Updated: Sep 26, 2019
By E Kay
Some places elude you. Some places remain a mystery for a long long time and somehow, they draw you in. That was what I felt for this tiny hill station in the Himalayas. For years, it was the place I wanted, no, needed to go to. And finally in the summer of 2018, right in the middle of monsoon, we headed out to this quaint town in Himachal Pradesh.
The journey started from Delhi, in a comfortable overnight bus from Majnu ka Tilla. It was a little difficult finding the exact boarding point, but nonetheless we found it thanks to a very helpful auto rickshaw driver. So we set off, in this clean, AC bus at around 9pm and reached our destination the next morning at around 8am. We got off the bus and headed out of the station, found a small roadside dhaba and had a tasty breakfast of buttery parathas and chai.
Surprisingly, there were not many autos or cabs around at that time, so we decided to hike up to our hotel. And what a decision it was. It was quite a long and moderately steep walk but the route was so beautiful, the distance and the climb hardly mattered.
Our hotel was situated admist tall pine trees and had a direct view of the Bhagsu waterfalls. Oh and yes. We were at McCleodganj, a town about 7 kilometres from Dharamshala. Formerly known as Bhagsu, Dharamshala is the district headquarters of Kangra district in Himachal Pradeash. It is famous for being His Holiness The Dalai Lama's residence and the headquarters of the Central Tibetan Government (the Tibetan government in exile).
Our first stop was the #Tsuglagkhang complex or the Dalai Lama's temple. It was about 3 kms downhill from where we put up. We passed by the very interesting Tibetan market along the Temple Road where we did quite a bit of souvenir shopping. The monastery complex lies at the end of the market.
After about an hour in the monastery complex, we decided to head out to another site when the rains suddenly started pouring down. We quickly rushed to a nearby food joint and as we sat down for a cup of coffee, we realised we were famished. Luckily for us, they served lunch as well and we had a scrumptious #Himachali thali.
After about 55 minutes, we were on route to St. Johns in the wilderness, a neo-gothic styled church on the outskirts of McCleodganj and then onto the Bhagsu waterfalls. The walk to the waterfalls is moderately steep, but nothing that one can't take.
Another place we visited was the Norbulingka Institute. The institute, dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture is situated around 8kilometres from McCleodganj. Named after #Norbulingka, the traditional summer residence of the Dalai Lamas, in Lhasa, Tibet, this is a wonderful place to visit, especially those interested in Tibetan art and culture. The Institute houses various Tibetan works and even conducts arts and crafts workshops which you can enroll in provided you have the time. The Japanese inspired gardens are quiet and will leave you spellbound.
McCleodganj is a small town and for average hikers, you would not need cabs to get from one point to another.
The main market area is a nice enough place to hang around in the evenings with several decent places to eat and laze around. Don't miss the amazing street art while you are there. Some of the paintings are so discreet and it might take you some time to seek them out. And don't leave without trying the #Tibetan dishes that you will find at most restaurants there. We ate at different places everytime and each time, the meal was as delicious as the one before. So you will definitely not go wrong whichever one you pick.
Whilst there at McCleodganj, walk around. There are several paths and routes that you can take. The woods are quiet, peaceful and makes for a perfect afternoon getaway.
Do hike up to Dharamkot, a small and interesting #hippie village about 5 kilometres away from Mccleodganj. We walked a few kilometres beyond #Dharamkot and found the most serene path we could have ever imagined. We also chanced upon a tiny monastery in the wilderness. We met a monk there, but unfortunately we could not understand each other.
But he was the loveliest person we could have ever met. He warmly welcomed us into their residence and showed us around. Definitely an unforgettable experience.
However, the return journey was again pathetic, wherein the bus was really delayed because of a reason which was so unclear and the stoppage points were again lousy.
In my opinion, the bus operators need to look into the stoppage points, they really dampen the otherwise incredible experience.