If there is one place that must figure on a list of places to visit before you die, then McLeodganj is the place. In the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, this place is a few kilometers from Dharamshala and is also called Little Lhasa. Small and tucked among the mountains, this place has a life of its own.
The town was named after Sir Donald Friell McLeod, a Lieutenant Governor of Punjab. It is the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile and also has a Buddhist temple which is made as the mirror image of the one that was destroyed in Lhasa. That’s not all; the idols inside the temple have been made from parts of the destroyed idols that were smuggled out of Lhasa. It is also the place that the Dalai Lama stays in when he visits.
Getting to McLeodganj isn’t difficult at all. Buses leave at intervals from the Tibetan Settlement at Majnu Ka Tila in New Delhi. The journey takes approximately 12 hours and do not be surprised if you find yourself sitting next to a monk travelling to Dharamshala. Accommodation is also easily available in various guest houses and hotels all around the city for budgets ranging from Rs. 500 per night and cheaper to Rs. 750 per night and higher. But peak tourist season might make finding a place to stay a little difficult.
The best thing about McLeodganj is the company. There are people from all walks of life and every part of the world. You could be sharing lunch with an American, drinking coffee with an Australian and jamming in the evening with an Israeli, not to forget holding on to your hat as a monk whizzes by on a Harley Davidson (yes, it actually happened). This small town is a global village, a hub of activity for the pro-Tibet movement and truly a place where worlds collide.
This very mix of cultures also gives the food a distinct flavour. There are Italian restaurants, Jimmy’s and Nick’s Italian Kitchen; a breakfast joint, Oogo’s Café, which serves brilliant pancakes; the Green Hotel if the farmer’s breakfast is what you’d like; small hole in the wall eateries like Café Budan serving piping cups of hot chocolate; and Carpe Diem, the place with the TV and the music.
These varied places share space with momo joints on every street corner and Tibetan food joints which serve Tibetan yak tea and thukpa. There is also a Café Coffee Day for those who’d like something familiar. But do step out and try the different places here because each has an ambience of its own. The prices here are extremely affordable and are great for the budget traveler.
The St. John’s Church in the Wilderness is a place that one must visit for the silence and serenity that it gives. It’s like stepping into a whole different time. The Buddhist temple is another must-visit. A walk of a few kilometers leads to Bhagsu waterfall and temple.
McLeodganj is a dream holiday spot and is perfect for stepping away from hustle and bustle of city life. It is a place that is full of life and interesting people. I will never forget the time I spent there and neither will you.
Ayesha Sruti Ahmed