    I’m planning to take off to Mcleodganj next week and was wondering if you could suggest few places to stay there?

  18. No matter how many times you go Mcleodganj, you never get bored of it. It is such a peaceful and spiritual place. I don’t see Mcleodganj as tourist sites but for me it is more of places I look to relight myself.

  19. I will be visiting Mcleodganj in first week of May. Can you please suggest any roof top garden (a nice cafe or restaurant) and any organic food cafe? Also planning to visit Tushita Meditation Center there. Have you been there?

  20. lovely post! When did you go to mcleodganj? I am actually planning a trip for august. Is that suitable?

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