For a lot of travelers this little hill town overlooking Dharamsala feels like coming home. Loads of people call McLeod their home for a couple months per year. It is not only the vibe that makes people visit this picturesque town. The historical background is also why a lot people make their way up here. It was the Dalai Lama that found refuge here after he was named persona non grata in China. In his trace loads of monks followed him and everywhere in town you can find them. May be that’s one of the reasons this village radiates such a peaceful vibe. The monks are happy to take a picture with you or teach you about Buddhism if you are interested. Nowadays you can even find iMonks: the ones making pictures of the sunset with their Ipads!
The merely Tibetan population gives you a warm welcome and they make you move in a slower pace. The vibe here is very laid-back and you can feel the positive energy, something that the Buddhists are trying to create all over the world. I attended the Dalai Lamas teaching, but that is just not my thing. Out of respect for the hundreds of monks surrounding me I completed the whole 3,5 hours. It was a big struggle because of the fact that I just completed a 24 hour trip, did not sleep at all and on top of that I had to sit straight with my legs crossed. Apparently the monks seated around me saw me struggling and started giving me back massages.
What to do in McLeod-Ganj
If you are lucky the Dalai Lama is in town. Sign up in advance for his teachings or show up at the temple in the morning and sign up there. Bring your passport and two photos, complete the form, hand over all your electronics and you are in. If he is not in town it is still worth paying a visit to the temple. It offers splendid views over the highlands. Also follow the monks on a track for 2,5km clockwise around the temple. You will stumble upon shrines and a wall with pictures of Tibetans who gave their lives for Tibet. Very intriguing!
Stay in Dharamkot or Bagsu
Head to Dharamkot or Bagsu for an even more laid-back vibe if McLeod is too busy for you. These sleepy towns within a couple kilometers from the main square are renown for their ultra chilled vibe. You are looking for the real hippie style,something to smoke and fabulous views, then this is definitely the town where you wanna go! It is also famous for the Vipassana silent meditation. Visit the Bagsu waterfalls for a refreshing dip and beautiful scenery. These towns even offer cheaper accommodations than McLeod.
Go for (multi) day trekking in the mountains
McLeod is surrounded by a beautiful mountain range which offers excellent hiking. Day treks to Triund are popular and a must do if you are in a reasonable condition. It is a rewarding hike and views are fantastic. From where the trail starts (20min by tuktuk) it will take you between 2-4 hours. Fit travelers can start walking from McLeod and will reach Triund in 3-4 hours. Up for some adventure? Hike onwards to Snowline at 3.300 meter altitude or try to make it to the Indrahar pass which is on a altitude of 4.300 meter. I spent a couple days in the mountains, I will write about it in my next blog and upload a video about.
Where to stay in McLeod-Ganj
There are numerous options to spend the night and they range from midrange to budget. Prepare to pay up to 2.500Rs ($40) for the nicer spots in town, but there are bargains on the market that offer a place to stay for as much as 150Rs ($2,5).
The further away from the main square the cheaper it gets!
I stayed in the M Hotel, which is perfectly located on the Temple road not far from the main square. This more upscale place is a pretty good bid at the moment since they are renovating the place. They offer some rooms with a 50% discount. For 1.500rs ($25) I got a very spacious room, big, nice and comfortable bed a rain shower and a balcony with beautiful views of the mountains and the city. Their reliable Wi-Fi is one of the best in town! Indique restaurant is part of the hotel and even offers room service.
Guesthouse Seven Hills
A clean and tidy budget place quietly located 300m from the main square on your way to Dharamkot. For 300rs ($5) you get a basic room and good Wi-Fi. The bed is very hard and slightly uncomfortable, they don’t offer towels, but that is what you pay for. They charge 15rs for hot water.
Tucked away behind M Hotel on a little road downhill from the main square. This hotel offers splendid sunset views, and has rooms ranging from 300Rs ($5) to 2.000Rs ($35). You pay more cause of the location, not all rooms live up to their price. They have an onside restaurant with a beautiful terrace. Unfortunately the hotel is run by a grumpy lady!
Looking to smoke a joint in India? Read eveything about it in this smoking weed in India guide.
Where to eat in McLeod-Ganj
If you are the type of traveler that likes to have lunch, drink coffee and watch life pass by right in front of you then you are spoiled for choice in this village. Beautiful terraces, lovely mountain views, cozy restaurants, tasty local food, delicious chocolate cakes, friendly Tibetan people, smiling monks and a mix of tourist and hippies are waiting for you. I visited numerous places and tried out their food and their Wi-Fi.
You want to meet travelers while drinking good coffee then try this place. It comes as close to a Strarbucks as you can get it. Their coffee is one of the better ones in town, their vegetarian food is ok, but this is not the place where you going to have dinner. Do try some of the delicious cakes they offer though. Wi-Fi is not good, but there is a huge bookshelf to keep you quiet.
Although the Wi-Fi is not great I liked this place a lot. It’s a perfect spot to watch people. Its on the way to the Dalai Lama temple and loads of monks pass by this sunny place. They offer good breakfast and nice Indian food and loads of tourist hang around.
Next door to Moonpeak. A big sunny terrace from where you can watch the street-life. Good set breakfast with tasty hashbrown potatoes, tofu, brown bread and eggs. Nice people with ok Wi-Fi.
Kunga Guesthouse/Nicks Italian
This vegetarian restaurant with ok Wi-Fi is known across town for its fabulous chocolate mousse cake and other delicious treats. They have some tasty pastas on the menu and loads of other stuff. Inside they offer some cozy seats, but when the sun is out you want to aim for a spot on their sunny terrace with splendid views of the village and the mountains.
There is a sign that says: no smoking, no alcohol. But basically what you do here is drink and smoke! A very laid-back vibe created by a mix of local Tibetans and tourists. Smoke a joint and bring your own alcohol, they don’t sell it. The food is good, but it takes a long time! Some nights you can enjoy live music and you can play the local board game. In winter it can get uncomfortably hot, but they provide free hot stones wrapped in pillows to keep you warm.
These lovely guys serve excellent Caramel Macchiatos. It does may be not have a massive view, but it is located close to the temple so expect to enjoy your coffee together with the monks.
The restaurant attached to the M Hotel has nice sunset views and good Indian food. More expensive than other places, but you get live music in return. It closes a bit later than most places and they serve alcohol! As part of the hotel they have one of the best Wi-Fi in town.
Run by a South Indian monastery this place is where you want to go to have a local experience and eat alongside the monks.
Small local restaurant, with a wide range of food to chose from. They have big tables and can cater big groups. Try some Bhutanese dishes and a fruit beer.
Taste of India
One of the places in town for Indian food, although at times the crew can be annoying and service can be bad.
This Nepali owned covered rooftop restaurant has some nice mountain views. It can get cold up here in winter though and hot in the summer, but their menu is big and reasonable priced. Stone oven pizzas are a good choice! You can light a cigarette or a joint here, that’s not a problem and it’s a good place to meet travelers.
Spacious restaurant with a sunny balcony that offers views of the main square. A lot of choice, but breakfast menu is only served until noon, no exceptions! Wi-Fi was not working.
Tiny but cozy restaurant with only two tables, that serves the best momos in town. Lovely owner!
Not very well-known cause of the location, but it has one of the best sunset views from its rooftop terrace. This Tibetan owned place is part of the Om Hotel and has nice wood oven pizzas,