McLeod Ganj - Hits and Misses
Once upon a time Shimla-Manali were the go to destinations for all hill lovers. It offered serenity of mountain, small town charm, wonderful weather and lot of souvenirs to take home. Today there are too many places we know of, some are more commercialized and some are so secluded that reaching there itself is a task. But if I have to pick a place that has replaced Shimla/Manali of olden times that would be Dharmshala/Mcleodganj. I don’t know many people who has been to Himalaya in recent times and hasn’t been to Dharamshala ever. And so for me it was more of a tick box item to go there and see what the fuss is.
I planned my trip in March, when it was still cold enough to chill and not too cold either, and decided to stay at McleodGanj, which is also referred to as upper Dharamshala. I reached McleodGanj on a Tuesday noon and settled there for next few days exploring nearby attractions and devouring food. If you love hills for its raw beauty, Mcleodganj might not be your choice of destination. The place is very touristy with its sightseeing list, souvenir shops and fancy restaurants. And it probably represent a Tibetan town more than a hill station. During my stay I tried doing the regular sightseeing as per my lazy mind would permit, which means I missed out a few… maybe I missed out more than a few. But I definitely tried a lot of restaurants and found many great options. I will talk about both in this blog.
I took an evening flight to Delhi and from there boarded a train for Pathankot at late night. Around 12 hours later I reached Pathankot Station. It was late morning and sun was already bright for a winter day. I walked out of station towards the bus stop. There was a bus depot right outside the railway station, but it looked too small. So I walked ahead towards another one about half a km away. This was a bigger place and I got bus for Dharamshala quite easily. Bus started at 11:30 AM and reached Dharamshala only by 3:20 PM after stopping for a lunch break. Cars would be much faster given its only 90 km.
From Dharamshala bus stand there were buses, shared taxis and auto rickshaws available for McLeodganj. I took a shared taxi paying 20 bucks for one seat. It was 5km and the car dropped me at main square of Mcleodganj in 20 mins. Everything in Mcleodganj is walkable from the main square. So I started to walk from there and was soon at my hotel.
I tried to go to a few places everyday as part of my exploration. Most of them were regular tourist attraction that everyone pays a visit to… here’s my thoughts on them…
- Dalai Lama Temple: I like monasteries. The quiet environment and beautiful location of a monastery is capable of creating spiritual vibe in any person. But Dalai Lama Temple was nothing like that. It’s a small place, congested like the rest of Mcleod Ganj with the the two-storied temple, residence area for the monks, one or two souvenir shops and Dalai Lama’s house (heavily guarded). The temple lies in the middle of it all. On first floor of the temple there is a meditation room, which is peaceful and soothing. They have daily prayers that attract many devotees and once in a while Dalai Lama himself addresses the crowd. However I was not fortunate enough to witness that.
|The Dalai Lama Temple|
- Tibetan Museum: The museum is part of the Dalai Lama temple compound. It takes you through the story of China invasion of Tibet and the fate of the people thereafter. As you go through each plank of information, your heart will break a little and by the end of the journey you would leave with a heavy heart.
- Naddi Hills view point: It’s about 4.5 km from Mcleod Ganj main square. Rickshaws will charge around Rs. 150 to drop you till there. (Autos are available from Dal lake for return journey) There is no attraction as such there, not even a nice restaurant to sit and enjoy the view from. But the view itself is quite enticing – a sea of blue mountain crowned with snow peaks. Accommodation is available in this area which could be a better option than crowded area near main square.
|View from Naddi Hills|
- Sahaja International School: Reaching Naddi Hill, I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I saw a road leaving the main road and leading towards the clustered hills. A few other tourists also were taking that route, so I followed them in that direction. I didn’t know where it headed, but I walked on as I enjoyed the beautiful view of hills all around me. Around half a km walk on this road led to a school – a cottage built in Tibetan style at the backdrop of hills.
