It was my season of the year-Monsoon, and I was craving for coffee on a hilltop with drizzling rain. It is one of the favourite soul-filling menus in most of our life; that reminded the lines of Neelam Birthare-“He is a Mountain, she is fresh rain; Serenity spread when they met”. At the same time, browsing through the Natgeo photographs on my Insta, the picture of Bhagsu fall and the description of the photo caught my attention; it said- “As long as I live, I’ll discover waterfalls, where birds and winds sing.” Without wasting a minute, I started to search for the location of the fall- It was Mcleodganj.
I held in my calendar and took advantage of the long weekend to plan my trip for Dharamshala & Mcleodganj. Post all bookings; I informed my mom we are travelling to the hills again. Though she was sceptical at first owning to rain, bad road conditions & landslides in the mountains during monsoon, but later gave in. At last, the day of our travel arrived; we started early morning around 7.30 am. We chose the route Via Chandigarh, a journey of about 10hrs (473kms), but since the roads were better, the drive was smooth. On the way, we halted at Murthal to gorge on Aloo Paratha for breakfast before proceeding ahead. Cloudy and breezy weather; gave all reason for on & of chai(tea) stops.
Hunger pangs started to come to me again; when we stopped near a roadside Dhaba post crossing Bhakra-Nangal Dam. I was dazed by the view of the dam, as I have read about it only in my geography book. Like a child took numerous pictures as a memory. By the time we reached Mcleoganj, it was late afternoon.
Mcleodganj is a little hamlet located in the shadows of the mighty Dhauladhars, and the scenic Kangra valley lined with dense deodar -pine forest. Mcleodganj is the upper section of Dharamshala, which was a colonial hill station, hence one of the enchanting valleys of Himachal Pradesh. It is located nearly 2082m above the sea level, and the place got its unique name from David McLeod, erstwhile lieutenant governor of Punjab.
The location is one of the few valleys- intact in the calm & pure form. Aside from the just being the summer residence for British Viceroy, it is the centre of His Holiness Dalai Lama. In 1959 with the Chinese invasion, the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India from Tibet. And Indian Government offered him, a refugee in Dharamshala. And he put up the Govt of the Tibet in exile in 1960. Ever since then, this outpost has expanded over the few decades. Mcleodganj is also named the “Little Lhasa”. Initially, even I was diverted by the monks & nuns at the cafe, but my eyes got accustomed. Exploding at the seams with everything Tibetan, from momos to monks, the small Tibetian shops all around, along with the Nirvana searching soul of every known nationality; hence the deep red robe was most seen colour everywhere.
As per my habit, I booked The Bhagsu under HPDTC, which was situated near the residence of His holiness. The hotel was surrounded by lush green deodar, with a background of the majestic Dhuladhar range. The room was spacious with french windows, from where I can witness the snow-capped mountains & the cloud-filled valley. Despite being a humble town, there is a decent option to stay from budget hotels to Homestay, hostels, studio apartment, even can opt for a tent. The prices begin from Rs 800 per night up to Rs 5000 per night depending upon the choice of stay.
With my coffee mug, I sat along with the window panel, far away, I could see thunder. And in a whip of the second curtain of rain beat down from paradise. I was mislaid in the beauty of nature because even the prettiest cloud is made of rain. And the night was cold, due to rain & the thick forest around.
The early dawn was cold and cloudy, after a hot cup of tea mom & I decided to take a walk in the woods. Walking through the mist and tall pine, I recalled lines by John Muir-” Between every two pines, there is a door to a new world”. Nature was in its purest form, with raindrops dripping from the folios of the pine, quaint unpaved streets, chirping of birds and deep silence. We saw a few children going to school; and women carrying woods back home. Walking down the woods trail, we spotted a small tea stall, we sat on the wet wooden bench and ordered for a Maggie & two cups of tea. Seated amidst the woods, I felt them whispering to me “So if you are too tired to speak, sit next to me’ because I too am fluent in silence”- R. Arnold. I lost track of time in the wilderness, while, sipping my tea. Later returned to the hotel, took a quick shower & breakfast and started my day to explore the town.
