Dharamshala & Mcleodganj – Beyond the Usual

Just 10 kms from Dharamshala, Mcleodganj is where everyone heads hoping to get a glimpse of the Dalai Lama or just experience the Holyness of the place he calls home.

Offbeat Places Enroute

Masrur: this is a mystical place with 15 richly carved monolithic rock temples sculpted in the splendid style of the Kailash temple at Ellora and dates back to the 8th-9th century. The place is located just 15 km south of Kangra and surprisingly not many are aware of this place.

There is also a strategically made Kund (water tank) that mirrors the amazing temple complex.

Masrur Temple: one of the rarest temples sculpted on a live Stone
Masrur Temple: one of the rarest temples sculpted on a live Stone

These temples are sculpted on a live stone and are truly rare to be found in the world too. The only two other comparable (but less impressive) examples of such type of rock cut temples in the northern part of India are The only two other comparable (but less impressive) examples of such type of rock cut temples in the northern part of India are Dharmanath temple near Dhamnar in Rajasthan and Thal temple in Uttar Pradesh and the Ellora Temples of Maharastra.

Intricate Carvings-Masrur Temple, Kangra
Intricate Carvings-Masrur Temple, Kangra

As there are no inscriptions, historians know very little about these temples but the design and planning of the temples represents an early (possibly – the earliest) example of Nagara style in architecture. Art historians believe that temple was originally dedicated to Mahadeva (Lord Shiva) and was afterwards reshaped into a shrine dedicated to Lord Ram, Sita and Lakshman and there are idols proving this to be true. Click Here for more details.

Trilokpur: is located en-route on the Mandi-Pathankot road and is approx. 41 kms before one reaches Dharamshala.

Inside the Cave at Trilokinath Temple-Mcleodganj
Inside the Cave at Trilokinath Temple-Mcleodganj

Here at the Trilokinath Temple is a natural cave temple with stalactite and stalagmites, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Look for some amazing rock formations in the river that flows by! The temple is located near a ridge and you may also find some ruins of a palace that belonged to Lehna Singh Majitha, the Governor of Kangra hills during the Sikh rule.

Tatwani & Machhrial: these spots are located approx. 25 kms from Dharamshala and have Hot Sulphur Springs besides a Shiva Temple.

Tatwani Hot Sulphur Springs - Dharamshala
Tatwani Hot Sulphur Springs – Dharamshala

There’s a beautiful river that flows nearby making it a great destination for a day out.

The River near Tatwani Hot Sulphur Springs- Daramshala
The River near Tatwani Hot Sulphur Springs- Daramshala

Kareri Lake Trek: located 22 kms from Dharamshala, Kareri is a magical valley located amidst sylvan surroundings and pine groves. It is a popular treking & camping destination and is has wide meadows and forests of tall oak & pine trees. The Kareri lake is situated at a height of 3250 m and is just 13 km from the rest house here. Trek Details

Kareri Trek: a beautiful journey!
Kareri Trek: a beautiful journey!
Kareri Lake, an ideal trekking & Camping Destination
Kareri Lake, an ideal trekking & Camping Destination

Palampur & Surrounding Attractions: Palampur is a lovely place famous for its Tea Gardens and is located 35 kms (1.5 hour drive) from Dharamshala. Take a walk along the Tea gardens and yes some tea and later spend some time at Shobha Singh Art Gallery and the Anthropological Museum. Else skip these and after a quick lunch visit ‘Andretta’ an artisan’s village just 13 kms from Palampur.  It is known for its pottery among various other art forms and let’s you create your own masterpieces! Click HERE For the Homestay at Andretta called as ‘The Mirage’ and HERE for the Pottery Home


Bir-Billing: the popular hang gliding destination that is gaining global notice is 70 kms from Dharamshala and the place is called ‘Bir’ (35 kms from about from Palampur) Billing is another 14 kms from Bir and makes for a great trekking and camping experience. Infact last year more than 130 of the world’s best paragliders from over 40 countries, including the top 5 in world ranking participated in AAI Paragliding World Cup 2015!


