Visiting Mcleodganj : Travel Guide To The Home Of The Dalai Lama

Created by Colleen Sims | Updated : 9 December 2023 |

We fell in love with Mcleodganj during our 3 month tour of India but initially I knew nothing of the town except that you could hike here.

Nestled amongst the majestic Dhauladhar mountains in the Himalayan foothills, this charming hill station offers a unique Tibetan influence and is a glorious place for any visitor.

If you love the great outdoors, are fascinated by the Tibetan History and are keen to visit some lesser know Gems in India then read on as Mcleodganj is your perfect destination!

beautiful pencil art of a young Buddhist monk, on a wall near our hotel when we were visiting Mcleodganj

Visiting Mcleodganj : Travel Guide

We’ll hold our hands up and admit that the real reason we added Mcleodganj to our India itinerary was simply because we’d heard of the Triund Trek. It was only after further investigation that we learned about the town’s famous resident, the Dalai Lama. 

Mcleodganj stole our hearts and even after several days exploring we wish we’d stayed longer.  We created this guide for first time visitors like us. Read on if you want to know :

  • how to reach Mcleodganj
  • where to stay
  • where to eat
  • what to do

Whether you’re seeking solace, outdoor adventure, or an escape from the hustle and bustle of Indian cities, this glorious little town will capture your heart too.

old books and a prayer wheel stored in a small room in the Dalai Lama Temple complex in Mcleodganj

Where is Mcleodganj?

Mcleodganj sits in the Kangra district of the Himachal Pradesh region of India. Think lush green valleys, snow-capped peaks, and crisp mountain air; it’s just 5 kilometres away from the larger Dharamshala.

Tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas, at an altitude of 2000 metres, Mcleodganj offers stunning mountain views and glorious sunsets.

Top Tip : I was confused by choosing either Dharamshala or Mcleodganj and wasn’t sure what the difference was between the two. Mcleodganj is almost like the little sister of Dharamshala, the two are both easily reached from each another. Mcleodganj is smaller and higher up the mountain road and has more of a village feel.

View of the Himalayan Mountains from one of our tours in the Kangra Valley, when visiting Mcleodganj

History of Mcleodganj

With its more modern sounding name it would be easy to assume that the history of Mcleodganj is tied up with the British Empire but it is actually much older. There are mentions of the region in ancient Hindu scriptures dating from the 4th century BC and by Chinese travellers in 7th century.

During the time of the Mughal rulers the region changed hands many times but became part of the British Empire in 1846 and remained so until India’s independence in 1947.

In more recent years, Mcleodganj became intrinsically linked with Tibet and the Dalai Lama.  In 1959, Mcleodganj became a haven for Tibetan refugees; including the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-exile.  They have since rebuilt their lives and culture here and as a result Mcleodganj offers a unique blend of Tibetan traditions and Indian charm.

one of the quirky shops, called Just in Time Shop, found in the main street of Mcleodganj

Why is Mcleodganj Famous?

Today Mcleodganj is famous for its spiritual ambiance, Tibetan culture and as the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

For us, it was the mountains that led us to the town. Having spent many glorious days here we realise that Mcleodganj is famous on many levels :

  • Tibetan Culture with monks and markets and colourful prayer flags the region offers a unique culture in India.
  • Himalayan Beauty hiking the Triund Trek or through rhododendron forests in the surrounding mountains offers breath taking vistas and glorious sunsets.
  • Spiritual and Yoga Retreats are a popular attraction and many people visit to seek solace in the town’s peaceful environment.
  • Food and Coffee Lovers Paradise with its unique history reflected in the food and the coffee culture. From momos and thukpa and fusion cafes, you can tantalize your taste buds in Mcleodganj.
Enjoying a black coffee in Coffee Talk Cafe in Mcleodganj whilst people watching across the street

Is it Worth Visiting Mcleodganj?

Absolutely! We totally loved our stay and it’s high on our list for a return visit.  We were taken by surprise at how much we adored this little town.  It has such a relaxed vibe that it almost demands a slower pace.

We loved the clean air, the café culture, the breath-taking scenery, rich history, creative arts and incredibly friendly locals.  Mcleodganj is perfect for a short stay and its blend of Tibetan and Indian culture creates a unique and unforgettable experience.

I 'heart' Himalayan sign in the tea gardens of Dharamshala.  Perfect for when visiting Mcleodganj

How Many Days Do You Need in Mcleodganj?

