It is rightly called as Dalia Lama’s abode – McLeod Ganj and when I gave a thought to travel solo to this wonderful place I never realised that by the end of my travel journey I will be in love with this place evermore.
When travellers talk of heading up to Dharamsala, what they really think to visit or experience – to see the Dalai Lama, to visit the best treks with valleys, to trip high on the hippie hills – reason can be many for different kind of travellers, so as mine as a solo traveller.
Here’s why and how I loved McLeod Ganj why I love to travel solo to this place.
Starting with the residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, which is 3 kilometres north of Dharamsala town (or 10km via the looping bus route. This small place is the home to a huge Tibetan population, that includes the monks and the nuns and other locals.
So, the Tibetan government-in-exile is based out here just at the downhill of Gangchen Kyishong. When I visited McLeod I was amazed to witness this huge part of Tibetan population that is peacefully yet unofficially residing here. This is one of the main reason why this destination attracts thousands of international visitors each year to volunteer this Tibetan community. One thing which holds my attention is the courses which you can take on Buddhism, meditation or yoga, and then of course trek in the Dhauladhar mountains, Parvati Valley and many other players lying deep on the foothills of Dharamkot and McLeod. You can shop at the Tibetan crafts, or just hang out with the firangis all around who come here and stay for long to witness this remarkable blend of culture and heritage of North India.
Travelling solo makes you close to your soul, and helps to challenge yourself in any situation. One cool thing that I learned on my visit to Mcleod Ganj is that it is the suburb of Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh, which is popularly known as “Little Lhasa” or “Dhasa” as it has a huge population of Tibetans. Moreover, the Tibetan government-in-exile is headquartered in McLeod Ganj.
You get good homestays to stay that is cheap and comfortable all through your journey. Being a solo traveller or a “woman solo traveller” (yeah, had to quote it this way as it is India and there are some parts of India that are not easy for woman solo travellers) I was a bit sceptical on how and where to stay. But McLeod Ganj offered me the best and the safest stay during my entire vacation. The streets are colorful and perky filled with local cafe’s and shops that offer local jewellery Apart from other stuff one thing which caught my attention is a handful of shops that offer musical instruments.
There are some of the unbeaten places to visit in McLeod that will leave you speechless with its natural surroundings and snow-cladded mountains. Hike to the mighty Triund Trek, it is 9 km away from Mcleod Ganj, beautiful peak and an ideal place for a solo traveller to relax and rejuvenate amidst the mesmerising meadows.
Bhagsu Falls and Bhagsunath temple lies 3 km from the McLeod city. A beautiful walk, great surroundings, stunning pools and lush green vicinity makes it a perfect place to visit. This place has its own historical importance that dates back to Lord Shiva, Nag Devta and the King Bhagsu. Due to this reason, this place is worshipped by both Hindus and the Gorkha community.
Other than this, I took a road to explore Namgyal Monastery, took a trail till Naddi, Tsuglagkhang (Dalai Lama’s residence), a non-gothic architecture – the church of Saint Johns in the wilderness and the list can be countless. McLeodganj has everything to offer to a tourist. For me, it is like a second home, where every time I go, I feel new and explore new things.
Best Time to Visit – September to June
How to Reach – Passengers buses are available till Mcleodganj bus stand. Then hire a taxi to reach further in the town. One can also walk the lanes. Pathankot is the nearest Railway Station.
#SoloTravel has always beguiled me! It was a beautiful morning, unadulterated and not to miss in life! The view from my cottage was stunningly perfect awe-struck my senses. I took my shades, got into my boots and headed down towards Dharamshala from Dharamkot passing by Mcloedganj. The destination was Norbulingka institute.
Wondering why I’m writing on an institute that has nothing much related to me, indeed the institute needs to be talked about. It lays 6 kms southwest to Dharamshala and as established in 1998 by Kelsang and Kim Yeshi Sidhpur. The name of the institute is derived from the traditional summer residence of the Dalai Lama which is in Lhasa (the capital of Tibet)
Getting around Norbulingka – I got enticed the moment I entered the institute by the gorgeous artifacts and colorful walls engraved and painted with traditionalTibetan art (thangka). The moment you step in you are enthralled by magnificent and gurgling streams that smoothly run through flawlessly maintained Japanese-styled gardens. You may get astonished to see or witness different species of Himalayan birds flocking and flittering among the treetops.
There lot to see and roam around in the institute which might take your hours to explore fully. Norbulingka institute’s main aim is to preserve the art and culture of Tibet in India. The institute comprises of a temple, stupa with deities who are worshiped in Tibetan culture, workshops for embroidery, paintings, statue making, wooden art, lush green gardens and hummingbird café for munching and chilling out!
Workshops – This institute will amaze you with the endurance and perseverance of the culture intact on safe hands. From, generations the artisans and craftsmen are working hard to conserve the traditional art form of paintings (thangka) and appliqué work.
Every year thousands of visitors come and explore the Norbulingka institute and take part in the workshops. The workshops give you vivid knowledge and understanding of intricate art form and culture of Tibet. You can take the workshop as per your choice of art form; there are workshops given on thangka sketching, wood painting, wood carving and appliqué workshops. Do not worry! you are always under the supervision of experts who would make you professional in the respective art form. After the completion of the workshop if you wish you can be offered to volunteer or work as well.
Shops –There is a shop inside the institute that sells the hand-made artifacts, paintings, and statues, which are made in-house at the workshop in the institute. The unique collection of appliqué, wood carvings, paintings are sold here. You can take any of the meticulously created thangka painting, statues or wall paintings for your home décor way back home. It is worth!
One of the best things you should not miss while visiting the institute is meeting the humans here. OMG! They are the wonderful people one can have all the pleasure knowing them. Every manager, artisan, craftsman, worker, tour guide has their own story to depict with the pain of being a refugee in India. The hard times they faced as refugees in India or caught hold by the military or stuck with kids and no food and no shelter. From my eyes out of many meet the two –
KALSANG KYPA – THE TOUR GUIDE– A great chap with sincerity towards whatever he does. He was a great help to me for all the time I was in the institute, exploring and learning new things about Tibetan culture. His journey was terrible but after being patient and having faith in oneself he found he is safe in Nepal and then he came to India. Wanted to say thank you!
DASAL – THANGKA PAINTER – He is a terrific thangka painter, since childhood he would draw mountains, valleys and hills. But as he learned more about Tibetan culture he now loves to paint only Buddha and thangkas.
Getting Here – Norbulingka is situated in Sidhpur, a suburb of Dharamsala, about 30 minutes from McLeod Ganj.
By Air – nearest airport is Gaggal, around 20 minutes from Norbulingka. Alternatively, you can take flight from Jammu or Amritsar, both are around 4 hours from Dharamsala.
By train – Pathankot is the nearest station. 2 hours from Dharamsala. Booking in advance is recommended.
By Bus – One of the most cost-effective and reliable way to reach is by bus. Volvo and Himachal Tourism buses ply on a timely basis; you can check the schedule online.
There is a piece in me that like to tenderly imagine my maverick and seditious soul. But, precisely, I love to have a picky and cosy relationship with my soul that can rub up against a little bit, putting me alive.