McLeod Ganj, the tranquil abode of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, is a suburb of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. The mountain-top neighbourhood also serves as the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile and is home to a large Tibetan community, which is why it is sometimes called Little Lhasa.
To the thousands of domestic and international visitors each year, McLeod Ganj is a place of revered Buddhist temples and monasteries, meditation and yoga centres, great cultural diversity and exchange, adventurous treks through pine forests, Indo-Tibetan cuisine and Tibetan handicrafts; and for some, it is just the pocket-friendly serene retreat the doctor ordered.
If you are looking for the most interesting and tranquil tourist places in McLeod Ganj this list is just for you. We walk you through some of the more popular tourist sites and those less trodden, and when needed, give you a heads-up on accessibility, timings and costs.
Quick Facts about McLeod Ganj
- Best Time: From October to May. Summers are mild and pleasant while winters are cold but picturesque. It is best avoided during the monsoons.
- Trip Duration: A long and peaceful week is recommended, however, three to four days is fairly sufficient to cover most of what McLeod Ganj has to offer while still having enough time to for some adventure.
- Getting Around: McLeod Ganj is best viewed on foot. Transport is fairly easy to organise when travelling further; rickshaws are available for quick shuttles to and from Dharamshala.
Most interesting cultural things to do in McLeod Ganj
1. Understand Tibetan Culture at the Tsuglagkhang Complex
The Tsuglagkhang Complex, home to the Dalai Lama, is generally on everyone’s to-do list for McLeod Ganj, and rightly so for those interested in Tibetan art, culture, creed and history. The complex houses the residence of the Dalai Lama, the Namgyal Gompa (monastery), the Tibet Museum, and the Tsuglagkhang temple, which contains relics that were rescued and smuggled from Lhasa during the Cultural Revolution of 1966. Parts of the complex include places of reverence and worship.
An 800-metre stretch of boutiques and street vendors leads you from the main square to the complex. The walk back to the main square has a slight gradient. Thankfully, the many shopping opportunities and cafés ensure a leisurely pace.
- Location: Temple Road, McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala.
- Duration: Two hours if visiting the museum and temples. Cursory visits last less than an hour.
- Timings: All week, 5 am to 8 pm (April to October) and 6 am to 6 pm (November to March).
Entry fee: Free
2. Visit A Neo-Gothic Church Complex
Built in 1852, the Church of Saint John in the Wilderness boasts neo-gothic architecture set against an alpine forest backdrop Standing amidst a grove of old Deodars not far from the hustle and bustle of McLeod Ganj’s Main Square, the stone structure offers visitors a tranquil glimpse at neo-gothic architecture from the mid-nineteenth century.
The quaint grounds of the British built Anglican Church are open to all visitors and provide a picturesque spot for a packed lunch (of course, though, you would have to keep the volume low so it’s not exactly a picnic spot).
The church is a 20-minute stroll or 5-minute ride from McLeod Ganj’s Main Square. The walk back to the Main Square has a moderate gradient but the crisp fresh air certainly helps.
- Location: Forsyth Ganj-McLeod Ganj Road, McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala.
- Duration: 20-30 minutes not including travel time.
- Timings: The grounds are open at daytime. The church is open on Sundays at 11am.
3. Buy Authentic Tibetan Goods at Norbulingka Institute
Situated about 38 minutes by road from McLeod Ganj, a visit to the institute can easily be scheduled into a sightseeing itinerary. The institute offers visitors a chance to observe Tibetan artisans and their apprentices practising a number of ancient Buddhist art forms including sculpting, mural painting, tailoring, weaving and wood carving. The site also has a café, doll museum and souvenir shop.
A great place to entertain the kids, too, as, in addition to what we’ve mentioned, there’s also a lovely garden and fish ponds.
- Location: Norbulingka Institute PO, Nr Dharamshala, Sidhpur, Himachal Pradesh 176057
- Duration: An hour is generally sufficient. Plan to spend more time if you are interested in Buddhism, photography, Tibetan art and culture or simply, souvenir shopping.
- Timings: All week, 9 am to 5.30 pm
- Entry fee: Rs. 40 for locals and Rs. 100 for tourists. The entry fee does include a guided tour that is well worth it.
4. Shop for Souvenirs on Temple Road
Few would call a trip complete without a little shopping, be it to take something back for a loved one or simply to buy a souvenir to help you remember your holiday. The markets, street vendors and boutiques of McLeod Ganj have you covered whether you’re a serious shopper looking for the right bargain or just casually browsing for some hidden gem.
Temple Road’s street vendors and boutiques, which sell Tibetan handicrafts, clothing and souvenirs, are a magnet for tourists. If you’re looking at something quieter, head to Kotwali Bazaar. At either, you could spend at least a few hours, given that every bazaar and market has a number of cafes and restaurants to choose from.
- Location: Temple Road, Dharamsala
- Duration: 2 to 4 hours.
