A rendezvous with History and the Hills at McLeodganj, India

I first heard about ‘Free Tibet’ few years ago, I was still in college that time. Ever since, this movement and everything about Tibet has intrigued me. Let me share a little background here.

In 1950, China invaded Tibet resulting in countless Tibetans deaths, followed by imprisonment and torture of several Tibetans.

On March 31, 1959, Tibet’s political and spiritual leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, reached India after a 15-day journey on foot from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, over the Himalayas.

HH Dalai Lama was followed by about one hundred thousand Tibetans seeking refuge in India. The Indian government extended full support & immediately set up refugee camps for Tibetans at Misamari in Assam and Buxa Duar in Bengal.

Later, these Tibetan settlements were extended to parts of Himachal Pradesh including Dharamshala, McLeodganj, Dalhousie and Manali. Refuge in India gave Tibetans an opportunity to preserve their religion, culture and identity.

HH Dalai Lama has expressed his profound experience of over 50 years of exile in India in his autobiography – Freedom in Exile. He considers India his spiritual home.

Intrigued by the legendary history of McLeodganj & spellbinding beauty of Himachal Pradesh, we (me and my soulmate) planned a trip to this town.

Tibetan Flag@McLeodganj

Surviving the battle, Tibetan flag flies high against the backdrop of Himalayas at McLeod Ganj, India

Visit to Dalai Lama’s Abode in India

We began our odyssey right from New Delhi in a HPTDC Volvo (ticket cost INR 1100 per person), to Dharamshala; it’s an overnight journey consuming ~12-13 hrs. The bus reached at the destination early morning. Right at the bus stop there are taxis / cabs available that charge INR 200 for providing drop till McLeodganj.

McLeodganj is also popularly known as the Little Lhasa in India, it’s the residence of HH Dalai Lama & majority of Tibetans.

Situated in the lap of Dhauladhar Range (a branch of the southern outer Himalayas), McLeodganj is a village in the suburbs of Dharamshala, in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, India. The legend says that village is named after its founder, Lord David McLeod, the English lieutenant governor of Punjab. McLeodganj’s population is a combination of local Indians, Nepalese, exile Tibetans and foreign expats.

The moment you reach McLeodganj one observes peculiar characteristics including smaller lanes, Monks (of all ages) clad in dark maroon clothing, people moving around on foot mostly or on bicycle, ladies wearing chubas or dark-colored wrap dresses over a blouse. The pristine sounds exuding from the Monasteries deceit you. Tibetans in India have been able to majorly contribute to restoring India’s rich Buddhist heritage.

Moving around

The first thing we did was to rent a bike, several places close to Dalai Lama Temple offer bikes & even bicycles. It’s best to rent either of these depending on your own taste to enjoy the flavor of the city. The drive on these roads is thrilling & totally fun which a four wheeler can never offer. There are so many shops offering variety of bikes depending on your fondness and cost you can get the bargain, the range is INR 600 – 900.

We embarked on local sightseeing, right from The Dalai Lama Temple, fondly known as Tsug la Khang, this temple is the life-blood of the village. It houses the Namgyal Monastery and shrine rooms & it is a soul stirring place to spend your whole day. There is a Tibetan museum within the premises of the Temple, reflecting rich Tibetan history, culture & the struggle that Tibetan people have been enduring for decades now. Tibetans inside its borders and across the world, continue to oppose and resist China’s rule.

In 2014, US think tank Freedom House ranked Tibet among the twelve worst countries in the world for repression of political and civil rights.

And there’s more

Our next stop was Bhagsunath Falls, located right besides the Bhagsunath Temple, Bhagsu Waterfall offers close to 30 fts drop during the monsoons. You may prefer to trek to the falls and might choose to chill at the foot of the falls. Infact we observed so many domestic and foreign tourists relaxing there. We also spotted monks in groups at the falls, just chilling with their iPods and chatting, quite a sight!!! Infact we also sat there for a while enjoying the scenic beauty. There is small stall there selling coffee, maggi along with other snacks.

Moving on our bike & enjoying the thrill of the roller coaster roads, we reached St John’s Church.

Built in 1852, this place carries a different essence. It is an Anglican church adorned with neo-Gothic architecture & is known for its Belgian stained-glass windows donated by Lady Elgin, wife of Lord Elgin. Its churchyard is the final resting place of Lord Elgin, who served as Governor General of the Province of Canada.

It was almost 5pm in the evening; we were approaching – Sunset point at Naddi, totally apt for the situation. Our journey was adorned with breathtaking views of Dhauladhar range, bountiful nature, and majestic mountains luxuriant with greenery. The sunrays flickered as if playing hide and seek, gradually the sun set in the lap of the ice capped mountains.

Together, we quietly watched the sun subsiding, absolutely romantic.

Picturesque view at Naddi, near McLeod Ganj

On our way back to our hotel, we explored the local market, the market will certainly surprise you it houses myriad items including souvenirs from the Tibetan and Buddhist culture, unusual jewelry and accessories. You need to watch out for imitable stuff and shrewd retailers.

We enjoyed our dinner at one of restaurants offering specialty cuisine and reminiscing our eventful day at McLeodganj.

Legendary history, rich culture, vibrant communities and naturally endowed beauty culminate into a memorable vacation!!!

On weekends the place becomes really crowded, hence plan your vacation on odd days so that you enjoy to the fullest and get a good bargain on accommodation, bike rentals as well as shopping items.

If you would like to visit

The weather in hill stations is quite unpredictable and hence the months of April to June are considered best, as they enjoy pleasant and stable weather. However, if you wish to experience snow clad mountains and drenched roads then December to February are good options. Dharamshala & McLeodganj are well connected from Delhi by all modes of transport. Below mentioned cues can provide you a fair idea:

By Bus

As mentioned earlier, the area is well-connected to Delhi and other parts of North India via a network of state operated buses as well as private tour operators. It’s preferable to go for the state operators.

By Air

The nearest airport is at Gaggal, about 13Kms away from Dharamshala. You may choose to take a flight till Chandigarh and then continue onward journey by a cab to Dharamshala, the distance is ~ 275Kms.

By Train

The nearest major railway station is at Pathankot, at a distance of 85Kms. You can take a taxi or bus from Pathankot to reach Dharamshala.

For further reading you can refer – https://untraveledroutes.wordpress.com/traveling/himachal/mcleodganj/

10 thoughts on “A rendezvous with History and the Hills at McLeodganj, India

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