The Tibetan Government in Exile is in Dharamsala
McLeod Ganj is a small village situated in the upper part of Dharamsala. It is located in the Himachal Pradesh state of northern India, 240 km from Shimla and 2000 meters above sea level. It is known to be the place of residence of the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, since he had to leave Tibet in 1959 because of the Chinese invasion.
In 1960, a Tibetan Government in Exile was officially established in Dharamsala. Today it is a political organization that declares itself to be the legitimate government of Tibet. It is responsible for helping Tibetan refugees, preserving Tibetan culture and raising global awareness about what happened in Tibet.
We drove from Shimla to McLeod Ganj in a private car. We paid 5000 rupees (60 euros) for a 7 hour journey. After the 12 hour journey to Shimla stumbling around with the bus, it was definitely worth paying for a quiet trip. We arrived at dusk and decided to stay two nights to enjoy at least a full day’s visit. We stayed in a quiet hotel overlooking the mountains for only 1,200 rupees for a room for the three of us.
McLeod Ganj, “the little Lasha”
It is not surprising that it is nicknamed “the little Lasha” since only arriving one has the sensation of being more in Tibet than in India. The streets are full of monks dressed in their typical orange or garnet-colored tunics. There are several monasteries, temples and Tibetan schools.
Tourism has also led to a multitude of shops where you can buy all kinds of Tibetan objects, such as: Buddha sculptures, prayer wheels, meditation bowls, paintings made by the monks of the monasteries, and so on.
What to see and what to do in McLeod Ganj?
The village is under the snowy peaks of the Himalaya Dhuala Dhar mountain range. Surrounded by mountains, it is an ideal place for hiking trails. However, we are satisfied with visiting the points of interest in the surroundings.
As everything was a little far away and we only had one day, so as not to waste time, we paid 1000 rupees (12 euros) to a taxi driver to take us to see the most outstanding sites:
Dalai Lama’s Residence
First, we went to the complex where the Dalai Lama’s residence is located. In that area there is a monastery, several temples and an interesting Tibetan museum on Chinese repression.
Hindu Temple Bhagsunath
Then, we visit the Hindu temple Bhagsunath, dedicated to the god Shiva, where there is also a swimming pool with ponds where the locals take advantage to relax. An ideal place to have a moment of tranquility.
From there we walk to Bhagsu Waterfall, a small waterfall of 10 meters outside McLeod Ganj. The walk to the waterfall takes about 30 minutes between waterfalls, mountains and monks. It is certainly worth the effort.
St. John in the Wilderness
The driver then took us to St. John in the Wilderness, an Anglican church built in 1982. Finally, we climbed up to a beautiful viewpoint surrounded by mountains. Its was a day full of religious and architectural contrasts. If one thing was clear to us, it was that India has room for all religions and all cultures.
When to go to McLeod Ganj?
The climate of Dharamshala
The best time to visit Dharamshala is in the autumn and spring months. Summer begins in early April and in early June the highest temperatures (36°C) are reached. July to mid to late September is monsoon season and Dharamshala becomes one of the wettest places in Himachal Pradesh.
On the other hand, autumn, which lasts from October to the end of November, is mild and temperatures average 16-17 ° C. Winter runs from December to the end of February and the landscape is covered with snow. Spring is short, runs from March to April and temperatures are pleasant.
Tibetan New Year Celebration
In the evening we were lucky enough to coincide with the Tibetan New Year and we did not hesitate to go celebrate it. The entrance fee was 300 rupees (4 euros) and included a buffet of Tibetan food. The event was held in a schoolyard. Tibetan prayer flags hung everywhere and a bonfire in the center of the courtyard burned brightly.
After dinner a few Tibetans danced around the campfire while others stayed in the dining room playing cards and gambling. During the night we met a few monks with whom we had a couple of interesting talks about Tibet and Buddhism. It was a curious and entertaining evening.
Next Destination: From McLeod Ganj to Tullah
The next day we said goodbye to McLeod Ganj and headed for Tullah, a village lost in the mountains where an Indian wedding was to be held. We had been invited by the taxi driver who took us to Agra and we had made friends with him.
There are only two days in the year when nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and another tomorrow. Therefore today is the ideal day to love, to grow, to do and, mainly, to live.
– Dalai Lama –