McLeod Ganj – Occasional Residence of the Dalai Lama
It is known as “Little Lhasa” or “Dhasa” a short form of Dharamshala used mainly by Tibetans because of its large population of Tibetans. The Tibetan government-in-exile is headquartered here in McLeod Ganj.
When travellers talk of heading up to Dharamsala (to see the Dalai Lama, this is where they mean. Around 4km north of Dharamsala town – or 10km via the looping bus route – McLeod Ganj is the residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the site of the Tibetan exile community’s main temple. The Tibetan government-in-exile is based just downhill at Gangchen Kyishong, and McLeod is home to a large Tibetan population, including many monks and nuns. It’s also, along with Manali, one of the two big traveller hang-outs in Himachal Pradesh, where thousands of people come each year to volunteer with the Tibetan community, take courses in Buddhism, meditation or yoga, trek in the lofty and beautiful Dhauladhar mountains, or just hang out and enjoy the low-budget spiritual/alternative vibe. McLeod has many budget hotels and guesthouses, cafes and restaurants offering Indo-Italo-Israeli-Tibetan food (with free, erratic wi-fi), travel agencies and shops selling Tibetan souvenirs, all crammed into just a couple of blocks, like a mini-Kathmandu.
Named after Donald McLeod, Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab, McLeod began life in the 1850s as a civilian settlement outside the British garrison of Dharamsala. It was devastated by the 1905 Kangra earthquake and sank into obscurity after Independence – until the Dalai Lama arrived to establish his base here in 1960. Since then, McLeod has become a vibrant centre of Tibetan culture and Buddhism. With an interesting mix of travellers, volunteers, maroon-robed monks and nuns, the international dharma crowd and an increasing flow of Indian tourists, you are never far from an interesting conversation here.
The monsoon (late June to early September) is particularly wet here, and warm clothes are useful between November and March. Many shops and businesses close on Monday.
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