How to Make Most of Your Visit to McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala: the Dalai Lama, Immersion in Tibetan Culture & Spirituality

Posted In: blog | India

Most travellers coming to McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala, are attracted by the place where the Dalai Lama lives and are curious about lives of the Tibetans living in the town, their culture and traditions. Having spent almost three weeks in McLeod Ganj, we would like to help you to make most of your stay in this unique part of the globe – to immerse yourself fully into the incredible Tibetan culture and learn about the Tibetan community. 

We had been planning to visit this mountain town in northern India for quite a while (since we heard about it from an 80 years old friend of us who we often meet on our travels) and knew Mcleod Ganj would be among the first places in India we would head for. Although the town itself didn’t really live up to our expectations, the setting in the mountains and, for the most part, the extraordinary cultural experiences we had in McLeodGanj made it up for us. 

 

Plan your visit well and attend the Dalai Lama’s teachings in the Dalai Lama Temple

If spirituality and Buddhism is what draws you to McLeod Ganj, then you will surely want to plan your visit in accordance with dates when the Dalai Lama has a speech in Tsuglakhang Temple ( also called the Dalai Lama Temple). The Dalai Lama usually teaches twice or three times a year in McLeod Ganj. All teachings are open to public and are free.

Attending the Dalai Lama’s speech or teachings in the Dalai Lama Temple in McLeod Ganj is quite trouble-free, especially if compared to securing a ticket to Dalai Lama’s speech in Europe where all available tickets are sold out within an hour.

Seating in the Tsuglakhang Temple is on first come first served basis and there is an English translation available provided you have an fm radio channels, as they say on the official website of the Office of His Holiness the 14th Dalai LamaBeside the radio, you will not be allowed to take any electronics inside the temple on the days when the Dalai Lama is present. We would not recommend you to leave your electronics in the booth outside the temple – we left all our stuff there and when we came back to pick it up, the man who was working there that day dropped our external hard disk on the ground and damaged it. 

When we went to the Dalai Lama’s speech (November 2015), we didn’t have to register prior the day of the event, but it’s better if you ask in the Office of the Dalai Lama that is located in the Dalai Lama Temple whether you need to register and reserve your place for the teachings or not.

Another important thing to know is that you should secure the way you will listen to the interpreter – either through your radio or another way – check with the Office of the Dalai Lama a few days before the event. We didn’t have the radio, so we listened to the Dalai Lama speaking Tibetan, which we didn’t understand, but the whole experience was amazing. We were lucky to be seated next to the Tibetans who spoke good English and were willing to translate some important parts of the Dalai Lama speech for us. 

You can check the dates of the Dalai Lama’s teachings in McLeod Ganj and world-wide here:

Schedule of Teachings of the Dalai Lama

Many thanks to Lobsang Wangyal, a Tibetan photographer and journalist, who provided us with these four wonderful photos from the Dalai Lama’s speech on November 3, 2015.

Dalai Lama at Tsuglakhang Temple in McLeod Ganj, India, on 3 November 2015.Dalai Lama at Tsuglakhang Temple in McLeod Ganj, India, on 3 November 2015. Photo credit: Lobsang Wangyal

Dalai Lama at Tsuglakhang Temple in McLeod Ganj, India, on 3 November 2015.

Dalai Lama at Tsuglakhang Temple in McLeod Ganj, India, on 3 November 2015. Photo credit: Lobsang Wangyal

Dalai Lama at Tsuglakhang Temple in McLeod Ganj, India, on 3 November 2015.

 

Dalai Lama at Tsuglakhang Temple in McLeod Ganj, India, on 3 November 2015. Photo credit: Lobsang Wangyal

petra

Photo credit: Lobsang Wangyal

 

Seeing the Dalai Lama and watching that extraordinary personality from very close distance was one of the most powerful experiences that we had in India.

 

Visit a monastery and attend a puja or a fire puja

Monasteries in Dharamsala are beautiful and peaceful places where you can meditate and get some rest from the hectic life in the streets. Visitors are allowed to enter monasteries and attend a puja, a prayer session, that includes chanting mantras, bowing and making offerings. Photography during pujas is usually allowed, but it is always good to ask older monks for a permission.

If you are interested in Buddhism and would like to chat with monks about Tibetan Buddhism, spirituality or any other topic, they will be happy to share their views and knowledge with you. From our experience, monks are always friendly, helpful, easy-going and willing to interact with visitors. The majority of older monks speak some English.

We visited four monasteries while staying in McLeod Ganj:

Kalachakra Temple (right by the main square in McLeod Ganj)

Kalachakra Temple, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

Kalachakra Temple, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

Prayer Wheels at Kalachakra Temple, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

Prayer Wheels at Kalachakra Temple, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

 

Tsuglagkhang Complex that is also called the Dalai Lama Temple and is located at the end of the Temple Road

Tsuglagkhang complex, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

Monks chanting at Tsuglagkhang complex (the Dalai Lama Temple), McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

The statue of Buddha, Tsuglagkhang complex, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

The statue of Buddha, Tsuglagkhang complex, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

 

the Tibetans turning prayer wheels in the Dalai Lama temple, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

the Tibetans turning prayer wheels in the Dalai Lama temple, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

 

Nechung Monastery; near to Tibetan Library and Tibetan government in exile, about 2 km down Jogiwara Road from the square

Nechung Monastery, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

Nechung Monastery, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

 

Guyto Monastery, located in lower Dharamsala. You can get there from McLeod Ganj by bus. Change the bus at the main bus station in Dharamsala. The journey from McLeod Ganj to Guyto Monastery takes around an hour. In the second bus, tell the driver that you want to get off by Guyto Monastery. The monastery is close to the main road,  you won’t miss it.