Bir is also well known for its Buddhist monasteries and Tibetan settlement, not forgetting the Tibetan culture and handicrafts. Read More HERE

Baijnath Temple: is located just 13 kms from Billing and is a recommended trip. It has a beautifully carved Ancient Shiva Temple. The temple is close to the temple town of Bageshwar, so you may also read Travel Guide to Bageshwar

Baijnath Temple
Baijnath Temple

Places to visit in Dharamshala-Mcleodganj

1. Dalai Lama Complex: Although there are local taxi’s available, I’ll suggest you walk up to the Dalai Lama Complex and enjoy the market buzz with its colourful antique shops, vendors selling their local produce, Tibetan monks sipping away their coffee and others looking a little tranced!

This is the place where faith finds many, many, many expressions…

What to See inside the complex: the beautiful Tsuglagkhang Temple offers a soulful peace, so sit down for a few minutes and feel the difference it brings. On the opposite side is the Namgyal Monastery, the residence of Buddhist monks-in-training. Just moving hands on the prayer wheels here is such a surreal experience!


Next is to see the decorated murals of the Buddha and other frescoes depicting the general lives of the Lama’s at the Kalachakra Temple. Here you can get amazed at the huge number and massiveness of thangka paintings. You could also have a quick bite at the Namgyal Café and look out for the famous canopy funded by celebrity convert Richard Gere! Afterwards you may visit Tibet Museum that is situated across the Tsuglagkhang Complex and has everything you need to know about the Chinese invasion of Tibet and the tragic past of the Beautiful Tibet and its people. The museum is really detailed and impressive with a huge collection of documents, paintings, pottery and ofcourse the Thanka paintings. It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs too. Entry Fee: 5-10 INR Timings: 9am -5 pm except Mondays. Incase interested, there’s also a special screening of a movie at additional rates.

2. Norbulingka, a unique institute founded in the year 1988 is dedicated to preserving Tibetan Art & Culture. The entire place is alluring and inspiring with beautifully made landscapes, streams flow by the open gardens and the entire place full of Tibetan art.

Norbulingka Mcleodganj
Norbulingka Mcleodganj

Norbulingka is located in Sidhpur, a suburb of Dharamsala, about 30 minutes from McLeod Ganj.

Appliquework in Progress, Norbulingka Mcleodganj
Appliquework in Progress, Norbulingka Mcleodganj

While here, please don’t be in a hurry and spend time looking at the artists create their unique art including the Thanka Paintings. There is even a lovely doll museum here. Did you know that Norbulingka is the summer palace of the Dalai Lama back in Tibet and this place has been recreated with the same feel, thanks to the efforts of the Tibetan community. For more details visit www.norbulingka.org

An intricate 'Thanka Painting' depicting the Life of Buddha
An intricate ‘Thanka Painting’ depicting the Life of Buddha

3. Kunal Pathri: is a small scenic town situated near tea gardens and sloppy villages and is just 3 kms from Dharamshala. It is quite popular for its Kapaleshwari Temple (skull of Sati was fell here) and is dedicated to Goddess Durga. But what’s really interesting about Kunal Pathri temple is a wet stone that is here inside the temple. This unique stone stays wet and whenever it dries, it rains in the region!

4. Khanyara: is another picturesque town located around 9 kms from Dharamshala. The place has 2 significant temples – Aghanjar Mahadev Temple and Indru Nag Temple. Khanyara is also known for its slate quarries.

Aghanjar Mahadev Temple at Khanyara Dharamshala
Aghanjar Mahadev Temple at Khanyara Dharamshala

The temple of Aghanjar Mahadev Temple is beautifully located along a river stream and offers scenic surrounding amidst dense forests.

