Mcleodganj: Essential Guide for First-Timers

The first thing you need to know about McLeod Ganj is that you’ll find the name spelled as McLeodGanj, McLeodganj, or McLeodGanj. The reason for this is the origins of the name. McLeod was the last name of a governor of the area while Ganj means neighborhood. This is a very accurate reflection of India’s mixed heritage. Nowadays, though, McLeod Ganj has become the home of many Tibetans.

The Tibetan government in exile is located in this area. You might also hear it referred to as Little Lhasa, or Dhasa, which is a shortening of the name Dharamshala. Dharamsala is located very close to McLeod Ganj. Tibetans are the ones that tend to call this area Little Lhasa. Furthermore, this is where His Holiness the Dalai Lama resides alongside numerous Tibetans refugees. This is one of the reasons why this is a place where people go in search of spiritual growth Furthermore, there are numerous Hindu and Buddhist temples in the area.

History

The birth of Mcleodganj can be traced to 1850. This is when the British army took control of the area. This was a consequence of their victory during the Second Anglo-Sikh War. A Hindu resthouse was built here. These houses are known as Dharamshala, which is the origin of the name of the area or cantonment.

As the years went by, the town went from a resting place for British citizens to the house of two regiments and the capital of the district of Kangra. The area of McLeod Ganj was established during the 1850s. It has been a historic place of rest since its birth. This is how peaceful the area is by nature.

Interestingly, a British Viceroy of India, Lord Elgin, wanted to turn it into the summer capital of the country. He liked it so much that he spent his last days there, and he was buried very close to McLeodganj. Of course, he had a home here, which was later seized by the Government of India. Later, it would become the official residence of the Dalai Lama to this day.

As the 1900s arrived, McLeod Ganj had become a center of commerce and trade. However, a terrible earthquake, which took place in 1905, destroyed most of the city, killing almost 20,000 people and destroying almost all buildings.

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It wouldn’t be until 1959 that the town rose to prominence again. This was the result of Tenzin Gyatso moving there. Gyatso is known around the world as the 14th Dalai Lama, and his arrival was the result of an uprising gone wrong.

Gyatso had attempted to overcome the presence of the Communist Party of China in Tibet due to the numerous human rights violations against his people.

However, the uprising failed and he had to flee. Thankfully, the Indian government decided to offer him refuge. The place where he was placed was Dharamshala, where the government in exile has been since 1960. Nowadays, there are thousands of refugees from Tibet living here.

This is one of the things that have attracted numerous tourists and pilgrims looking for spiritual guidance. Furthermore, the great number of monasteries and temples in the area makes it a sight to behold. In consequence, the population has grown considerably since this took place.

Weather in McLeodganj

The weather in McLeod Ganj is quite variable throughout the year. This makes it so that some months are better to visit than others. You have the monsoon season, which takes place between July and September. This is probably the worst time to visit.

During the monsoons, there’s a huge amount of rain. While the temperature is nice, between 18°C and 22°C, the rain will make everything more complicated. However, if you dare to adventure and break the standards, you are also in for witnessing beautiful landscapes, as the terrain turns into a majestic view.

If you choose to go during this season, we recommend you do so either at the beginning or by the end of it. June or July might be great months to choose, as these are the months in which the Butoh Dance Festival usually takes place. This is something that would undoubtedly add to your experience.

The two preferred seasons for visiting McLeodganj are the winter and the summer. The winter takes place between October and February. Temperatures can range between 9°C and -1°C. If you’re coming from the United States, the United Kingdom, Nordic countries, and other European nations, this is pretty mild in comparison.

Despite this, it’s undoubtedly better to visit at the beginning of winter. This is because after December, the weather gets to its lowest point and there might even be snow. However, there are festivals during this time that might make the low temperatures worth it.

In January, one of the coldest months, the Lohri and Halda Festival takes place. December is the time when the Himalayan Festival takes place and, towards the end of winter, in February, the Himachal Winter Carnival, which marks the Tibetan New Year is celebrated. As you can imagine this is a big thing in the area.

If you don’t mind a bit of snow, then you’ll be perfectly placed to witness the beautiful village covered in white, with interesting terrains to explore. Sightseeing is still possible as during the day the temperature tends to stay at approximately 9°C.

