10 Fascinating Places to Visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj

Places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj

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      This guide will help you discover the best things to do and places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj for a life-changing trip.

      Dharamshala, a stunning mountainous city located in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh, India is a hub for Buddhists and travellers alike. The Dalai Lama and his Tibetan followers migrated to Dharamshala in 1959 and it has been their home ever since. The Dalai Lama now resides in McLeodganj, a town in the Dharamshala district.

      Over the years, Dharamshala has become one of the most visited places of Himachal Pradesh due to its spiritual importance and pristine location in the middle of the Himalayas.

      Travellers from around the world come to practice yoga in Dharamshala, go hiking, discover the Himalayas, meditate, be in solitude, and just live in the spectacular mountainside. After spending time (sometimes even months) in Dharamshala, travellers either head up north to Parvati Valley, Manali, Tirthan Valley, or further up to Keylong, Spiti Valley, or Ladakh.

      10 Remarkable Places to Visit in Dharamshala

      There are loads of things to do in the many villages that fall under the Dharamshala district. Popular villages for travellers include McLeodganj, Bhagsu, Dharamkot, and Naddi. All of them have enticing reasons to visit.

      Most of these villages are on steep hills and aren’t accessible by road, so you will have to take a taxi or auto-rickshaw to the end of the road and then walk or climb to get to most places.

      On the other hand, most of McLeodganj is accessible by road and the villages nearby, like Dharamkot and Bhagsu, are within a 30-minute walk. Please see our things to do in Dharamshala map to see where everything on this list can be located.

      To download this map, simply hit the frame icon [ ] in the top right-hand corner from your phone and it will open with the Google Maps app.

      Now, get ready to marvel at this well-kept-secret of India and learn the best things to do and places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj.

      Marvel at Bhagsu Waterfall

      Bhagsu Waterfall is located in the village Bhagsu above the famous Shiva temple. Hindu devotees from all over India climb the stairs up to the top of the waterfall to pray and bathe in the holy waters. The path starts from McLeodganj, goes through lower Bhagsu, and then the stairs begin. If you climb towards the highest point, there are fewer crowds.

      You can also hike to this waterfall directly from upper Bhagsu. That way you won’t have to climb stairs and the view would be more scenic throughout since you would be going through the valley. Wear good shoes and bring a camera to capture the mountains in the distance.

      Save time for a visit to the Shiva Cafe, which is further up the waterfall. They have decent food, drinks, and chai, plus a spectacular view.

      Bhagsu Waterfall inbetween two hills for Places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj

      Trek to Triund and (Possibly) Camp the Night

      Triund is one of the hills in the region, although it felt like a mountain to me. It has long been visited due to its religious significance amongst the local people. Now, hikers from around the world come to explore the beauty of Triund. On a clear day, you can get a great view of the Dhauladhar Mountain range from the top.

      The hike starts from above Dharamkot village and takes about 4-5 hours one way.

      In the past, you could easily camp at the top of Triund Hill, but due to nuisances and rubbish left by visitors, the government bans camping intermittently. Do check with the locals before heading there if you intend to stay. Also, carry your own tent or talk to a camping company before you go, as you will be asked about your night’s stay by the officials sitting at the beginning of the trek.

      There are multiple food stalls so you don’t need to carry food. Bring a warm jacket, water, and wear good hiking shoes. Water is also sold on the way up. Please take all rubbish with you back down the mountain and dispose of it properly.

      The snowline, where the snow begins at the top of the mountain, is also worth a visit. It’s about one hour, mostly level hike from the top of Triund.

      Visit Other Waterfalls in Dharamshala

      There are many more waterfalls in Dharamshala apart from the Bhagsu Waterfall. A number of small villages have hidden waterfalls and that you can only find by asking the locals. Some of the waterfalls are huge like The Big Waterfall pictured below. Some function year-round, but some have less water in the dry season, so check with your homestay or hotel before heading there.

      The Big Waterfall can be accessed by walking towards Upper Dharamkot and further up into the hills. The trail is mostly marked but you may have to ask someone at the diversions. The walk to this waterfall takes about 4 hours return, so you definitely need the best part of a day to visit.

      You can swim there if it’s warm enough, but although the waterfall is gorgeous be careful as the current is strong. There is a small shop near the waterfall which sells chai, coffee, juice, and snacks. There is no toilet or changing area so be prepared to do your business out in the open behind some large boulders.