My day took away by visiting Bhagsu fall since it was the whole reason for my travel. The fall is a famous tourist spot, as it is easily approachable by road which connects Dharamshala & MCleodganj. Amidst the lush verdure & tall cliff, I saw the stream cascading down. The Bhagsu Fall was at its peak since it was monsoon, falling from a height of around 30 feet. And it was charming and breathtakingly beautiful. Considerably, you need to trek that leads up to the waterfall, which is yet another unparalleled experience. If you wish to get a dip in the chilly water of the fall, then a swimming pool is made to do so. Adjacent to the falls is small cafes selling piping-hot Maggi and other mouth-watering snacks and beverages. You can sit in these coffee shops and soak in the beauty of the Bhagsu Fall. We tried the Shiva Cafe on the top of the Bhagsu fall, good music & a ginger tea with a soothing view.
Upon returning from the falls, we visited the Bhagsunath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is an ancient temple, established by the 1 Gorkha Regiment. The stream of Bhagsu waterfall passes through the famous Bhagsunath Temple, creating a natural fountain. If you like to revel in the glories of nature and spend some quiet moments in peace and serenity- Bhagsu fall is the perfect place.
We drove to St John’s Church In The Wilderness. The church is less than 2 km from Mcleodganj and is en route Forsythganj. Built-in 1852, the church is dedicated to John the Baptist, nestled in a copse of mighty Deodar trees with a neo-Gothic architecture, the church is aptly named as per the location. The church is famed for its Belgian stained-glass windows donated by the Lady Elgin, wife of Lord Elgin, who was Governor-General & Viceroy of India. Its churchyard is also the resting place of Lord Elgin. Despite the name, the site offers quiet and serene surroundings, which calms the senses.
Before moving onward to the next point, I dropped into a famous-Illiterati Cafe. It’s basically a book cafe, you do need to walk a bit downhill, but it’s worth it. Illiterati is a cosy cafe with balcony views of the mountains. The cuisine is primarily Italian; hence the list of ravioli and gnocchi dishes go on and on, along with the wood fire oven pizzas. Ah! How to forget Black-currant cheesecake and Banoffee pie as dessert. Enough variety to select from, while I was busy making up my mind what to order; my mom was at the balcony with a book in her hand. That meant we were spending some quality time here, and trust me the time spent was worth.
Afterwards, we went to Dal Lake, the name of the lake is inspired by the famous Dal Lake of Kashmir, but this one is in Kangra district. It is located near a village called Tota Rani, surrounded by rugged mountains and luscious forest of deodar trees. Not an impressive lake, as Nainital’s lakes are more attractive. It’s a tranquil spot for a picnic and boating. In that location is a Shiva temple on the bank of the lake worshipped by the Gaddi tribe. A fair is organized in September, to mark the presence of Lord Shiva. I simply took a walk along the lake, visited the temple and practice my photography skills.
My last visit of the day was Naddi Hills a perfect location to enjoy Dhauladhar Range from such close proximity; no walking or trekking involved, no more stress on the knees! The entire valley could be witnessed, it’s also known as the sunset point. Though due to cloudy weather, there was no sun, the snow-capped mountains were peace to my eyes and psyche. This place reminded of Gun hill point of Mussoorie from where I saw the Shivalik range and entire Doon valley at the same close proximity.
In the evening, I wished to explore the market of Mcleodganj, and while doing that, I discovered a monastery. Painted in vermilion and gold façade, a humble, tranquil Buddhist temple in the busy McLeod Ganj market known as Kalachakra Temple- The wheel of time. The essential rituals associated with Kalachakra to enhance spirituality is practised here. It’s even a regular venue for public meetings and discussions conducted by his holiness the Dalai Lama. It is said the entire mural painting was done under the inception of the Holiness Dalai Lama.