However, one of the favorite seasons for people from India and other countries to visit is the summer. While the rest of the country reaches extremely high temperatures, there’s blessed weather in McLeod Ganj- Temperatures stay at around 25°C, which is a lot more forgiving than other areas.

This season begins in March and it ends in June. However, many consider that true summer starts in April. During this month, temperatures can greatly rise, reaching highs such as 38°C. However, this usually takes place in the early afternoon.

The rest of the day is a lot fresher, and it’s the perfect time to take a walk around and explore the many beautiful things McLeodganj has to offer. Furthermore, nature is flourishing during this time. This will allow you to truly connect as you observe flowers and different animals in their natural habitats.

The most special month of this period would be March, especially for anyone interested in local customs. This is when the Losar celebrations take place. During April, the Buddha Purnima festivities take place, making for two months that are ideal to make your visit simply unforgettable.

You may also like: Yoga Teacher Training in Mcleodganj, Dharamsala

How To Reach Mcleodganj

Reaching Mcleodganj can be complicated, especially if you don’t know your options as well as you should. However, once you understand the different means of transportation available to you, things get super easy. There are three main transportation options. You can arrive on a flight, by train or by bus or car. Let’s take a look at them.

How to Reach Mcleodganj by Flight

Flying is one of the most comfortable ways to travel. Thankfully, Mcleodganj is perfectly equipped to receive visitors that are flying in. The airport is called Gaggal Airport and it’s located in the neighboring town of Dharamshala.

Furthermore, this is a great opportunity to visit this town, as most visitors don’t get to do so because they head directly to Little Shala or Mcleodganj. However, it’s important to notice that, depending on where you’re coming from, you might need to make different stops first.

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This airport is connected to big Indian cities including Kullu, Chandigarh and, the biggest one, Delhi. Thankfully, there are regular flights with certain airlines. These include SpiceJet, Air India, and Jagson Airlines. For international travelers, there are two main options Delhi or Amritsar. However, there is only a direct flight from Delhi, and from Amritsar, you can take a taxi.

From the airport to Mcleodganj you can go by car, which should take less than an hour.

How to Reach Mcleodganj by Road

Going on the road towards Mcleodganj is also an option. You can take your car if you live in India or you got a rental, or you can take the bus. If going by car, your best bet is probably the NH1.

This is an option if you’re leaving from Delhi to Mcleodganj. However, it’s important to notice that this trip takes about 10 hours. Therefore, it’s important to plan.

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Another way is making use of the state-owned and private bus lines. We can find everything from deluxe buses to more basic ones. One example of a more luxurious ride is the buses of Himachal Pradesh Tourism.

However, when keeping things simple, we can catch a bus in New Delhi at the Kashmiri Gate ISBT and Majnu-ka-Tilla. Another option is leaving from Chandigarh, which is half the distance it takes leaving from New Delhi. It’ll all depend on which one is the place closest to you. You can book the ticket in advance from redbus.in or makemytrip.com.

How to Reach Mcleodganj by Train

Although there’s a certain romance to the idea of getting on a train and crossing India, we have to say that this option might come with some unexpected extra costs. For example, it’s important to notice that the closest train station is Pathankot Railway Station.

This station is located about 90km away from Mcleodganj. Therefore, we’ll still need to get a taxi, a bus or a rental to make it to our final destination. However, if trains are the way to go, there’s more than one option.

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The most popular options available are Uttar Sampark Kranti and Jammu Mail. Both of these trains leave from Delhi. If you’re prepared, then the extra trip from the train station to your destination won’t be an issue. Besides, transportation is easy to come by at the train station.