5. Take Cooking Classes in Lhamo’s Kitchen
Holidays should be more than just crossing off items on busy travel itinerary; getaways should enrich our lives through good food, company and experiences. For those who live to eat, Lhamo’s Kitchen offers very reasonable cooking classes in authentic Tibetan (vegetarian) cuisine including momos, soups and breads. It’s only a few minutes away from the Main Square.
- Location: Bhagsu Road, McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala
- Duration: 2 hours, plus a little longer if you want to eat what you’ve helped cook
- Timings: All week from 10 am to noon and 5 pm to 7 pm. It is best to call ahead and book your spot.
- Entry Fee: Rs. 300 per person for a 2-hour class and a minimum of two people.
6. Watch Tibetan Dance at Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts
A short 20-minute walk down the road to Dharamkot will get you to the TIPA. If you are a traveller looking to experience and learn about exotic cultures, art, song and dance then a visit to the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts is a must. The flourishing performing arts school keeps traditional Tibetan music, dance and opera alive and ever vibrant.
- Location: On TIPA Road, McLeod Ganj about a kilometre from the Main Square.
- Kid-friendly: Yes, kids will be well entertained by the shows.
- Duration: 1 hour. You must check performance schedules prior to visiting if you want to catch a show.
- Timings: Open 9 am to 5 pm from Monday to Saturday. Closed on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month.
- Entry Fee: Rs. 50 per person. Donations can be made to support Tibetan performing arts.
Most Adventurous Things to Do in McLeod Ganj
7. Calling all Trekkers to Triund Summit
A truly rewarding panoramic view awaits those who brave the Triund Trek. The more adventurous traveller will definitely want to have a crack at trekking to Triund, a 2850-metre ridge at the foot of the snow-capped Dhauladhar range.
The steeper second leg of the trek takes you to Snow Point, and beyond if you are equipped for a multi-day hike. Camping and hiking along the surrounding trails won’t disappoint serious trekkers.
- Location: Naddi, Dharamshala. The trail starts from Naddi village and has a well-defined path that runs through the steep and wooded mountain-side. A walking stick and appropriate footwear is recommended.
- Duration: 2 to 4 hours each way. You can spend the night provided you have made prior camping arrangements.
- Best Time: Daytime in summer. Peak winter and the monsoons can be quite unforgiving..
8. Enjoy a quiet afternoon at Dharamkot village
Nestled in Dharamshalas’s Kangra valley, Dharamkot village offers visitors a true sense of peace of mind. A short walk of ride from McLeod Ganj, Dharamkot is a beautiful village set amidst a towering deodar forest and backed by the breathtaking Dhauladhar range.
Populated largely by yoga practitioners and students this serene place is sure to put any travellers mind at ease. It is the perfect place for tourists in McLeod Ganj. Put your feet up and take in a natural beauty while sipping a nice hot beverage. A 20-minute drive or a lovely 45-minute walk from the main square gets you to this quaint village. And the kids are likely to have as much fun as you!
- Location: Dharamkot, Dharamshala.
- Duration: 2 to 3 hours will give you enough time to stroll around the village, relax at a cafe or rejuvenate at a yoga centre.
9. Paragliding at Bir-Billing
Just over 2 hours by road from McLeod Ganj. This is not for the fainthearted. But if you are in need of an adrenaline fix, look no further. Bir-Billing often called the second best place in the world for paragliding, has played host to the Paragliding World Championship due to its near perfect conditions for the sport.
Paragliding here is a budget-friendly, professionally run and awe-inspiring. Paragliding enthusiasts from across the globe flock to Billing, Bir for a chance to fly above the loftiest mountain ranges on Earth.
- Location: Bir-Billing, Palampur, Kangra District, Himachal Pradesh.
- Timings: All week, during the day (October to June). Pre-booking is a must.
- Price: Rs. 2500 + 5% GST per person for a 15 to 30 minute ride.
10. Eat a Vegetarian Meal at Nick’s Italian Kitchen
If momos and thukpa are not for you, we recommend you try Nick’s Italian Kitchen. A stone’s throw away from the Main Square, the European cuisine offered at this vegetarian eatery is simply delicious.
Dining on the terrace, with its wonderful views of the Himalayan foothills, adds an undeniable romance to your meal. Be sure to wash down your pizza, lasagna or pasta with a hot cup of fresh ground coffee and apple pie. The free wi-fi is an added bonus.
- Location: Kunga Guest House, Bhagsu Road, McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala.
- Days open & timings: All week, 7 am to 9 pm.
- Prices: Fairly reasonable. Mains are generally below Rs. 200.
In summary, then, McLeod Ganj is a cauldron of cultural exchange and spiritual awakening, a place where one can reclaim parts of their soul lost during their hectic work life, a chance to trek along adventurous Himalayan routes or simply put your feet up and relax in a beautiful mountain-top café, and so much more.
You can look forward to great views, splendid weather, a humble culture and warm people throughout your stay. It is, without doubt, one of the better places to visit in the lofty state of Himachal Pradesh, and is perfect for both family holidays and the intrepid traveller. Have we missed out on any places to visit in McLeod Ganj? Let us know in the comments.