6 Cool Things To Do In McLeod Ganj
There are so many cool things to do in McLeod Ganj (India) that is very difficult to choose! We were there on January 2nd-5th 2017 (winter) and had a blast!
For those who never heard of that place, McLeod Ganj or McLeodganj is a small village (suburb) belonging to Dharamshala, in Himachal Pradesh, the northernmost state of India, just below Kashmir.
Dharamshala is well known because of it's cool weather and amazing valleys. The city is nested in the high altitude grounds of West Himalayas, therefore an amazing opportunity to gaze at these majestous mountains. This part of the Himalayan chain is called the "Dhauladhar range".
I must admit I didn't know these mountains before getting there... which only added up to the (good) surprise!
McLeod is called "the Little Lhasa", due to its large population of Tibetans.
The Tibetan government in exile is headquartered there, including the Dalai Lama himself, established since 1959.
I recommend at least 3-4 days to explore the area. At the bottom of this article, you will find some good places to lodge.
6 Cool Things To Do in McLeod Ganj
1. Visit His Holiness Dalai Lama Temple
Obviously, this is the most intriguing sacred place in town.
The Dalai Lama main temple (Tsuglakhang Temple) also known by Tsug la Khang, is the spiritual core of Mcleodganj and part of a complex encompassing Namgyal Monastery, which includes several shrine rooms.
Dalai Lama visits Tsuglakhang publicly only 2-3 times a year. In spite of that, the place has became an important pilgrimage spot. Actually, Tsuglakhang is very closely located to Dalai Lama's residence.
I must admit that at first glance we were very surprised by the amount of food offers we found at the altars. To give you an example, the devotees bring boxes of milk, crackers and Fanta, just to name a few weird items.
Sorry I couldn't get better pictures though, after I flashed that one above we realised that pictures were forbidden inside the temple... Oops.
The decoration is loaded but colourful and very cheerful, totally different from what I could have imagined!
There are a few other colourful temples in McLeod (and a good example is the one you see in the background of the picture below).
Apparently I found "people watching" a much better activity than photographing temples from outside... 😂
2. The Triund trek
The first thing we wanted to do in the next morning was climbing up from McLeod to the Triund hill.
The Triund it's a gorgeous trek, and can be done either from McLeodganj or Dharamkot, which is 2 km above McLeodganj. Dharamkot is a very chill suburb, known for it's hippie vibe and only a couple streets.
In our case, we took a ride up to Gallu Devi and decided to start from there. We were trekking in the winter time and wanted to optimise the sunshine hours.
It was a chilly morning when we left from McLeod. We arrived at Gallu Devi temple around 9 am.
As you can see, I was not well-dressed at all (and ended up freezing my ass up there - so don't do the same mistake)...
Gallu Devi is actually just a simple shelter for Hindu images, not a real temple, as one could have imagined.
We got some snow on the way to the top, but nothing crazy. I advice you to bring proper socks and trekking boots if you are intending to hike Triund in the winter. We did it with simple sneakers and looking back, we could have prepared it better.
From Gallu Devi it took us at least 3 hours to reach Triund. You can do it in much less time (around 2:30h) if you don't stop for pictures 😅. The round trip anyways lasted 5 h (around 10 km).
The return trek can be done by Bhagsu Naag (see map below) but we didn't try it since the snow fall was getting worse and visibility was bad.
You don't need to walk from McLeod or Dharamkot. You can take a cab straight to Gallu Devi Temple.
From Gallu Devi, you will find a small hut where you can register your passport and declare your intended return date (hopefully the same day)... 😅
No guiding is necessary for this hike. The difficulty is easy to moderate. The hike is a gradual incline 5 Km up to Triund hilltop.
There are several simple huts called by the locals "teahouses" along the trekking path. The most well known is maybe the "Magic View". A good reference point is the last hut, called Snowline Café. From this point, there is a steep climb all the way till Triund (2,975 meters).
From Triund you will catch an amazing view of the Dhauladhar range in one side and the Kangra valley on another. Some people camp there for the night and push it to the snowline the next day.
It is possible to do the round trip from Mcleod-Triund-Mcleod in one day, and you won't need any camping material (unless you are intending to reach the snowline, which is obsviously not advisable in the winter time).
3. Bhagsu Hindu Temple
Bhagsu is a laid back little village located a short walk from McLeod Ganj. It's a tiny place where you will find some artisanal handicraft, a few coffee shops and even some psy trance-like parties (or at least, the posters 😎)...