It depends on your pace.  We allowed 6 days and could have stayed several weeks.  I would be quite content to walk the Kora every day, drop in at my favourite coffee shop and sit and read and write or take photographs.

However, for most people a 3 day Mcleodganj itinerary allows you time to cover the highlights and really get a feel for the town.  The longer you stay the more you can delve deeper into the culture and explore more distance or hidden gems.

Where to Stay in Mcleodganj

We opted to stay in Mcleodganj and we have no regrets with that decision.  If we return we would still opt to stay in the mountains rather than Dharamshala.  All that we wanted to see and do was easily accessible and we loved the vibe of Mcleodganj.

Here are our three top choices for accommodation in the town; with something for every budget.

Our Budget Pick : Ram Yoga House

We stayed at Ram Yoga House and we were happy with our stay.  It is a little out of the main centre but this made it quieter and the location was never an issue for us.  The rooms were large, we had a small kitchen and balcony. We had great views of the Temple Complex and it’s close to the Kora Walk and the Dalai Lama’s temple.

★★★★★

Ram Yoga House

  • We loved the comfortable bed and breakfast choices
  • Excellent value for money
  • Offers yoga and retreat packages
  • It is a little on the edge of town but it was never an issue and we loved the quiet evenings

Our Comfort Pick : The Hosteller

Another great choice if you wish to be close to the action but not in the thick of it.  The Hosteller is a hostel but it also offers excellent private en-suite rooms. 

As a hostel it’s a great choice for solo visitors or those wishing to meet likeminded travellers, whilst still wanting a little privacy and comfort.

★★★★★

The Hosteller

  • Choice of dormitory rooms or superior rooms
  • Good location just on the edge of the main sights
  • 24 hour reception, daily maid service and a restaurant
  • Might be too much like a hostel for some but great for meeting others

Our Luxury Pick : Hotel Norbu House

If you are looking for a little extra comfort during your stay in Mcleodganj, then you will struggle to beat the service and location of the Hotel Norbu House; and for a price that you’d expect of a mid-range hotel. 

This is a great choice for travellers looking for a special stay and you only need to read the reviews to see why people choose to stay here.

★★★★★

Hotel Norbu House

  • Amazing views and almost on the doorstep of the Dalai Lama’s temple
  • Rooms and suites are available
  • Expect all the services of a modern, highly rated hotel in an exceptional location
  • No swimming pool and maybe a little pricey for some travellers
Tibetan handicrafts shop, located not far from the popular hotels in the heart of Mcleodganj

Is it better to Stay in Mcleodganj or Dharamshala?

Deciding between Mcleodganj and Dharamshala was the dilemma we faced.  I am happy that we choose to stay higher up in Mcleodganj but there are pros and cons for either; ultimately both are close to each other and both offer a unique experience.

Staying in Dharamshala

Pros:

  • Quieter and less crowded than Mcleodganj (I have to say that the times we visited it didn’t feel so quiet)
  • Lower accommodation costs
  • Central location for transportation
  • Mix of more authentic Indian as well as Tibetan culture

Cons:

  • Further from the Tibetan heart of Mcleodganj
  • Fewer Tibetan restaurants and shops
  • Not as walkable as Mcleodganj

Staying in Mcleodganj

Pros:

  • Immersed in Tibetan culture
  • Close to the Dalai Lama’s residence and Temple complex
  • Wide variety of Tibetan restaurants and shops
  • Walkable town centre and very easy to explore on foot
  • More options for trekking and outdoor activities

Cons:

  • More crowded and touristy
  • Higher accommodation and restaurant costs (but not hugely different)
  • Limited access to non-Tibetan attractions
Colourful houses in Dharamshala, seen from the cable car taking us from Mcleodganj during our visit

How to Get To Mcleodganj

Mcleodganj isn’t directly accessible by air or rail, but there are lots of nearby connections and choices. 

We travelled from Amritsar to Mcleodganj.  Initially we had booked seats on an air conditioned coach but this was cancelled on the morning of our journey.  A hasty change of plan led us to taking a private taxi and it was excellent value for money; costing less that 40€ door to door.  Our bus would have taken us to Dharamshala where we would have needed a taxi or tuk-tuk to reach Mcleodganj.

