Weekend Getaway to Little Lhasa
January 1, 1970
by Arpit Singh Khoda
Little Lhasa is a small town located in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. It is generally referred to as McLeod Ganj. It is known as Little Lhasa because its major population consists of Tibetan People. McLeod Gang is the official residence of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama . Owing to its beautiful landscapes and Tibetan Monasteries it attracts tourist from all across the world. It’s the most preferred getaway after Shimla for people in Punjab and Delhi.
Planning a Trip to Little Lhasa/ McLeod Ganj
You can visit McLeod gang all around the year. During summers the weather is very pleasant and most preferred to visit. Winters the temperatures fall down to freezing cold. We planned a visit in July and weather was very pleasant with little rainfall.
How to get to McLeod Ganj
Well before reaching McLeod gang you need to get to Dharamshala. Dharamshala is accessible through air, buses, and cars .The nearest airport available is Gaggal Airport which is 13 Km away from Dharamshala. You will need to hire a taxi to McLeod Ganj from Gaggal. Though the air services for Dharamshala may not be available from all cities in India, but you can get one from New Delhi. Volvo Buses are available till McLeod Ganj. You can book them online through Make My trip / Red Bus. In case there is no direct bus to Mcleod Ganj from your area. You can book a bus to Dharamshala and then you can hire a taxi or local buses are also available. We planned a road trip from Chandigarh to McLeod Ganj and went all the way exploring Kangra Fort, Dharamshala Cricket Stadium and paying homage to Chintpurni Mata , Brijeshwari Mata temple on the way back .
Staying at McLeod Ganj: Being a tourist hotspot there are a number of hotels and guest houses available in the vicinity. Himachal Tourism has guest houses and hotels in the area THE BHAGSU, THE CLUB HOUSE are located in Mcleod Ganj. Whereas THE DHAULADHAR, THE KASHMIR HOUSE, the KUNAL are located in Dharamshala. Apart from these there are a number of other Hotels available and can be booked online. It is better to book online if planning on a weekend as most of the hotels is booked in advance. We booked Kashmir House for our stay in Dharamshala and commuted by car to McLeod Ganj which is just 15 Minutes drive . Kashmir House is located at a very peaceful place; it is a heritage hotel which is run by the State Government and was once owned by Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. The staff is very polite and humble. You can savour the traditional Himachali Cuisine here.
Things to Do
Though it is a beautiful, serene place but not somewhere you can stay for a weeklong trip. It is a good getaway for a short trip of two to three days. Though you can plan a detailed trip and travel across Kangra Valley covering famous destinations.
- Visit to St. John’s Church: John’s church is located amidst the dense forests located in between McLeod Ganj and Forsythganj. It is an Angelic culture made of neo-gothic architecture and has been dedicated to John the Baptist. As it is located amidst forest it is known as ‘St. John in the Wilderness’. It is 164 years old Church built of grey stone in 1852 AD. A major earthquake had hit Kangra in 1905 with the magnitude of 7.8 destroying almost all the buildings in the region and loss of around 20, 000 lives. The church remained undamaged except the bell tower which was destroyed due to the earthquake, though the new bell has been installed in the church compound few metres away from the entrance, which was brought from England in 1915. The main attraction of the church are the Belgian- stained glass windows which are known to be donated by Lady Elgin (Mary Louisa Lambton), wife of Lord Elgin( appointed as Governor-General and Viceroy of India in 1861 during British Rule) in the memory of her husband who was buried in the churchyard of St.John’s Church in 1863.
Towards the left side of the church there is a graveyard which is the resting place of the British People who had passed away during the earthquake of 1905.
- Shopping at Tibetan Market: Shopping in McLeod Ganj can be an exciting one, here you will get majorly handcrafted Tibetan items. Beautiful Tibetan paintings, crockery jewellery, clothes, musical instruments. The majority of the shops here belong to Tibetan community and you will also find some good tea stock ranging from Green tea , Oolong tea, Herbal Tea, Jasmine tea etc. Also, that caught my attention was beautiful hand painted teapots and tea mugs they are a must buy to add some charm to your kitchen crockery. While you walk down the market to Tibetan Monastery you will find stalls of Tibetan artefacts and Tibetan prayer articles such as beads chain commonly used for meditation and recite the Buddhist Chants, Tibetan Singing Bowls, Prayer Wheels .You also come across well design Tibetan jewellery from earrings, bracelets to neckpieces.