Anyways, there is only ONE Main Street in that place and it's impossible to get lost.
In Bhagsu you will also find the most WTF temple we may have seen in our lives!
To give you an idea, you can actually enter the month of a lion, go upstairs and enter a maze-like tunnel with plenty of creepy Hindu figures, hidden in shadowy corners (sorry guys, but I was really scared) and then find your way down through the crocodile mouth!
Sounds "simple" but the second floor was much bigger than expected. It really feels like visiting some sort of haunted attraction in an amusement park..!
Unfortunately we were unable to find out the real name of this temple, but you can show the picture below to some locals and I'm sure they will be glad to guide you through.
You are welcome!
4. Bhagsu waterfall
So, Bhagsu is a very popular spot among Indians in the summer!
This is a tiny (but very touristic) place and most Indians tend to stay at the "classy" hotels along the main road. The more you go up, the more the place looks like backpacker's land, with many hostels and yoga classes of all kind being offered.
At the end of the main street, you will pass the Bhagsu temple (the big one, with the swimming pool) and will keep going until the "city" ends in a little trail...
Unfortunately, in the winter, the falls were almost dried-up, but I decided to put a recommendation here anyways since the situation certainly changes according to the season.
In any case, keep going and you will see the falls from far away, and if they are looking a bit sad you can just turn back and go for a coffee (like we did)!
You will be already in Bhagsu to see the WTF Hindu temple anyways... 😎
5. Sunset at Naddi
On a clear day, the sunset at Naddi is not to be missed.
Naddi is another suburb part of McLeod, you will see kids playing badminton, cows grazing peacefully, some goats crossing the valleys...
You can head there by foot, it's a nice walk from McLeod, about 5-6 Km and we did it in 1:45h but prepare yourself to get lost, we got lost basically all the way... 😂
We kept asking directions to the locals (wondering if they were understanding English or just nodding by sympathy).
Once there, just ask about the sunset view. You will be facing the entire valley in front of your eyes. Don't forget to check it out your back view!
To come back to McLeod just hire any taxi around the corner. There is taxi stand really close to the sunset point.
6. Saint John in the Wilderness Church
This is an old neo-Gothic church, dedicated to John the Baptist, built by the British in 1852.
The church is known to have survived the 1905 Kangra earthquake (which killed no less than 19,800 people in the area) and it's surrounded by an amazing Gothic cemetery with a few historical figures buried there.
While the church in itself may not look "amazing" to westerns, it is a very bucolic (and peaceful) place and the road to reach the church is very beautiful.
A visit to this place transport you back in the past and makes you feel admiration for these European folks living so far away from home in such remote corner of India.
Many stayed in Dharamshala forever. One cannot avoid thinking how lonely this place must have been 150 years back...
If you go there by foot, keep your eyes peeled while you walk along the road to reach the church (or on the way back to McLeod).
We spotted plenty of furry friends wearing Canadian Goose winter jackets, as you can see below... 😉
As per Wikipedia:
"The Kashmir gray langur has been reported from Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in northwestern India but evidence indicates it only occurs in the Chamba Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Because of its restricted range, fragmented population and threats from human agriculture and development activities, it is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List".
The scenic Chamba Valley is an isolated area, separated from the Kangra Valley by the Dhauladhar Range and from Lahaul and Kashmir, so really close to Dharamshala area!
I will close this post with a flying Langur carrying a little baby (seriously guys, there were so many jumping around)!
Don't miss the opportunity of observing these amazing animals in their natural habitat.
Which is the best place and area to stay in Mcleod Ganj?
It depends. We are the type of people who love being well located (near facilities like good restaurants, bars and coffee places, reachable by foot) so we stayed in McLeod, close to Dalai Lama's temple at Norbu House, which was ok, but not fantastic.
For "social" people, I would really recommend staying in McLeod Ganj.
Some people would suggest Naddi (quieter and isolated) or Dharamkot (a compromise between McLeod and Naddi) and the reason for this is because they prefer to stay away from all the buzz. Fair enough...
Even Bhagsu could be a good idea, for a Backpacker's hippieland style, if this the kind of vibe you are looking for.
The suggestions below are the best of each category in McLeod.
In any place you decide to stay, I wish you a lovely time ♡
Backpacker: Pink House: from US$ 19/night
Mid range: Ram Yoga House: from US$ 38/night
Classy: Fortune Park Moksha: from US$ 95/night
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