|School with a beautiful view|
- Dal Lake: Dal Lake is walkable from Naddi Hill and around 3 km from the main square. The lake is not so impressive, even though the pine trees bordering the rare end of it makes for a charming view.
|Thick pine forest around Dal Lake|
- St John in the Wilderness: True to its name this old church stand in the middle of thick pine forest. The road leading to the church is beautiful with pine trees on both sides and so is the church itself. The sole building of the church stands upright with its brick wall, Victorian style window and faded red roof. Inside it’s decorated in a minimalistic manner. The whole place gives a strong vibe of vintage and serenity.
|St John Church in the wilderness|
|Interior of the church|
- Dharamkot: 4 km from Mcleodganj, this quiet village lies in a valley surrounded by hills. While it’s a better location for stay for quiet lovers, it does not have many options for stay or eating which could be an inconvenient.
|Dharamkot from distance|
- Tushita Meditation Centre: Located somewhere between Dharamkot & Mcleodganj, it’s truly a place for silence. The place offers guided meditation courses to outsiders. Many people come and stay here to experience buddhist lifestyle and power of meditation.
|Tushita Meditation Centre|
- Triund Trek: If you are in Mcleodganj and you are physically capable of hiking, you would be considering Triund trek as part of your itinerary. I was hesitant about this from the beginning since I wanted a relaxing trip and climbing 7 km didn’t sound very relaxing to me. Plus the overwhelming interest about the trek from passing crowd only turned me off further. So the night before last day of my trip I finally made up my mind that I wasn’t going to do it. And good that I thought so, since when I woke up in the morning next day it was raining crazy.
- Street shopping: Streets near the temple and the main square is full of souvenir shops selling everything that you can expect in a hill station. It’s a great place for shopping and even though I did not indulge in it.
Cafes & Restaurants…
Here are the cafes/restaurants that I had tried at least once during my stay:
- Takhyil Peace Café: I didn’t really find the charm of this place. Really a small café at a corner of road with nothing to impress me.
- Clay Oven: I noticed the first floor balcony as I was passing by. I couldn’t find a proper sign, but asked someone how to get there. I didn’t really have appetite, so just ordered a coffee. There was inside section, but my eyes were at the pretty balcony decorated with plants and light. So that’s where I sat and enjoyed my coffee while looking at city down there.
|Beautiful lights at the balcony of Clay Oven Cafe|
- Four Seasons: A small restaurant run by a lady. Ambience is basic, but the food is good.
- Dal Lake Cafe: The only place selling tea/coffee near Dal Lake. It’s not really a café, but a relatively bigger tea stall.
- Nick's Italian: An open air restaurant serving Italian food a few steps away from the main square. Food was good and the rooftop was quite fun to dine at given that it’s not too sunny.
|Sitting on the rooftop of Nicks Italian Cafe|
- Moon Peak Espresso: I heard good things about this place, so went there. But the café is located on the busy temple road with tourists and shopkeepers constantly occupying the road. So it wasn’t really enjoyable experience for me. Food was decent.
- Lung Ta - Japanese Restaurant: It’s a vegetarian Japanese restaurant. While the vegetarian part disappointed me in the beginning, the food very well made up for it. The ambience is also quite neat with wooden decorations and nice glass windows.
|Cozy interior of the Japanese Restaurant|
- Crepe Pancake Hut: The place is located on first floor of a house. Possibly they are using one room of the house for this purpose. The place is very warm and cozy. In a cold night you wouldn’t mind slipping in to enjoy a hot cup of tea with a pancake/crepe by the side.
- Cool Talk Café: Nothing much cool about this café. But this is one of the few good cafes in Dharamkot and hence sought after. I found the food and the view very average.
|Cool Talk Cafe|
- Illiterati: The most charming café in Mcleodganj. I can spend hours sitting there surrounded by books, listening to the light music and staring at the hillls from the balconies.
|Through the window of Illiterati|
|A reader's paradise|
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