The Dalai Lama’s Home: McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh
At a height of 6,832 feet above sea level (2082 m) lies McLeod Ganj which is also known as Upper Dharamshala, a part of Kangra valley in Himachal Pradesh. McLeod Ganj can be easily accessed by air and bus from Delhi. The most affordable way to reach McLeod Ganj is by bus from Delhi which is a 12 hour ride. The nearest airport is Gaggal airport about 15 km south of Dharamshala.
Around 4km above Lower Dharamsala, or 10km via the main road, is McLeod Ganj. This town is more Tibetan and less Indian from every aspect be it culture, food or dressing. This Himachali town is a very lonely and deserted place in the morning before sunrise with everything shut including most of the hotels and motels but after 9am it burst into a totally opposite place, full of life with people either selling things or wandering around through the tiny lanes of the town.
McLeod Ganj is also know to many as “Little Lhasa” because of its large population comprising of Tibetan refugees who have taken shelter in India along with the Tibetan government in exile, The town is is also home to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama has been living here since 1959 after the Chinese invaded Tibet. Though the Buddhist religious head has his residence in the town, it is nearly impossible to have a private meeting with the Dalai Lama due to his busy schedule. However, if one is lucky they might get to see him during a public greeting which is very rare.
Since the Dalai Lama lives here, Buddhism is a very vibrant religion in McLeod Ganj and one will find plenty of monks and nuns wandering the streets. There is a large pink monastery right in the center of the town with Prayer wheels all around the walls. It is a common sight to see locals as well as tourists turning them around in the clockwise direction. All along the walls of the town one will notice plenty of handbills and posters making people aware about the struggle in Tibet and asking for a “free Tibet”.
People in McLeod Ganj are often seen praying using their prayer beads while they jog or walk in the morning and even while they are sitting free during the day. One will notice plenty of old people walking around the town praying.
The people mostly earn their living by making Tibetan handicrafts and running street food stalls which serve up some really good food like the Tibetan brown bread, momos with spinach and potato, Laphing a type of noodle soup which is a must have with fried chicken in the evening.
There are plenty of restaurants and cafes which have an open-air section and serve some really good food catering to both foreign and Indian travelers and nearly all of them have WiFi since there are plenty of foreign travelers who make McLeod Ganj their home by volunteering in many of the NGOs.
Some the foreign travelers even come to McLeod Ganj for spiritual healing and to learn more about Buddhism and find some much needed inner peace. So one should not be surprised if they bump into a Hollywood star on their visit to McLeod Ganj.
There is plenty of accommodation in the town to suit all kind of visitors from tourist to backpackers to travelers who intend on staying there for months. But it is difficult to get accommodation for a group of male travelers since many of the motels and hotels prefer taking families.
The Tibetan handicraft market is just a two minute walk away from Mall Street and is hard to miss. One will get to see all kinds of unique jewelry, garments, ancient Tibetan musical instruments and masks along with a lot of other things. Different prayer articles like malas (beads), prayer wheels and prayer bowls are sold in the market. Also plenty of T-shirts, caps, umbrellas and bags with the save Tibet banners on them are sold. Bargaining is a good skill to have while in the market.
McLeod Ganj has plenty to offer to everyone who visits this town. One can take a stroll in the town or in the more open areas which are in plenty if one is in need of some soul searching. McLeod Ganj is the ideal place if one wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life as one can volunteering in any one of the many NGOs that are there. McLeod Ganj surely lives up to its tag of small Tibet and little Lhasa thanks to the people who live there.
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