Mcleodganj is a place not only of tranquility, but of art and language. Tucked in a nook of Kangra valley, Himachal Pradesh, this town of three roads houses the Tibetan Parliament-In-Exile, the spiritual head of the Tibetans and Nobel Peace Prize winner, The Dalai Lama, drawing throngs of Buddhists from around the world.
It is an eight hour drive from Manali and there are regular buses from Delhi and Chandigarh as well. There is an airport at Gaggal, which is 15 km away, and the closest train station is Pathankot. The neighboring non-descript station is Chakki Bank.
Mcleodganjis packed with tiny cafes, a vibrant marketplace, two small temples and many NGOs. You’ll be surprised to know that it serves authentic continental and Italian food at much cheaper rates compared to the larger cities.
Breakfast is delightful as they offer an English or American breakfast and yummy hot chocolate that never tastes like Bournvita. Cafés overflow with books and good conversation as fellow travelers, from as far as Norway or as close as Mumbai, are always up for a friendly chat.
Two places I would insist on eatingare Namgyal Pizza Place and Café Literati; the former for the best pizzas that I have ever had in my life, the latter for its incredible stock of books and appetizing orange juice, and both for their breathtaking views of the valley.
The chant “Om Mani Padme Hum” floods the ears in the marketplace as radios of the street stalls play it on a loop. The Tsuglagkhang Temple, also called the Dalai Lama Temple, is peaceful. Its inner sanctum sanctorum is filled with Tibetan art and statues. The prayer wheels around the main temple are an integral part of Tibetan Buddhism and are fun for those not familiar with them. The Tibetan Museum is situated in the compound of the temple and is a must visit for those who know nothing of the Tibetan cause.
The local guides will tell you to visit the waterfalls at Bhagsu and the Dal Lake which are both just a few kilometers from Mcleodganj. The church, St. John in the Wilderness, contains beautiful stained glass pieces near the altar. Trekking is also popular as peaks like Triund, Bleni Pass, Toral Pass and Bhimgasutri pass are accessible from here.
If you’re the type of traveler who would rather live the place than see the sights then you can volunteer at one of the local Non-Governmental Organisations which are always in need of help, or join an English conversation class which usually lasts for an hour or two. More than monetary support, the NGOs here love volunteers and you can easily join by going to ‘Lha Charitable Network’ on Temple Road or ‘Volunteer Tibet’ on Jogiwara Road.
Mcleodganj’s Tibetan population is very active in raising awareness about the suppression of the Tibetan people under Chinese rule for the last 60 years. Every week there is a candle light march and a local debate, apart from fasts and cultural programs held to raise awareness about the struggle they’re going through. I would strongly recommend attending these because they’re so strong and univocal even though it’s a small, community effort.
While Mcleodganj is ideal for a quick weekend getaway, it is crowded with like-minded Indian tourists during the weekends, with cars jamming the streets and it could end up being frustrating. Instead, go during the week to live a quiet week amongst people who have brought the roof of the world down to our reach.