Let’s take a more specific look at the possible places you might be heading from to Mcleodganj:

Delhi to Mcleodganj

  • By air: Although as we’ve said, there is an airport very close to McLeod Ganj, not all airlines fly there. This is why the easiest way to get there by air is by taking a plane from New Delhi. After leaving the Indira Gandhi Airport, you’ll be at Gaggal Airport only 1h20min later. From there, it’s a 45 min. ride to McLeod Ganj. There are only 2-3 flights from Delhi in a day. Recently, there is a flight from Chandigarh as well.
  • By bus: The majority of people choose this method of transportation. It’s a scenic drive but the road is not too forgiving to those that haven’t driven on it before. However, bus drivers are usually very experienced in the area since they do this trip several times a week. It takes approximately 11 hours and the majority of the buses start from Delhi between 6 PM to 8 PM. Plan your flight accordingly. Secondly, do take note that Spicejet starts from Terminal 1B (domestic terminal) and you will need extra time to reach there if you are arriving at T3 Terminal (International and Domestic).
  • By taxi: Going by taxi is an expensive option – a way to get to McLeod Ganj. However, if you don’t like how crowded buses can get or you want a faster route, then this might be the best option. A taxi driver usually takes about 8 to 9 hours to go from Delhi to McLeod Ganj.

Chandigarh to Mcleodganj

  • By bus: This is undoubtedly the cheapest option when going from Chandigarh to Mcleodganj. However, it’s also the longest route as it takes around 7 hours. The good thing is that these buses depart every day at every hour but there are only luxury buses going from Chandigarh in a day. This allows you a lot of flexibility when planning your trip.
  • By taxi: This is easily the least complicated way to get to Mcleod Ganj, even easier than if you’re driving yourself. Taxi drivers that perform these trips know the road like the back of their hands. This is what allows them to make it there in less than 5 hours. However, this is also the most expensive choice of transportation.

Amritsar to Mcleodganj

  • By bus: Getting a direct bus from Amritsar to Mcleodganj might not be that easy. This is because there are no direct routes. However, you can take the train to Pathankot and take a bus from there. This also happens to be the cheapest option. As you can imagine, it’s also the longest, taking around six hours.
  • By taxi: You have two options here. You can take the train to Pathankot and take a taxi from there, or you can take a taxi from Amritsar. The first option will be cheaper, but the second option should be more direct and faster. It all depends on how much of a rush you’re in.
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Where to Stay in Mcleodganj

Given the huge influx of tourists that go to Mcleodganj, there’s a wide number of options for you to stay. There’s everything from hotels, to homestays or Airbnbs, and also hostels. However, the area where you want to look for your temporary home depends on what you’re searching for while in McLeod Ganj.

If you are intent on communing with nature, then it’s best to stay in Naddi Village. This is located approximately 3km away from the center of Mcleod Ganj, which is Main Square. This is far enough that you won’t be bothered by the activity in the area, but close enough that you won’t be isolated.

If you’re more into being surrounded by people and enjoying everything the day has to offer, then you should look for accommodations near Main Square. Consequently, these options are bound to be more expensive.

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An alternative to this is staying at Bhagsu, which is about 10 minutes away from the square. This is a cheaper area, and there are options such as Mcleod Backpackers, where you can choose between sharing a room or getting a private one.

An area that’s a sort of in-between is Dharamkot, where you can get some of the activity of Main Square, but also a lot of the contact with nature you would get at Naddi Village. One of the most recommended places in this area is Mcleodganj Homestay.

Just make sure you know what area fits best your budget and your vibe. Furthermore, keep in mind that there are certain areas, like Bhagsu, that are safer because there’s a lesser risk of animals surprising you at night.

Safety Tips

Mcleodganj and Dharamshala are very safe for travelers. There have been scarce issues throughout the past few years. Therefore, the safety tips we would ask you to consider are the same that apply for almost any place in the world.

  • Drink in moderation: This is especially true for solo travelers. Getting inebriated will automatically make you more vulnerable and liable to suffering an accident.
  • Keep your phone charged: It’s always good to have the battery of your cell phone full. Furthermore, considering we’re in a foreign country and we might get lost, it’s better to have a way to find our way back to where we’re staying.
  • Do your research: Before you go out, you should have a plan for how you’re going to get to your destination and how you’re going to go back to your temporary home. This is the best way to avoid getting charged outrageous prices by taxi drivers or getting lost in the middle of Mcleodganj’s impressive nature.

Visiting Mcleodganj is an amazing experience. Now that you know more about the background and characteristics of the area, we hope you’re ready to embark on an unforgettable trip!

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