River near Aghanjar Mahadev Temple
River near Aghanjar Mahadev Temple

5. Take a walk to Bhagsu, where the famous Shrine of Bhagsunath (2 kms from Mcleodganj) is located. It is an ancient temple with fresh water springs and a pool, although won’t recommend a dip here. Take a food break at the Meeting Point Café that offers yummy coconut pie or try iced chocolate cake at Beans.

Nick’s Kitchen is also located on this route and has a nice open terrace and serves authentic Italian food at dirt cheap prices and wine too! Another option for Tibetan Food this end of the road is Kokonor Restaurant (try the Spinach Ravioli, Gnocchi and the Bananas in Chocolate sauce…yum!)

6. Dharamkot: From Bhagsu, walk up to Dharamkot (just 3 kms from Bhagsu). It offers picturesque views of the snow clad Dhauladhar ranges and Kangra valley below. Dharamkot is also an ideal place for stay and has some recommended homestays.

Enjoy the Idyllic surroundings of Dharamkot
Enjoy the Idyllic surroundings of Dharamkot

The place is quite popular for its hippie culture and bakeries and known globally for its meditation centres, among which the ‘Tushita Meditation Centre’ is the centre for the study and practice of Buddhism in the Tibetan Mahayana tradition. There’s also the Tibetan Children’s Village (refuge of Tibetan children in exile) and a sacred Dall lake next to a Shiva Temple.

7. Visit the iconic St. John’s Church (1 km from Mcleodganj) It is a charming stone church located right in the middle of wilderness surrounded by Deodar trees.

St. John's Church
St. John’s Church

Do see the memorial created over the body of the British Viceroy, Lord Elgin who died at Dharamshala in 1863.

His loving wife decorated it with beautiful Belgium stained glass work and this makes it really mesmerising.

You can plan your trip here on Sunday as it’s open on Sunday mornings for a weekly 10 am service.

8. Dharamshala Cricket Ground: The HPCA Cricket Stadium as its is popularly referred is one of the most beautifully located Cricket ground in the world!


Set against the backdrop of the snow clad Dauladhar Mountain Ranges, this Cricket Ground is truly stunning and is located at a distance of 4.8 kms from Dharamshala via Khanyara Rd and NH503

9. If you have an extra day: Trek to Triund: Beautiful views and a must do if you are into adventure. It’s a short day trek and approx. 10 kms would take about 5-6 hours. It’s on the same route towards Bhagsu falls- Dharamkot. It has a huge meadow and seeing the hills of the Dhaladhar ranges so close makes it a memorable experience.  But you need to prepare yourself for sharp stones en route and slippery trails. Woolens are a must and carry enough water. Skip it if you are not an adventure buff. More details HERE

Triund - a view to be seen!
Triund – a view to be seen!

10. Learn Wood Carving: Attend a woodcarving session at CBU Wood Carving Class located at the end of Jogiwara road.

Learn Woodcarving at Mcleodganj-Dharamshala
Learn Woodcarving at Mcleodganj-Dharamshala

It is a small place but has the best of workmanship.You will be amazed by the carved items here (most done by students and the master himself).

Make your own Silver Jewellery, Mcleodganj
Make your own Silver Jewellery, Mcleodganj

11. Create Silver Jewellery: attend a 3-day (4-hour class per day) at Ali’s Crystal House & Handicraft (a small shop located at Bhagsu). Get to create your own silver jewellery and you can also buy your own creations or of other’s at great prices!


Pick up Prayer Wheels, Tibetan Rugs, Wooden Masks, Paper Necklaces, Tibetan Jewellery, Colourful Sling Bags, Old & Antique items….all available at Mcleodganj Market and don’t forget to bargain even though the prices are quite reasonable!