      The Big Waterfall splashes over rocks between a valley for Best places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj

      Get Zen at Tushita and Vipassana Meditation Center

      Located next to each other, both of these meditation centres offer multiple 10-day and longer and shorter courses for people interested in learning about Buddhism and meditation. While the nature of meditation practised at the centres is different from each other, both schools offer beginner courses for those people who have just started their journey to being mindful.

      The registration for the courses has to be done well in advance. If you plan to take a ten-day or longer course at either Tushita or Vipassana, make sure you apply as soon as the applications open, as they fill up fast. The centres often have a waiting list and they do clear up some names if prior applications get cancelled.

      The courses also need you to keep your phone aside and conversations with outsiders or family members aren’t allowed so you have to plan accordingly. The courses are free and food and stay are provided.

      Both meditation schools conduct free meditation classes in the morning for people who do not want to take a longer course. These schools are located in Dharamkot on a road accessible by cars and auto-rickshaws. Afterwards, you can either head into the main Dharamkot village, or walk the road down to McLeodganj.

      Learn Yoga and Do Teacher Training Courses in Dharamshala

      Dharamshala is a great place to learn yoga on the beautiful Himachali hills with the views of pine and deodar trees.

      The yoga schools of Dharamshala usually offer fixed-duration courses, and some also have the option of paying or donating per class. Many of these have yoga teacher training certifications for 200+ hours in Ashtanga and Hatha yoga.

      Some of the popular schools are the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Center, Himalayan Yoga Center, and Trimurti Yoga (see map above for locations). But there are many other yoga schools spread throughout the region, and a lot of them can be found by just walking around the area.

      If you opt for a fixed-duration course, you would likely get food and accommodation included with the teacher training course. Course rates vary heavily from each other, but all locations are set within nature, so choose a course that best suits your requirements, comfort and budget.

      A person practicing yoga atop a rock at sunset for Best places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj

      Watch the Dalai Lama Talk at Namgyal Monastery

      This is easily one of the best places to visit in McLeodganj. The 14th Dalai Lama actually lives here in the Namgyal Monastery. He and his followers have their own government in exile in Dharamshala.

      Occasionally, the Dalai Lama gives discourses from his temple and people from all over India come to see him and listen to him in person. Bookings are essential and fill up extremely fast.

      The Monastery is located near McLeodganj main market on Temple Road. Entry to the monastery is free and the opening hours are from 9 am to 6 pm daily. But as of December 2020, the monastery is closed indefinitely due to Covid-19 so please check before your arrival.

      The Tibetan Museum inside the temple complex depicts the history of Tibet and its people and shouldn’t be missed.

      The Dalai Lama watching young Tibetans perform at Namgyal Monastery for Best places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj
      📷 Erik Törner

      Walk Around Dal Lake, Dharamshala

      Dal Lake is a peaceful, pretty place to visit in Dharamshala. It is located near the village of Tota Rani. Entry to this lake is free and it can be visited from morning until dark.

      The water level of the lake is usually low in the dry season, but the lake is an appealing place to visit after some rain. Dal Lake has a Shiva temple on its bank, and the surrounding area is magical to wander around amidst the deodar trees.

      Dal Lake is about 4 km from the McLeodganj market, or 5 km away from Dharamkot. An easy walk along a road, the route is gorgeous the entire way.

      Man overlooks Dal Lake lined with pine trees for Best places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj

      Peruse McLeodganj Market

      One of the main things to do in McLeodganj is the main Market. Streets are lined with food stalls, small restaurants, and kitschy souvenir shops. There are plenty of bakeries too. Tibet Kitchen, Namgyal Cafe, and the smaller chaat and momo shops sprinkled throughout McLeodganj offer both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals at affordable prices.

      The main market of McLeodganj and the surrounding streets are worth exploring on foot because these hilly streets are dotted with meditation centres, classes on Buddhism, book stores, quaint cafes, Tibetan kitchens, tattoo centres, massage shops, and art shops just waiting for you to explore. You can buy Buddhist prayer flags, prayer beads, warm clothes, home-made wine, chai, local art, and street food (try the street momos).

      McLeodganj market road with shops and people for Best places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj

      Learn Musical Instruments in Dharamshala

      Amongst the many things to do in Dharamshala and McLeodganj, one of the most popular with both locals and international travellers is the classical instrument classes. Indian classical musicians and singers collect in Dharamshala and conduct flute, violin, guitar, mouth organ, tabla, harmonium, and sitar classes along with vocal singing lessons throughout the year.

      You can find these schools in the Dharamkot market and some are also located on the stairs from Bhagsu to Dharamkot. Charges vary as per the instrument and teacher, but you can choose your own time. The shops also sell handmade instruments and again, the prices vary from shop to shop.