The options that you choose will depend on budget, starting location and time-frame but your choices are :

Mcleodganj By Air

The nearest airport is Gaggal Airport (also known as Kangra Airport), located less than 20 kilometres from Mcleodganj. Regular flights connect Gaggal Airport to major cities in India; Indigo and Spicejet offer flights; use Skyscanner to check times and availability.

Taxis and buses connect the airport to Dharamshala and Mcleodganj.

Mcleodganj By Road

Mcleodganj is well-connected by road from major cities such as Delhi and Chandigarh; we travelled from Amritsar after visiting the Golden Temple and the Wagah Border Ceremony and after travelled onwards to Shimla (to ride the famous Toy Train).

Buses and private taxis are readily available, offering scenic journeys through the mountains.  Do expect the roads to be bumpy and dusty; many are in a bad state of repair and some are being rebuilt and we were told it could take years.  However, we enjoyed our car journey even though it was not as smooth as you might expect; nonetheless we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Use 12Go to check if buses are available for your journey. 

Himachal Pradesh has a public bus service.  These offer excellent value for money but the journeys can be very long and the timetable is not always convenient, but they offer some stunning mountain views and are a great choice for the budget traveller. 

Look for buses to Dharamshala as most journeys will terminate here; you can then take a tuk-tuk or taxi for the last few kilometres to Mcleodganj. We found that UBER did not work in Mcleodganj.

Top Tip : Ask the hotel that you are travelling from or going to in Mcleodganj.  They will have trusted drivers who’s rate is often much lower than rates advertised on major booking sites.

Mcleodganj By Train

The closest mainline railway station is Pathankot, which is well-connected to various cities in India.  However, the station is a fair distance at almost 90 kilometers from Mcleodganj. 

There are regular buses and taxis that will take you onwards to Dharamshala or Mcleodganj. Again use 12GO to check which trains (and buses) are available.

young cow walking along Temple Road in Mcleodganj; they often cause traffic jams in India

Getting Around Mcleodganj

Walking is the best way to explore the town’s narrow lanes and soak up the atmosphere. Taxis and tuk-tuks are readily available if you wish to venture further afield although UBER didn’t work for us. Tuk-Tuks are perhaps the better option for getting around Mcleodganj’s narrow streets, which can often be jammed with traffic.

Top Tip : be sure to negotiate your fare beforehand or ask your accommodation for recommendations and to book for you. 

You can also use the Skyway Cable Car to quickly move between Mcleodganj and Dharamshala. It’s not the cheapest form of transport but the views are majestic!

Things To Do and Places to Visit in Mcleodganj

Mcleodganj is like no place we’ve visited before, offering the chance to explore ancient forts, temples and monasteries as well as trekking in the Dhauladhar mountain range.  

For more detailed ideas on how to plan your visit take a look at our 3-day Mcleodganj itinerary but here are a few ideas to get you started :

  • Namgyal Temple Complex – Enjoy the tranquillity of the Dalai Lama’s residence and explore the Tibetan Buddhist culture.
  • Walk the Kora – The spiritual circuit that encompasses the Dalai Lama’s temples and residence.
  • Triund Trek – Embark on a trek with breath taking Himalayan views.
  • Bhagsu Nag Waterfall – A more gentle trek through scenic forests.
  • Dalai Lama’s teachings – It is possible to attend public teachings if the Dalai Lama’s schedule coincides with your visit.
  • The Norbulingka Institute – While away several hours exploring this Institute which promotes the preservation of Tibetan Arts and culture.

Top Tip : Check out our 3-day Itinerary for more things to do in Mcleodganj

Colleen walking the Kora Circuit around the Dalai Lama's Temple Complex in Mcleodganj

Mcleodganj Tour Guides

When we were searching for things to do in Mcleodganj and indeed across the Himachal Pradesh region, we came across a website offering tours with local guides, born and living in the region. 

As we’re always keen to support local initiatives we have since been talking with Himachal Bylocals; they’re a great local tour company and we’re more than happy to help promote their tours and services and we know that a guide really can add depth to your experience.

We’d recommend that you take any of these tours; for both hiking and cultural visits in and around Mcleodganj.

Spiritual, Yoga And Meditation Retreats

There are many choices for people wishing to visit Mcleodganj for spiritual reasons or those simply seeking a quiet retreat.  Some offer day classes which allow you to stay in your own choice of accommodation and others offer residential courses.

