Introducing Mcleod Ganj
When travellers talk of heading up to Dharamsala (to see the Dalai Lama…), this is where they mean. Around 4km north of Dharamsala town – or 10km via the looping bus route – McLeod Ganj is the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile and the residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Along with Manali, it’s the big traveller hang-out in Himachal Pradesh, with many budget hotels, trekking companies, internet cafes, restaurants and shops selling Tibetan souvenirs crammed in just a couple of blocks, like a mini-Kathmandu. Naturally, there’s a large Tibetan population here, many of whom are refugees, so you’ll see plenty of maroon robes about, especially when the Dalai Lama is in residence.
McLeod (named after David McLeod, Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab) was established in the mid-1850s as a British garrison and it served as an administration centre for the colonial government until the earthquake of 1905. It was a backwater until 1960, when the Dalai Lama claimed asylum here following the Chinese invasion of Tibet.
Since then, McLeod has become a centre for the study of Buddhism and Tibetan culture. There are all sorts of holistic activities and courses on offer, and lots of travellers come here to volunteer on community projects that focus on the refugees. With an interesting mix of travellers, volunteers, monks and the dharma crowd, you are never far from an interesting conversation here.
A raincoat is handy for McLeod Ganj during the monsoon (June to August) and warm clothes are useful between November and March. Many shops and businesses are closed on Monday.
Taxis will drop you off at the Main Chowk. From here noisy Jogibara Rd runs south to Gangchen Kyishong and the main centre of the Tibetan government in exile. For Dharamkot, Tipa Rd climbs gently via the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, and Dharamkot Rd climbs very steeply but more directly.