- Visit at Tibetan Monastery and Dalai Lama Temple It is situated just a few kilometres downhill from the market. On the entrance of the gate, you need to walk a few metres before entering the premises. On the way, you will find some shops selling books relating to Tibetan culture and literature, few T-shirts with printed slogans and bags. While you walk towards the entrance of the temple you will find “Tibetan National Martyrs’ memorial” depicting the atrocities that are faced by Tibetan community under the Chinese Invasion. When you enter the temple you will have to go through a security check as it is the residence of 14th Dalai Lama. The place is a big complex which is filled with the lot of open spaces, temple rooms, prayer rooms, Monk Dorms. The entire area is open to visitors the exception being Monk Dorms. It was very interesting to see the Tibetan monk’s undergoing training sessions in a fun and enjoying the way in the open area on the first floor. You will be fascinated to see the learning’s the monk’s are seen clapping towards the front where those giving learnings are seated, the visitors are allowed to sit there and watch.
On the second floor is the Tsuglagkhang temple, the holiest place in the premise. Inside the temple premises, you are not allowed to wear shoes and also photography is strictly prohibited. Once you enter the premises you notice that all the statues are placed in meditation position and the offerings are presented in front in the form of Essence sticks, fruits, Honey, Tea, Chocolates, and Fruit Juices. It is a quite peaceful area and they also have paintings and clear illustrations depicting the meanings and the history on the walls and one can clearly read them and know the importance. Outside the temple lie’s the prayer wheels which are spun in the clockwise direction , It is said that while turning the wheels one should recite “Om Mani Padme Hum” and one earns merits equal to the recitation of mantras filled inside these wheels. Well during my visit I did not happen to meet the 14th Dalai Lama if one is lucky he may stand a chance to meet him
- Bhagsu Temple and Bhagsu Waterfall It is located almost 1 KM from McLeod Ganj and you may want to walk down. Bhagsu Nag is an ancient Hindu Temple dedicated to Bhagsu Nag, Snake of God and Lord Shiva. On the entrance of the temple, you can learn about the history of the temple. There is also a fresh water spring which flows through the temple and you can see people taking a holy dip. Just a few minutes’ walk from the temple is Bhagsu Waterfall. Though it’s not a big waterfall but has the beautiful landscape and it is best to visit it in the morning hours as during the day it gets very crowded as it’s a tourist place and you see people taking the dip and playing in the water. To reach this waterfall you need to walk it is in the mountains but the path is quite easy. There you find small cafes at various spots serving quick recipes like maggi, omelette, tea, and snacks.
- Dal Lake: It is a small lake located nearby McLeod Ganj. Though the name has been taken from Dal Lake in Kashmir, it is not similar to Kashmir’s famous Dal Lake. Dal lake is surrounded by deodar trees and it is considered as sacred place as there is located a Shiva Temple. The lake has a good population of fishes and you can feed them with little bread crumps.
- Trek to Triund : Those who love trekking it is their perfect spot . It is approximately 9Km trek from Bhagsu. It is a short trek amidst forests of oak and deodar. Once you reach the triund you can see Dhauladhar ranges on one side and Kangra valley on the other . It is good to visit it all around the year. Except during the snowfall season January and February as it gets difficult at that time.
- Eating at German Bakery: On your way to Bhagsu from Mcleod Ganj you will encounter German Bakery. It is one of the most famous spot there. You may be expecting a lavish restaurant , but it is a small spot with a quite a different ambience the floor is of small white pebbles and the seating is quite simple . The cafe looks simple and small but their speciality is the menu. They serve Italian, Israeli and Mexican food along with a good choice of coffee, tea, shakes, and smoothies. You get to some different cuisines here. Though the name signifies a bakery nut you won’t find any pastries here which I was expecting here. Though we tried mushroom soup and smoothies and they were delicious.
So the trip to the Little Lhasa was a great escape for me from the daily routine life and is must visit for all once in their lifetime. I would love to plan a trip once again and explore it a little more and maybe I get to meet The Dalai Lama. I have kept the hope alive.