Puja at Guyto Monastery, Dharamsala, India

Puja at Guyto Monastery, Dharamsala, India

If you visit it on a sunny day, you will have a wonderful view of the monastery with the Himalayas in the background. We were not so lucky with the weather the day we were visiting Guyto monastery, so you won’t see the Himalaya in our photo. However, we attended the incredible fire puja, a special ceremony of offerings, in Guyto Monastery, which was more important to us that the weather. 🙂  

 

Experience staying in a monastery

In Dharamsala, you have a unique opportunity to stay in a monastery, attend pujas, speak to the monks and become a part of the Tibetan spiritual world for a while. Guyto monastery has got rooms for rent for their visitors. We were thinking about staying there for a few days, but then we changed our minds, since we had already experienced staying in a monastery in 2014 and nothing could (probably) beat the Two unforgettable weeks we spent in a Tibetan monastery in Nepal

Guyto Monastery, Dharamsala, India

Guyto Monastery, Dharamsala, India

Learn about the history of Tibet in the Tibet Museum

The Tibet Museum is brilliant. It gives a deep insight into the history of Tibet, traditions of the Tibetans, destiny of thousands of Tibetan refugees who left Tibet and difficulties that the Tibetans have to endure in present Tibet. 

Check out the official website of the Tibet Museum for their current programme, events, documentaries and exhibitions. There is always something interesting going on. 

We watched a documentary From Nomad to Nobody that was screened in the Tibet Museum and talked about the miserable destiny of Tibetan nomads who are forced to quit their traditional ways of living as nomads and have to live in settlement camps.

the Tibet Museum, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

the Tibet Museum, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

 

Try out Tibetan Momo

Momo are juicy dumplings filled with spinach, cheese or potatoes. Delicious Tibetan snack is sold in almost all restaurants in McLeod Ganj and in the street too. The most delicious momo we found in the town was the one made by a Tibetan lady who was selling them outside of the Tsuglagkhang Complex (the Dalai Lama temple). 

Tibetan lady selling momo, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

Tibetan lady selling momo outside Tsuglagkhang complex (the Dalai Lama Temple), McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

 

Buy Tibetan souvenirs

If you have some space in your backpack or luggage (we don’t), check out the hand-made colourful souvenirs and clothes that the Tibetans sell in the streets of Mcleod Ganj.

Tibetan lady selling hand made souvenirs in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

Tibetan lady selling hand made souvenirs in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

a Sikh Indian man buying souvenirs from Tibetan ladies in Jogiwara Road, McLeod Ganj, India

a Sikh Indian man buying souvenirs from Tibetan ladies in Jogiwara Road, McLeod Ganj, India

 

Where to stay in McLeod Ganj:

If you don’t feel like staying in a monastery, there are lots of accommodation options in McLeod Ganj – literally, one guest house next to another. It was hard to find a guest house that would not be shabby though. We spent one whole afternoon checking out guest houses and hotels in Jogiwara and Temple Road (that day there was a slight earthquake in McLeod Ganj, but we didn’t feel anything) and finally found a real gem called Moonwalk Residency. The walk-in rate that we got was 1000 Rps/per night/double room (it was huge for India, and had a big bathroom) with a big balcony facing the Himalaya (room number 102) but we have to negotiate. The staff of the hotel was excellent, always ready to help, and there was even a room service – they have a restaurant on the top floor. You can also book a room in Moonwalk Residency on Booking or Agodabut the rate there is higher than on the walk-in rate.

our view from Moonwalk Residency, McLeod Ganj

our view from Moonwalk Residency, McLeod Ganj

 

 Have you been to Dharamsala? What was you your experience? 

Or are you heading there?  

  • Eva
    June 2, 2016

    I went there in 2011 and it was a memory I won’t forget. Reading your post makes me miss the town even more 🙂

    • Simply Nomadic Life
      Eva
      June 2, 2016

      Thanks for your comment, Eva! That’s wonderful to hear you had such a good experience in McLeod Ganj that you will never forget it! Lovely!
      Happy travels,
      Petra and Veru

  • Albert
    September 8, 2016

    Thank you!
    Your blog will be most helpful
    I am heading to Mackeid Ganj in the morning and now have a good sense of what to do.

    • Simply Nomadic Life
      Albert
      September 21, 2016

      Hi Albert, that’s great! Enjoy McLeod Ganj and if you need any more information about the town than what you’ve found in the article, let us know. We’re happy to help.
      Happy travels, Petra and Veru

  • Priyanka
    July 11, 2017

    I went there recently on 2nd to 5th july 2017.And today i came to know that 6th july is holy dalai lama s bday. My misfortune. My experience was amazing and visit to temple was extraordinary .

    • Simply Nomadic Life
      Priyanka
      July 20, 2017

      Wow, what an experience! Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Priyanka! Happy travels! P+V

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