Today‚s McLeodganj, barring a few houses, the cemetery and the Church of St. John in the Wilderness has swallowed much of its colonial past and may well be one of the most cosmopolitan places in India. The odds are that in a street-crowd of a day, you will cross people from at least a dozen different nationalities and they would include seekers of rave-party nirvana as well as those who meditate seriously. Much of this multi-racial, multi-lingual mix is the due to the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at McLeodganj ‚ which is also the seat of the Tibetan Government in Exile. Not unexpectedly, architecture has also changed and bright Buddhist monastery-style structures, have replaced mock-Tudor houses or the colonial hill-station bungalow. Densely packed lanes, dense woods and excellent views
characterise the place. Just under the gaze of the Dhauladhar mountains which are a sub-system of the Himalaya and rise like series of sheer cliffs from the plains, McLeodganj is often called ‚Little Lhasa‚. It also home to a large Tibetan community and is packed with genuine and wannabe Buddhists from all over the world. This lies just above Dharamsala, the headquarters of the administrative district of Kangra. Often called ‚Little Lhasa‚ or 'Dhasa' - combination of Dharamsala and Lhasa - this is also home to a large Tibetan community. The variety of cuisine available is substantial as are the excursions and travel-experiences that vary from meditation and yoga to treks and gentler sightseeing.
The two major shopping areas are the McLeodganj and the Dharamsala bazaars. At McLeodganj, a variety of Tibetan souvenirs can be purchased. These include finely worked metal images, bowls, prayer wheels and musical instruments, thangka paintings, carpets, pullovers, caps, socks, chunky jewellery and lined carpet slippers. Prices vary from shop to shop and on the quality; for example, the price of a thangka could vary from a few hundred rupees to several thousand. For traditional Kangri food, the restaurants in Dharamsala are a better option while those in McLeodganj offer a range of Indian, European and Tibetan food.
Indian - Most of the larger hotels and restaurants are 'multi cuisine' ones and offer a varied menu. Among others, Hotel McLlo,Green Hotel, Hotel Bhagsu, Malabar Restaurant and Taste of India serve North Indian food. An unusual item on offer in some of the eating places are cooking classes which you can join for a day or week.
Chinese - Chinese food is available at most of the larger restaurants including Hotel Mc Lo and Hotel Bhagsu.
European/Continental - Continental, European dishes are available at most places. Some good eating places are - Carpe Diem, Jimmy‚s Italian Restaurant, Nick‚s Italian Kitchen, Hotel Mc Llo, Hotel Bhagsu, JJ‚s Cafť, Le Vrai Cafť, Lhamo's Croissant, Pema Thang‚s Guest House, Snow Lion Restaurant and Sunset Cafť. If you would care to, join the cooking classes that are on offer at some of these places; the 'course' could be anything from a few hours to a week or so.
Regional Specialty - While McLeodganj's multi-cultural mix has enabled many of the larger establishments of offer a variety of food, some small cafes (nulloften with no more than half a dozen little tables and basic furniture) offer speciality foods like Tibetan momos (nullsteamed or fried dumplings stuffed with meat or vegetables) and French confectionery. Roadside vendors can be seen selling soupsticks, banana cake or doughnuts. At least half a dozen guesthouses and cafes offer cooking courses too. Some speciality places are - Lung-Ta (nullJapanese food), Hotel Tibet (null Tibetan food),Momo Cafť (nullSpecialises in Momo‚s, Tibetan dumplings), Om Hotel (null Tibetan food), Rewa Cafť (null Tibetan food), Himalaya Restaurant (null Tibetan food) and Hotel Bhagsu (nullKangri food).
The Namgyal Monastery is named after the original Namgyal monastery in Lhasa, Tibet. This is where novice monks are trained under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The monastery has nearly two hundred monks and the younger ones study the major texts of the Buddhist Sutras and Tantras. The Tsuglakhang is the main hall where prayers are conducted. This is encircled by large prayer wheels. Within are larger than life images of Shakyamuni Buddha, Avalokiteshwara and Padmasambhava. Just off this, is the Kalachakra Temple whose architecture and murals serve as a representation of Tibet's rich spiritual and artistic tradition. The residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is also located here.
The hilltop over which McLeodganj is built seems like a long arm that runs roughly parallel to the mountains. On the south, is the wide spread of the Kangra valley and Dharamsala and on the north, rise the Dhauladhar mountains. As one goes higher, the vegetation also changes and ficus, scrub and bamboo give way to pine, cedar and oak. The altitude and climate vary from place to place. The altitude of McLeodganj bazaar is 1,768 metres above sea level; the snowline is fairly close at Ilaqua, (null,200 metres) and expectedly, this influences the temperatures in town. As one touches the upper sections of McLeodganj, in the direction of Bhagsu, it also gets colder. The climate of the lower part of the hill, Lower Dharamsala (null,300 metres) is closer to that of the Indian plains with hot summers.
Surface - This may be easiest way of reaching McLeodganj. Buses and taxis ply there from practically every major town in north India. Shared taxis are sometimes possible. Air-conditioned Volvo buses (nullif you can handle the movies and their volume) ply to Dharamsala from Delhi, Chandigarh and Shimla. Taxis and local-buses are available there; the distance by the ‚long road‚ which most traffic takes, is 8 kms. Some other relevant road distances are - Chandigarh (null 262 kms), Manali (null kms) and Shimla (null kms).
Train - Pathankot is the nearest broad-gauge railhead and is a 100 kms from McLeodganj. This is the station for trains to and from Delhi (nullincluding the overnight ones). The drive by taxi takes around three hours. If you have time on your hands and would care to, from Pathankot, take the narrow-gauge Kangra Valley Railway up Kangra station. This is not quite the Palace on Wheels but is an interesting way to look at some of the area‚s landscapes. From Kangra, you can take a bus or taxi for the 17 kms to McLeodganj; for the distance between the railway station and the Kangra bus-stand, auto-rickshaws can be hired. No advance bookings or online reservation is available and tickets have to be bought at the stations.
Air - The airport at Gaggal is 12 kms from McLeodganj. The airline, Kingfisher Red (nullformerly, Air Deccan) flies this sector.
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