Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh is located in the north of India surrounded by cedar forests and on the edge of the Himalayas. It’s home to the Dalai Lama and many Tibetans bursting with culture and beautiful wildlife walks.
The Volvo bus to Dharamshala was worth the extra five dollars. Although I didn’t sleep I couldn’t complain because I was toasty warm and had two seats to myself. We arrived at 4:30am and woke a couple taxi drivers to take us to Dharamkot where the Bunker Hostel resides up in the hills. Definitely take a taxi as it is four kilometers up the winding mountain and then a small five minute hike up a very steep hill. It was 250 rupiah ($4) each for the taxi ride. I thought he would charge extra because it sounded like he left half his engine behind when we bottomed out on a massive boulder.
The Bunker is a lovely hostel full of fellow travelers and amazing staff. It has the ability to make you feel at home. The staff greets you by name and befriends you instantly. All the beds are equipped with big duvet comforters to keep warm you at night and the wonderful rooftop area and bonfire pit offer perfect places to mingle with other travelers.
We visited in winter time with colder temperatures, but less tourists which I thoroughly enjoyed. Many places were beginning to close for the season with various shop owners migrating south for the winter, but The Bunker didn’t seem to have an issue pulling in a good crowd.
Dharamkot, Mcleod Ganj and Bagsu are all villages that make up part of Dharamashala located down hundreds of stairs and very steep winding hills. I still cannot believe the strength of the women here in India. On a daily basis I witnessed women climbing trees with machetes to chop down branches and walking up these hills with over fifty pounds of lumber on their backs. You notice as you walk each foot path connects to the other creating a spider web of village homes in the mountains where families have lived beside each other for ages. There was definitely zero planning in the layout of the villages, however, it all seems to work. An individual is only allowed to buy a house or land if you are born here, same goes for Manali.
If you are into meditation or want to try something new there is a free mediation session offered at Tushita every morning for an hour. The times vary depending on the week/season, but it was at 9:30am everyday I visited. If anything accept the challenge of sitting still for an hour with your legs crossed... You have no idea how difficult this small task can be, but you will also never know what you are capable of until you try.
We spent one day exploring the nearby waterfall in Dharmakot. The walk takes about forty minutes to reach the beautiful valley from The Bunker. We brought a speaker and laid out on the rocks jamming to music with locals for the afternoon. The water is quite refreshing at a mere five degrees celcius, so jump in and get out quickly before you catch hypothermia. On our way back we stopped at the Sunset Cafe to watch the clouds change from white to orange to pink to red. You can even order some food while you enjoy the view.
One of my favorite things about my stay in Mcleod Ganj was the local people I met. Each individual was special, overly generous, caring and sincere. From birthday cakes to breakfasts at their homes, thoughtful gifts and great conversation Indians sure know how to entertain. Each one talented in their own way whether it be intellectually, musically or artistic. They thrive on learning new skills and enjoy when everyone comes together to share their special talents. Spending time with them and hearing the perspectives of their country was extremely beneficial in helping me understand certain characteristics of Indian culture.
I will admit that I struggled a bit while I stayed in Dharamshala. I caught a small cold and was feeling extremely down and lonely with my birthday coming up and Jesse not being here. I woke up many mornings in tears, but was able to make it through with the support from my family and friends near and far. The amazing company I surrounded myself with on a daily basis cheered me up and made my days much brighter. There’s no better feeling than being completely comfortable where you’re staying in a foreign country with people that you’ve known for only a few days or even a few hours, but soon we all form into a small family. You are who you surround yourself with.
We took a day to hike Triund Hill. It was spectacular even when foggy. The hike to Triund takes around three to four hours. The seven kilometer trek up the mountain isn’t too difficult with many straight aways and a clearly marked trail. Mules passed us with bricks and groceries on their backs while we enjoyed a chai at a tea stall along the way. Unfortunately it was cloudy on the day we trekked so we decided to forego Snowline, but from what I hear if you continue on for two more hours you’ll reach Snowline where you can find places to camp, small tea houses and unbelievable views. From the pictures I saw you don’t want to miss it. You can rent all of your camping gear at Snowline in order to avoid carrying it all with you. Average 700 rupiah ($10) per night for everything including tent, sleeping bags and food.
The town of Mcleod Ganj is bustling with markets, street momo vendors, temples, great restaurants and everything else you could possibly want. We spent a few days walking around checking out the markets after having lovely lattes from Rogpa Coffee. We visited the Tibet museum and the Dalai Lama Temple for educational purposes. Although the Tibet museum was excrutiatingly sad it was important for us to learn what’s happened to Tibet and what’s to be expected in the future. I had no idea that many Tibetans found refuge in Dharamshala and continue to make it the lovely welcoming town that it is.
One of our favorite spots to eat was at Shangrila, a vegetarian restaurant owned by Tibetan monks. It’s located on Temple road right next door to Snow Lion Restaurant. When we arrived a monk gave up their seat for us five to squeeze on the floor mats where we were served Tibetan dishes alongside many monks staring inquisitively at us while we ate.
Although the walks home up the hundreds of steps were a challenge, our stay at the Bunker will be one I remember for a lifetime. Nidhi, Ashish and everyone else made us feel incredibly welcomed and loved. Taz and Rain the two pups were extremely cuddly. The food was delicious, my favorite being the porridge with muesli in the morning and the mix veg curry for dinner. Just a tip: Order your food in advance in the hostel, it tends to take a very long time. You will not be disappointed with your stay at the Bunker!
Things to do:
- Waterfall in Dharmakot
- Sunset Cafe for sunset
- Hike to Triund and camp in Snowline
- Visit the Dalai Lama Temple
- Tibet Museum - free entry
- Bagsu Waterfall - Have a chai or some food at the nearby Shiva Cafe.
- Tushita Gate Meditation center - Free class every morning.
- Shop around the markets! Beautiful Tibetan jewlery and lovely warm shawls.
- Eat delicious Tibetan food - You won’t find any Tibetan food down South.
- Cooking class - 200 rupiah in Bagsu or Dharmakot.
Where to eat:
- Shangrila Mcleod Ganj - owned by Tibetan Monks. Try the Bagleb, thentuk and eggplant chips.
- The Bunker - Amazing mix veg curry and great muesli in the morning.
- Rogpa Coffee - in Mcleod Ganj where you’ll find delicious lattes, desserts and coffee drinks.
- Singh Corner Bakery - in Bagsu where you’ll find the original Bagsu cake.
- Cool Talk Cafe - Dharmakot
- Morgan’s - Pizza and pasta dishes.
- Snow Lion - Fried ice cream
- Uncle’s - Just around the corner from The Bunker and Zostel you’ll see a small place with tables and an Etheral and Health Care sign on the side. This is where you’ll find the best parantha and chai in Mcleod Ganj!
- Green Bouddi - vegan/vegetarian fresh food, healthy bowls
- Kalimgpong Restaurant - Tibetan owned hole in the wall. Great momos for the meat eaters out there!
- Shiva Cafe - Near Bagsu Waterfall
Where to stay:
- The Bunker - Amazing hostel in Mcleod Ganj, great atmosphere, staff and delicious food | 400 rupiah ($6) per night
- Zostel - Mcleod Ganj - More expensive same area | 600-800 rupiah ($8-$12) per night
- There are many guesthouses around Mcleod Ganj, Dharamkot and Bagsu. They vary in price depending on view size and the facilities | 200-400 rupiah ($3-$6) per night
Enjoy Dharamshala and all it’s beauty!