The temple is possibly one of the best examples of Kalachakra-based architectural style. It’s a three-storied temple with murals adorns on the wall and, the principal deity of Buddhism – Shakyamuni Buddha is depicted in a Kalachakra avatar. Surrounding the image of Shakyamuni is the frescos of seven hundred and twenty-two deities. This can be seen in the courtyard as you enter. On the first level is a chamber may be for the audience or prayer along with portraits of the 14th Dalai Lama and the thirty-two Shamblala kings, of whom the first seven are called Maharajas (Great kings), and the rest are known as Kalkis. The second floor has Images of Tibetan deities such as Guru Padma Sambhava, Milarepa, Palden Lhamo, Yamantaka, Atisha and Tsongkhapa. Finally, the patio is an open area overlooking the street of Mcleodganj. All of the temple’s columns and walls are painted with Tibetan “Thangka” symbols and surrounded by the prayer wheel.
We were exhausted by evening, hence decided to dine at the Tibet Kitchen. Though there is a various option for Tibetian food, this is renowned as the best. I ordered a Thupka, along with veg & non-veg Momo platter. The food was flavoursome and filling. It is a modest restaurant focused on serving delicious food at a fair price. The night was early for me since I will sustain an early start tomorrow.
It was bright sunny daylight, with blue sky and floating clouds. Today we were going to Nechung Monastery, Namgyal Stupa & Norbulingka Institute. But I was a little upset at missing the Kangra museum, being Monday it was closed. It’s a home for the art of lovers and history buffs. Located in a pleasant location, the museum is dedicated to the brilliant marvels of Tibetan and Buddhist artwork and their rich history. It also owns a great collection, of which embodies rare coin memorabilia, paintings, sculptures, pottery and precious collectables jewellery. Beautifully reflecting the essence of tribal culture in the exquisite pieces of miniature paintings. I suggest you do visit the museum.
We took off with the Namgyal Stupa, located at Uparli Barol. It’s an ancient Stupa built in the memory of the Tibetan soldiers who struggled for the freedom of Tibet. It’s a dome shared Stupa, whose design has similarity to the Stupa built during the 3rd century BC by King Ashoka. The Stupa contains the corpse of the Buddha; hence it’s scared & place of worship for the Tibetian. The Stupa is carved from sandstone and surrounded by several prayer wheels. It is conceived that the visiting of Namgyalma Stupa cleanses any bad karma that exists in the soul. And anything that settles on the Namgyalma Stupa gets purified. Considerably, I desire my soul is purified, while I circled the Stupa rotating the wheels and reciting prayers. This place left me more peaceful and content than when you came in.
Later I went to the Norbulingka Institute an educational and training institute, that was founded in 1988 to preserve the Tibetan literature, culture, and art. Dalai Lama established it and named after, the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa, Tibet. The Institute provides training, education and employment to Tibetans in the area. In 1977 The Academy of Tibetan Culture was established, which offers a full-time three-year course in traditional Tibetan studies, world history, Chinese, as well as English.
It has been constructed in the classic Tibetan style located amidst gardens and ponds. The prime attraction is 1000 or more murals of Buddha. Also the frescoes of all the Dalai Lamas and drawings from the life in the form of 14th Dalai Lama. And the Losel Doll Museum which exhibits traditional Tibetan scenes, using miniature Tibetan dolls in traditional costumes. The Main Institute is the Academy of Tibetan Culture, Literary and Cultural Research Centre as well as the Centre of the Arts. One can also enrol into short-term workshops here if interested in studying the Tibetan arts. In that location is a Seat of Happiness Temple set amidst the Japanese inspired Norbulingka gardens in the Institute. I felt I am part of a Japanese movie, the backdrop of the Institue is such picturesque.
Post wandering in the beautiful Institute, we went ahead for lunch. We chose the Lung Ta – a vegetarian Japanese Restaurant. The ambience was neat with wooden decoration & food was mouth-watering despite being veg.
