Some 480 km from Delhi, nestled amongst green forests and flanked by snow peaks Mcleodganj is a very small town located in upper suburbs of Dharamshala in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Defying its small size Mcleodganj packs a punch when it comes to touristy attractions, its divine, its breathtakingly beautiful and it offers multiple choices for the palate.
Mcleodganj…. His Holiness Dalai Lama’s official residence….
Mcleodganj as a result is now a global divine hotspot, owing to His holiness Dalai Lama the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people. If you happen to be in Mcleodganj when His holiness is in residence, as I was fortunate to be, do not be surprised if you bump into some familiar international faces on the streets of Mcleodganj. It is quite possible that you might be sharing your coffee with a Hollywood celebrity in any one of the cafes. The current Dalai Lama ( real name Tenzin Gyatso) is the 14th in the line of Dalai Lamas and has attained international respect and popularity. No wonder in 2013 a as per a public poll he emerged as the most popular world leader along with Barack Obama.
During Dalai Lamas presence Mcleodganj takes on a festive international atmosphere, the streets are brimming with global visitors and the eateries and cafe’s are choc-a-bloc with patrons. It is wonderful to sit and relax over coffee and cakes with total strangers straining to catch sounds spoken in exotic foreign tongues and really experience the feeling of one world one people.
Dalai Lama temple…..the official residence.
The Dalai Lama temple on Temple road in Mcleodganj is a vast building and the premises house His holiness the Dalai Lama’s official residence, a temple, Tibetan museum and public grounds where the Dalai Lama appears before his followers.
Mcleodganj houses the Tibetan Government in exile…
Since 1960 when the Dalai Lama sought and was granted refuge in India, the Central Tibetan Administration or Tibetan government in exile was established and has been run out of Mcleodganj.
If your calendar coincides with that of His holiness, do visit the temple to see and hear the Dalai Lama, if he is not in residence you should still visit the Dalai Lama temple to get a glimpse into history and persecution of the Tibetan people before they finally moved to India.
Spend some time in the tranquil and serene surroundings and imbibe the essence of Buddhism. This was not the first time that I found myself in close proximity of Tibetans but after visiting the Dalai Temple, I for the first time marvelled at a people for their tremendous grit and perseverance in the face of all odds. These people have walked the talk of true essence of Buddhism.
Kalachakra Temple Mcleodganj
Located on temple road but on the opposite direction to Dalai Temple is the Kalachakra Temple. It’s right in the middle of commercial Mcleodganj and its possible to walk past it without noticing. The give away is one of the largest prayer wheels that you shall ever see inside a small room right on the main road. Do rotate the wheel clockwise and earn divine blessings of all the mantras that fill it. I really liked this concept of instant divine gratification, a panacea for weary souls seeking eternal bliss.
Gyuto Monastery…..experience tantric traditions in Buddhism
Gyuto monastery is located in Dharamshala, a half an hours drive from Mcleodganj. Discover the forms names and practices of lesser known and often controversial “tantric Buddhism” in Gyuto monastery. Before visiting this place I had no knowledge about this break away sect of Buddhism and was taken by surprise to see the images and figurines displayed inside. So used to seeing calm and serene poses of the Buddha I felt my skin crawl looking at various depictions that bordered on occult Satanism. It was definitely a fresh insight into Buddhism one that I found very interesting.
One thing is for sure the Gyuto Monastery building is stunning to look at, the overall setting, flanked by mountains, surrounded by verdant greens and it’s colour yellow is all mesmerising. I visited the monastery on a clear sunny day and was almost blinded by the shimmering yellow. I visited the monastery around lunch time and maybe as a result of which there were hardly any visitors. The place was deathly calm and that added to its aura and mysticism.
Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan culture…a riot of colours.
About 30 minutes drive from Mcleodganj located in Sidhpur suburb of Dharamshala is another must visit place, Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan culture. The Institute is an endeavour in preserving and promoting Tibetan arts and is totally self sustaining.
My first impressions after gaining entry was of a place steeped in colour, the colourful vistas punctuated by well manicured and aesthetically pleasing Japanese gardens, crystal clear water bodies flanked by gently swaying weeping willows and chirping of birds. By now I was totally smitten by the Tibetan play of colours, is it a conscious effort to infuse colour in the drab, monochrome and arid regions from where these people hail, quite possible. Whatever the reasons the Tibetan sense of colour cannot be ignored, it is stark and in your face colour smorgasbord.
The Institute houses a Buddhist Temple, a doll museum, Handicraft Shop and is spread over a good area. If you wish to stay in the institute you have option of luxury cottages. If by the end of your excursion you are feeling hungry and thirsty head over to the Humming Bird Cafe.
Church of St John in the Wilderness
Just a kilometre short of Mcleodganj from Dharamshala, nestled amidst tall deodhar trees is an old anglican church. True to its name its an experience in wilderness. A stroll around the church will transport you back into British times, the place smells of history and the overall atmosphere works like a balm for the strained nerves of big city dweller like me. The main structure of the church is well maintained with beautiful glass work depicting scenes from the Bible, but it was the outside of the church that I found more interesting. There are some very elegant graves in one corner and one belongs to Lord Elgin who was the Viceroy of India from 1862-63. Another plaque mentions the final resting place of a British soldier who died from a bear attack.
Location and how to reach
By Air : Closest airport is Gaggal 30 kilometres away served by 3 daily flights from Delhi.
By Bus:Many luxury overnight buses ply from Delhi and can be caught from ISBT Kashmiri gate.
By Train: Kangra mandir is the closest railway station located 25 kilometres from Mcleodganj. The closest broad gauge station is Pathankot 90 kilometres away.