      To learn the basics of any of these classical instruments you need at least two weeks in the region. Visitors either choose to stay in Dharamkot itself or in the village of Bhagsu which offers accommodations at low prices.

      Travellers playing different instruments for Best places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj
      📷 VICSAN Art Galactic

      Volunteer with Waste Warriors

      Why not visit the best places in Dharamshala while also picking up rubbish and saving the Earth? Up until Covid hit, a company called Waste Warriors organised rubbish pickups weekly with volunteers who were both locals and visitors. They pick up rubbish fallen into the Bhagsu Waterfall and along the path, and also intermittently collected rubbish from the Triund trek and top.

      If you’d like to volunteer or organise your own rubbish pickup in Dharamshala, please contact Waste Warriors directly.

      Waste Warriors sign that says: Think before you litter for Best places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj

      Try New Foods in Dharamshala

      Dharamshala is a great place to sample both local and international cuisines. Due to the influx of tourists from around the world, various cuisines can easily be found in this region.

      You can find anything from roti, naan, curries, pakoda, samosa, momos, to Tibetan food, Mexican food, Lebanese food, Israeli cuisine, South Indian food, Punjabi food, plus healthy and organic versions of all cuisines as well. There is also some great bakeries and pizza shops spread throughout Dharamshala.

      The White Rabbit and Jungle Calling in Bhagsu, Bodhi Greens and the Yak Cheese shop in Dharamkot, or the Tibetan Kitchen, street-side samosa and tiki shops in McLeodganj, are some notable options. Definitely head towards the tiny streets and mud lanes to find obscure places to try.

      Most Tibetan eateries in McLeodganj have a curtain in front of the door. Don’t be shy and knock to ask if they are serving food.

      The food is not too spicy since it is customized for a Western palette, so if you want it Indian style (spicy) then ask the servers to make it the local way.

      Small restaurant on hillside selling whole foods for Best places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj

      Best Places to Stay in Dharamshala

      Need a list of the best hotels in Dharamshala? Located in Bhagsu, Dharamkot, and McLeodGanj these are our top pick of places to stay in Dharamshala!

      The Unmad, Dharamkot

      This secluded hotel in Upper Dharamkot is like a home-away-from-home, complete with a friendly cat and dog. Hosts Sakshi and Aparna home-cook exceptional foods tailored to your likes, dislikes and allergies, and will go out of their way to help you with anything you need. The views are amazing, especially from the top floor, and you can take a shower while looking over the Himalayas. Bliss.

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      Hostel Triangle Folks

      This place is the best location for a working vacation overlooking the mountains, but still a walking distance to everything. The hostel has clean, spacious, private and dorm rooms with a balcony, hot showers, a small desk, good WiFi, and a heater during wintertime. The owner, Lovie, and the staff are extremely friendly and welcoming. The food is amazing, homely, and fresh at economical prices. Every night the people come together, listen to music and chill over an evening bonfire and card games.

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      Hotel Norbu House

      This Tibetan-style hotel is great value for money. Amazing, uninterrupted views down the mountainside from your large room with a balcony. The beds are cosy, with air-con that doubles as a heater. The hotel is located right on the main market road in McLeodganj, but still tucked away from the crowds, and very close to the Dalai Lama Temple. The delicious buffet breakfast has lots of good options. There are polished-wood rocking chairs on the serene and sunny balcony and the staff are exceptionally friendly and helpful. Lots of guests vote this as the best hotel in McLeodganj.

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      Best Time to Visit Dharamshala

      The best time to visit Dharamshala is year-round except during the extreme part of winter from October to February. Even during the Indian summer months of June and July, hailstorms, rains, and cold weather are common in Dharamshala. Don’t forget to pack warm clothes, a jacket and sturdy shoes for a comfortable stay.

      Top Tours in Dharamshala

      Check out some of these unique tours in Dharamshala to find even more incredible things to do in Dharamshala.

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      This article was written by a guest poster. See details below.

      Did you like our suggestions for places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj? Let us know in the comments.

      Categories: Adventure & off the Grid, Featured, India
      Priyanka Gupta

      Priyanka Gupta is an itinerant writer from India who left her investment banking career to travel the world and write. She focuses on culturally immersive travel while relishing local delicacies and never misses a chance to see wildlife. Priyanka always looks out for sustainable and local-community driven offbeat experiences. Read Priyanka’s best ideas and travel stories on her personal growth and travel blog On My Canvas

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