Besides being the abode of the Dalai Lama in India, McLeodganj is replete with plenty of foodfor the soul as well as the body, says, Narayani Ganesh

McLeodganj or Upper Dharamsala is synonymous with the Dalai Lama who has been living there in exile with his followers ever since he was forced to leave Tibet in 1959.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, this hill town inHimachal Pradesh is a veritable “Little Lhasa” festooned with multi-coloured prayer flags, its streets lined with food stalls selling momos and popcorn, Tibetan bread and green vegetables.

The marketplace with its two main streets and a temple in the centre is the lifeline of the place, shops displaying merchandise in geometric patterns, beckoning the visitor.

Hand-knit woollens, shoes, prayer bells, backpacks, pickles and chutneys, jewellery, car rentals and trekking gear at competitive prices – it’s a backpacker’s dream-come-true.

Tsuglag Khang or the Dalai Lama’s Temple (close to his residence) is visible from a distance with its white awning and tent designed to shelter devotees who congregate here daily. A woman is circumambulating the main enclosure with a sick dog in her arms, praying for recovery. Others prostrate themselves repeatedly, chanting prayers. Still others simply sit there, soaking in the calm and quiet.

“You must try the vegetarian food at the Namgyal Cafe in the temple precincts,” a friend had suggested and my daughter Maya I complied. We had to share the tofusprouts-veggie salad and cheese-spinach pizza, such was their generous size, and both were absolutely scrumptious. Even more interesting was the manager with his long, plaited hair and collection of international currencies displayed on the wall behind him.

The Norbulingka Institute, 8 km away in Sidhpur is a different world – designed after the Dalai Lama’s summer palace in Lhasa, its aesthetically designed gardens and waterways, fountains and stone walls please the senses. The Institute nurtures Tibetan arts and crafts, language and culture. We bought some of the products there and even toured the Losel Dolls Museum that tells the story of Tibetan tradition and culture.

Close by was the Karmapa Gyuto Monastery, rising majestically against the Dhauladhar peaks, the current seat of the Karmapa Rinpoche of the Kargyud Lineage, with a Tantra School and beautiful gardens. A whole lot of puppies were frisking about on the lawns outside the main temple. A half day taxi tour took us around the main sights of McLeodganj and these include St John of the Wilderness Church where Lord Elgin lies buried, the Dal Lake, Tibetan Children’s village and school, the Bhagsunag Temple and waterfall and the breathtaking trekking route at Naddi, facing the gorgeous Dauladhar range of snow-capped mountains. McLeodganj is also a food lover’s paradise, with an exciting range of cuisine from Europe, Tibet, Bhutan, India and Japan at affordable prices.

It is the right place to relax. McLeodganj is the place to go to when you wish to do nothing, think nothing and say nothing.

Transport for Mcloadganj

The nearest airport is Gaggal airport, 15 km south of Dharamshala.
The nearest railway stations on the Shimla-Kangra narrow gauge line are at Kangra and Nagrota (about 20 km south of Dharamshala). The nearest railhead (broad gauge) is at Pathankot (85 km).