Our next destination was Nechung Monastery, situated just below the Tibetan Library in Gangchen Kyishong a part of Tsuglagkhang Complex. The tranquil open monastery has the power to transform a person’s spirit to beat with love & compassion, and mind longing for peace & serenity. Nechung Monastery is believed as the seat of the State Oracle and protector-deity of His Holiness Dalai Lama, it has acted as a spiritual guide to the Tibetan- its physical medium is called Nechung Kuten. During the revolution in 1959, the Nechung Monastery in Lhasa was razed to the earth. However 6 monks managed to escape to India, and the Tibetan Government in exile had granted a modest piece of land to Nechung monastery. It holds a library, monk’s residence & school. The solemn ambience at the monastery forced me to sit on the bench in a spell.
My mom shook me to senses and asked, let’s go inside the Tsuglagkhang Complex. It is the private abode of the present Dalai Lama, it’s a position of significance as it’s narrated the life and sacrifices of the Tibetans. The culture they carry & velour with which they struggled their existence—the entire complex smell of purity & humility, which will calm any soul. My eye caught the 3m tall bronze Shakyamuni Buddha, which brightens up the complex. The Mangyal Gompa is a place where monks debate. Upon entering, I was greeted by a buoyant atmosphere, the monks are animatedly clapping and speaking in what sounds like the Bodhi language. I did not understand a word, it was fun seeing them. I sat and spent some time before going towards The Tibet museum, but I stood looking at the monks walking around the sacred structure in a clockwise direction. Well, I asked a monk passing by what custom is this, he said The Kora, he called for me to join the walk & offer my prayers. And I did join them, can’t explain what I felt, but chants carried me to a different universe. The Tibet Museum is a two-storied building, displaying a detailed story of Tibet. We paid Rs 10 and watched the documentaries that were screened at 3 pm.
While driving back towards my hotel, I took a peep at the stunning, breathtaking incredible stadium. I suppose one of the scenic cricket stadium with a snow-capped background in the form of the Dauladhar hill-range. But I could not stay for long, as the rainfall came in like a white sheet. Gratefully, I did not get drenched completely, also was happy with my decision of not going to Triund trek. Oh! Yes, this is backpackers & trekkers paradise too, it gives you the option to explore the beautiful Dhauladhar ranges. You can choose for a day hike to Kareri village or can camp overnight at the meadows of Triund, or take a 4-day trek to the Indrahaar pass. Though Mcleodganj can be seen throughout the year, the winters can be intimidating. The summers are pleasant with a maximum temperature of 25 degrees; Monsoons are damp and wet, the rains here aren’t hefty but can occur anytime.
Today’s final destination was Dharamkot-known as the hippie village in Dharamshala. It is 4km from Mcleodganj, a quiet small town lies in a valley surrounded by hills. It’s the best topographic point to camp under the stars beside towering trees and the serene river. Dharamkot has the Vipassana meditation centre, as comfortably as the Tushita Meditation Centre, where many people come and stay here to learn meditation or simply meditate in search of Nirvana. Well, I sat down in a little tea stall, watching birds get back to treetops at twilight and the river gushing past —the perfect peaceful end to the day.
The evening passed buying a few—souvenir for home, & woollen articles. The night passed thinking about the charm or an aura; this place owes, which can magically heal anyone who steps into its periphery. The reverberating silence, the trail with incredible floral diversity, an epitome of tranquillity in the dense forest of deodar & pine, with the backdrop of the snow, capped Dhauladhar- Mecleodganj is an escape to rejuvenate senses spirituality as well bodily.
How to Reach.
The Gaggal Airport or Kangra Airport is the nearest airport to Mcleodganj. One can hire a cab or take buses from the airport to reach Macleodganj, which takes around an hour.
The Pathankot railway station is the closest broad gauge railhead serving those headed to McLeod Ganj, located at a distance of 90km. Few trains are available from New Delhi to Pathankot. Cab and buses are readily available outside the station.
The state-owned or private buses connect McLeod Ganj with major North India cities like Delhi, Chandigarh, Dharamshala. HPDTC deluxe buses also ply frequently. You can also drive your own vehicle, its a journey of 10hrs.