Tushita Meditation Centre

Tushita Meditation Centre is situated in the forest above McLeodganj, is dedicated to the study and practice of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism. Established in 1972 by Lama Thubten Yeshe, Tushita provides a welcoming space for individuals of all backgrounds to explore Buddhist philosophy and meditation.

Thosamling

Thosamling is a global community of Buddhist nuns and lay women, residing and studying in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Nestled in the foothills 16 kilometres from Mcleodganj on the outskirts of Dharamshala, it offers unique study, practice, and retreat opportunities.   Whist primarily a nunnery, its vitality stems from a diverse international community of Dharma practitioners.

Ram Yoga house

We Stayed at Ram Yoga House and as well as offering accommodation this is a flourishing Yoga Retreat.

Ram Bhardwaj, founder of Yoga House, brings a rich background rooted in yoga and Ayurveda. Raised in a family of yoga practitioners and midwives near Dharamshala, Ram has evolved into a world-renowned Yoga and Thai Yoga Massage teacher, having taught in over 20 cities across Asia, England, Europe, and South America.

beautiful metalwork window brightly painted in a temple in the centre of Mcleodganj

Local Food and Our Favourite Places to Eat in Mcleodganj

Indulge your taste buds in the diverse culinary offerings of Mcleodganj. From traditional Tibetan momos to north Indian earthy currys, the town boasts a variety of gastronomic delights; there is also a healthy vegan, vegetarian and café scene here too.

We really loved Snow Lion Café and Crepe Pancake Hut but to read about all of our favourite eateries don’t miss our separate post for our top 5 Café recommendations.

Crepe Pancake Hut cafe in mcleodganj offers quiche, cookies, crepes and smoothies with gluten free and vegan options

The Best Time to Visit Mcleodganj

Whilst Mcleodganj maybe considered a year-round destination, an ideal time for sight-seeing or hiking is either spring or autumn when the weather is pleasant and the skies are clear. 

We visited in mid-November and whilst the weather was perfect, we did experience cloud in the afternoons. There was also some air pollution in Dharamshala as a result of the crop burning in the Punjab although nowhere near as bad as in Delhi at that time of year.  We never noticed air-pollution higher up in Mcleodganj.

There are fewer crowds in July and August but it can also be hot and humid and the monsoon has been known to wash away roads so it’s perhaps not the ideal time for visiting.

  • March to Early June – Pleasant weather, ideal for sightseeing and trekking.
  • July to September – Monsoon season, expect heavy rain and limited outdoor activities.
  • Mid October to Mid December – Post-monsoon, with clear skies and vibrant landscapes.
  • Mid-December to February – Winter brings chilly temperatures and the occasional snowfall.
Temperature and Rain weather chart for our Visiting Mcleodganj Travel Guide

Mcleod Ganj, Mcleodganj, or McleodGanj? The Name Conundrum!

Mcleodganj was named after Sir Donald Friell McLeod, born in India to a Scottish father and was Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab. Ganj is a common Persian word meaning neighbourhood.

When researching the town I wasn’t sure if the variations in name meant different locations or different towns.  However, all versions refer to the same place and locals will use them interchangeably, reflecting different linguistic influences. 

All three names are acceptable, although we were told that Mcleodganj is the most widely used.

Visiting Mcleodganj : Our Travel Guide

We fell in love with Mcleodganj and I hope that shines through in all our posts about this little mountain gem. We would happily revisit and do very little except walk, explore and relax in this special Himalayan treasure.

If you only have a few days then our Mcleodganj Itinerary for 3 days provides a taste of all that the town and region has to offer.

Be prepared to be captivated. Mcleodganj offers cultural richness, spiritual aura, and breath-taking landscapes. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, adventure seeker, or simply looking for a peaceful retreat, this town has something magical to offer.

Plan your trip wisely, immerse yourself in the local experiences, and let Mcleodganj weave its charm on you.

prayer wheels at the Dalai Lama temple in Mcleodganj

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel, you should have a great travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve ended up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal, Japan and Ireland! Every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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Colleen in Salamanca on the Via de la Plata

Hey I’m Colleen. I’m married to Gerry, we’ve three fabulous kids and been living in France for almost two decades. I fell in love with Spain in the 1980s and I’ve walked 1000s of miles along the Camino de Santiago. Now we’re exploring and walking the world and I can’t wait to share what we’ve learned!

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