Driving Distance & Directions

By Road: New Delhi to Dharamshala: 490 Kms approx. It is 10-12 hour drive with stops.
Best Route: Ambala, Ropar, Nangal, Mehatpur, Amb, Dehra, Kangra, Dsala, Dharamshala

Incase you want to visit the temples: Take this route: Delhi – Ambala – Ludhiana, Phagwara – Hoshiarpur – Gagret – Kangra – Dharamshala . This route will be longer by around 50 – 60 Kms but you can visit Chintpurni Mata, Jawala Ji and Chamunda Devi temples en route and then reach Dharamshala. What I’ll suggest is to take this route first and then return back from the other one.


By Railways: Incase you don’t wish to drive, then book an overnight train to Pathankot and then take a taxi for further travel via Nurpur.

Nurpur: is a small town named after ‘Nurjehan’ the consort of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. You can visit the ancient fort nearby and also pick up some exquisitely made Pashmina shawls, Kangra Woollen stuff and other textiles that are easily available in the many shops located right on the main road.

By Airways: Dharamsala has an airport that has flights to/from New Delhi. Other option is Gaggal Airport (Kingfisher operates regular flights here)

Eating Out in Dharamshala

Dharamshala is quite peaceful as compared to Mcleodganj and most people opt to stay at Mcleodganj. Personally, I prefer the laid back charm of Dharamshala. Explore the small but lively Tibetan Market, stroll down the inner lanes, eat hot momos & soup and unwind for the coming days to explore more around. Tip: avoid the big fat momo as they are not tasty. Go for the usual ones!

Eat the freshly made hot thukpa, momo’s and soup (10-50 INR) and enjoy the chill in the air. Carpe Diem offers authentic Mexican and Thai cuisine and there’s also a library here to read up something while eating. For dinner visit McLio Restaurant whose chef makes great food from all over the country. The place has live music and has also been visited by James Bond-Pierce Bronsan.

Visit Chocolate Log, run by a Kashmiri Couple this place serves delicious desserts along with yummy cakes and pastries. They have a beautiful terrace so enjoy the views while you indulge. Try the Chocolate puddings served at Ogo’s Italian Café, located on Jogiwara road. And do buy some bakery products from Woesar Bakery that’s located nearby. They are popular for their brownies, carrot cake and homemade cappuccinos!

Don’t forget to visit Black Tent Cafe known for its musical evenings!

Eating out in McLeodganj

Mcleodganj has numerous options when it comes to cuisines and a paradise for food lovers. And a meal for 2 would usually cost between 300-400 INR!

For breakfast: Although nothing can beat the hot paratha’s in the hills but I’ll recommend Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen. It has a cosy atmosphere with movie posters and serves up decently cheap Italian meal options. Try the salads, pasta, garlic bread and pizza’s. I also loved their Banoffee Pie and Chocolate Mousse! Timings (7am-9 pm) Hill people are early risers so they sleep quite early too!)

For Lunch: The Snowlion Restaurant offers good tibetan lunch options including Tingmo (made of refined flour rolled like a ball and steamed), Bakleb (Tibetan style samosas) and Thukpas (a meal of soup and noodles).

Visit the Taste of India, a casual 2 storey restaurant that offers good tandoori items along with the usual Punjabi cuisine. Another place known as Tibetan Kitchen is quite popular locally too as they serve huge portions at reasonable costs. They also have good options of Italian, Israeli, Thai and Chinese cuisine. It is located right next to the main square. Do ask for recommendations and they’ll help. (9 am-10 pm)

For sweet tooths like me, please step in at the English style bakery at Nowrojee junction (it is also the oldest departmental store in town) and try the yummy pastries, cookies, lemon tarts, Black Forest cakes, chocolate mousse etc. (all at real cheap rates) Wash it down with a cappuccino and yes don’t forget to pack up some homemade cookies that are deliciously mouth watering! You can buttery Belgian waffles (130-150 INR) here.

Illiterati, McLeodganj
Illiterati, McLeodganj

Visit Illiterati, a special café for coffee & book lovers. The owner is Yannick Ramaekers, is a Belgian but has lived in Dharamsala for 17 years! For woodfired pizza’s go to Out of the Blue Pizzeria (you would need to take an auto to reach this place as it is located 10 minutes away on Tipa Road and is surrounded by a dense forest!) Pizzas here are priced between 150-300 INR.

