The first thing that you notice, or rather experience while going from Dharmashala to Mcleodganj is that it is a steep climb!
So much so, that you might think that the engineer might be a kid who loves to slide down! So damn steep are the roads that you are afraid that the car will topple if not driven by an expert.
It takes hardly 10-15 minutes to reach McLeodganj from Dharamshala. While Dharamshala is in a valley, Mcleodganj is on a mountain top, hence cooler.
In the year 1959, after the uprising in Tibet failed, the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, escaped to India along with fellow Tibetans. The Indian government decided to help the Tibetans in their times of need and allotted the town of Dharamshala for their settlement.
In 1960, the Government of Tibet in - exile, was set up in Dharamshala. Mcleodganj became the official residence of the Dalai Lama and later came to known as 'Little Lhasa'.
Mcleodganj since then, has attracted a huge Tibetan population.
Throughout the town, you will find street art, representative of the 'Free Tibet Movement'.
The Tibetans have learned the Indian way of life and adapted themselves well with it. The present generation may be the 2nd or 3rd generation Tibetans who may have never visited their home country but are desperate to do so.
School going children from Tibet are sent across the borders by their parents, forcing them to cross the mighty Himalayan peaks in the winter months. All for a good cause though. As schools in the China-occupied Tibet, cater to making the new generation of Tibetans more Chinese, the Tibetans worry that their children may lose their own culture.
The children (aged between 10 - 16 years) travel in groups, cross the Himalayas to first enter Nepal. If they are successful in doing so, they stay in Nepal for a year, where special arrangements have been made for them. The journey is dangerous to say the least, for if they are caught by the Chinese border force while trying to cross, they are sent to jail. What happens later, is anybody's guess.
After a year, they are sent across to India. Here in India, there are many centers in the Himalayas where Tibetan schools have been established. Mussorrie, Nainital, Manali, Shimla, Deheradun, Gangtok Dharamshala, and ofcourse Mcleodganj are places where you will find a huge Tibetan population.
While in India, they study in a kind of a hostel. The older kids are responsible for the younger ones. There are families who take care of these kids while they are here. Their own parents cannot visit them often, if ever. Nor can they ever go back to Tibet. They are refugees now, living at the mercy of another country. After finishing their higher studies, they often migrate to other countries on a refugee passport granted by the Indian government.
Coming back to my story of McLeodganj however, it was Lord Elgin (the British Viceroy of India 1862-63) who fell in love with the town. So much so, that he even died here and preferred to rest in peace at this place forever.
The church is located at a quaint, beautiful place. No wonder the place was chosen as the preferred site! Surrounded by tall Deodars, overlooking the Dhauladhar ranges, one would surely be at peace here.
After Lord Elgin was buried here, his wife specially imported the stained glasses from England, to be fitted on the church windows.
However, during the terrible Kangra earthquake, the roof of the church collapsed.
Yet, it remain the only standing building in Kangra that had suffered the least damage.
The roof was built again in the coming years, restoring the church to its formal glory.
The stained glasses that you see now, are all new, yet beautiful.
The graveyard besides the church.
Such a beautiful place to rest forever.
The Dal Lake of Mcleodganj, a popular tourist destination. Surrounded by tall Deodar trees (trust me, you can never get bored of seeing the same trees everywhere you go, they are just so beautiful!!)
Monasteries and temples lie alongside in the Mcleodganj of today.
It just goes on to show how well the Tibetans have made themselves a part of the Indian culture. They believe in living peacefully, and that peace truly echos in Mcleodganj.
The town square looks all glitzy and glam.
The Mcleodganj of today, attract many foreigners from different countries who come here to enjoy the peace and solitude. There are many yoga and meditation centers in the town.
The main market is dotted with many road-side, terrace cafes. Special features of these cafes are -
1. They serve only vegetarian food (except eggs)
2. No alcohol
3. Most of them have libraries like the one in the picture which stock really good BOOKS!!
4. You can sit here for hours, lazing around, reading a book, surfing on your tabs or laptops (FREE WIFI).
5. They are quiet cheap!
You can shop for a variety of gift items, junk jewellery and mineral rocks here.
Shopping is pretty cheap near the Bagsunath temple. Bargain, but don't over do it. You will get a good price as it is.
Tips for travelers:
Best season to visit: Throughout the year!
Places to visit:
- Bagsunath temple and the waterfall behind it.
- St John Church (10-15 mins away from the main town, on the way towards Dharamshala)
- The main monastery on the market road
- Dal lake
- Hill top point (amazing views and maggi point!)
- HPCA Cricket ground (Dharamshala stadium, 20 minutes from Mcleodganj by car)
- Stay in Mcleodganj and then visit Dharmashala. Not vice-versa.Plan a stay for 2 nights. One day is sufficient to explore both the towns.
- Walk throughout the main town, it's an experience in itself.
- Explore the cafes.
- Eat momos (they come in different varieties!)
- Try the pastries and cakes from the Tibetan Bakery on the main market road.
- Carry a raincoat or an umbrella while exploring, they skies have a mind of their own!
- Explore the Kangra fort. It is on the road to Chandigard. It is totally worth exploring. It will take you about 1 and half hour to explore if you are really interested in the history. They provide audio guides for a couple (Rs. 150 per couple).