A Guide to Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj
With snowy peaks, plunging rivers, green hills offering the most refreshing views, vibrant Buddhist monasteries and tons of adventure activities, Himachal Pradesh has something to offer to everyone. On my first visit to Himachal, I explored McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Manali and Manikaran.
Having lived in Goa for 10 years now, traffic is a relatively unheard-of concept for me. While the hours of traffic in Manali took away some of the joy, McLeod Ganj more than made up for my apprehension about Manali. Both Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj blowed me away with their panoramic landscapes, the British architecture and the Tibetan influence.
Here's my list of things to do and places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj.
Find an offbeat cottage out of the city
Like most Indian cities, you will find the Kangra or Dharamshala city crowded and a little less charming than the outskirts. I suggest finding a cutesy cottage or a hotel which is located slightly further away from the city. You will start your day waking up to beautiful mountains and glistening streams right outside your window. The cottage in the picture was located in a tiny village outside the Kangra city. The was a local market a few meters away from the place and the chef used to walk there every morning and cook meals using the fresh produce. Bliss!
WHERE? 20 Km from Dharamshala; on the outskirts of Kangra.
The impressive Kangra Fort towers atop a steep rock. The walls of the fort rise 4 Km upwards. Now imagine climbing up to the fort! It's a daunting task but the fort walls, the pathway leading up the the fort and the views from the top of the fort make the climb well-worth it. Unless you have a medical condition or injury, I recommend putting on a brave face and reaching the top of the fort.
St. John in the Wilderness Church
WHERE? On the way to McLeod Ganj from Dharamshala.
The Church, located amidst a deodar forest, with it's neo-Gothic architecture makes a perfect backdrop for your next Instagram photo-op. You also get a view of the entire town of McLeod Ganj from up here. This Church was undeniably my favorite spot in all of McLeod Ganj. I couldn't help but imagining having a place in the midst of deodar trees.
If you're staying in McLeod Ganj, you can take the bus or rickshaw to the Church. If you are staying at Dharamshala, you can visit the church while you're on the way to McLeod Ganj for sightseeing. I suggest getting here early to beat the crowd and getting some amazing pictures.
WHERE? 4 km from McLeodgang, 3.6 km from St. John in the Wilderness Church.
Naddi Point, offering views of the Dhauladhar range up-close is THE place to get that perfect photograph with mountains nested in clouds. Wear bright yellow, orange or red clothes that pop against the greenery of the mountains and the white clouds. Do note that the visibility of the mountains depends on the weather and clouds. If you're as lucky as I was, you get minimum crowd and maximum mountains!
HPCA Cricket Stadium
WHERE? 12 km from McLeod Ganj.
Coming to the most-hyped(for good reason) attraction, the Dharamshala stadium. Undoubtedly, India's most picturesque cricket stadium, the HPCA Cricket Stadium will make you fall head over heels in love with it. The pictures do not do justice to the cozy little stadium, with it's bright green grass, making it difficult to keep your eyes on the players with such beautiful views around. It was a good day for me in McLeod Ganj because not only did I get an uninterrupted view of the stadium, I also witnessed a rainbow right there! The Dharamshala weather in June is pleasant- neither too cold, nor too hot. There's a change of mild showers, but I'm not one to complain! Monsoon is my thing.
The official residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the Tsuglagkhang Complex itself is simple and generally over-crowded. However, the surrounding streets leading up to the temple are vibrant, colorful and give the impression of Tibetan streets. I quite enjoyed strolling through this area. Unfortunately for me, the Dalai Lama was out of India, delivering a speech so I couldn't catch a glimpse of him. The official website provides a list of the days that the Dalai Lama holds public speeches. You can get a list of his upcoming events here. Here's hoping you have a better luck than mine.
Head to Manali from Dharamshala to cover another great city! Read all about my list of places to visit in Manali. You can go from Dharamshala to Manali by road. It's a scenic drive throughout. Although, be warned - it's a long journey and traffic jams are common in Manali. There are ample restaurants on the way and enough places to stop and admire views.