There is another little place called ‘Moonpeak’ that is really small with 4-5 tables but serves a delicious Himachali Thali for just 150 INR along with some other food options. It is located on the temple road.

 Stay Options in or near Dharamshala-Mcleodganj

If you prefer quieter places, a balcony with your room and a splendid view of the valley, choose a hotel on Jogibara road. Check out http://wikitravel.org/en/Dharamsala for some good budget-Medium stay options.

Luxury Homestay

Chonor House: is just a 5-minute steep walk up from the Dalai Lama Complex, McLeodganj. From outside it may look plain but the property has been designed by Norbulingka Institute with intricate murals, tibetan handicrafts all over.

Chonor House, Mcleodganj
Chonor House, Mcleodganj

The restaurant has a terrace and the whole place is quite peaceful. Try their Shabaklab (Rs 160) a crispy, golden-fried, half moon-shaped pastry parcels, stuffed with lean lamb and onion keema that’s served with a steaming vegetable soup. Each room is styled and designed diffrently with a charming royal feel.

One of the Rooms at Chonor House, Mcleodganj
One of the Rooms at Chonor House, Mcleodganj

Each room at the Chonor House is styled and designed ddifferently with a charming royal feel. Tariffs: 5500/- INR onwards

Medium Budget Hotel

The Gagan Resort, Mcleodganj
The Gagan Resort, Mcleodganj

Gagan Resort: is ideally located on Dharamkot road and the place is known for its hospitality and peaceful environs.

Rooms at Gagan Resort, Mcleodganj
Rooms at Gagan Resort, Mcleodganj

Rooms are well furnished and quite spacious with personal balcony offering mountain views. It has ample space outdoors that makes it a perfect place for Kids to freak out and play around!
Tariffs: 3600/- INR all inclusive

Pink House offers great views from few of its rooms that are ideal for all. Tariffs:1320-1650 INR

Hotel Pink House - Outside Facade
Hotel Pink House – Outside Facade
View of the hills from the Hotel Pink House
View of the hills from the Hotel Pink House

Budget Homestay

Mcleodganj Homestay:offers a comfortable stay with beautiful views and oh so peaceful.

Outer View of Mcleodganj Homestay
Outer View of Mcleodganj Homestay

This Homestay is run by the lovely Sarin Family and they go that extra step to make your holiday a good one.

Sitting Area ar Mcleodganj Homestay
Sitting Area ar Mcleodganj Homestay

Tariffs: 2200/- INR onwards for more details please contact Mr. Anil Sarin:+91-97360 83878

Jagatram Niwas: offers 9 simple yet well-furnished rooms and is run by Bavinder and Rekha, a local Gaddi Couple. Don’t go by its look, this place is everyone’s favorite for the views it offers from the top rooms.

The place is reached after a 15 minutes auto ride and then a 10-minute walk but offers organic fresh food made from local produce. Try the Himachali Thali if you stay there. Tariffs: 700-1400 INR

View of the Hills as seen from the balcony of Jagatram Niwas, a comfortable Homestay
View of the Hills as seen from the balcony of Jagatram Niwas, a comfortable Homestay

The Club House, HPTDC: http://www.tripadvisor.in/Hotel_Review-g1092107-d1213894-Reviews-The_Club_House_HPTDC-McLeod_Ganj_Dharamsala_Himachal_Pradesh.html

Links for other stay options including some great value homestays can be chosen from links provided below:

Image Copyright @ Flickr


2 thoughts on “Dharamshala & Mcleodganj – Beyond the Usual

    1. Enjoy your trip and make sure you share the experience and the lovely pic with me and other travelers 🙂 And incase you plan for Manali you may want to check out http://www.devilonwheels.com that is owned and managed by Dheeraj, an avid traveler himself who knows the area at the back of his hand including LEH!


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