‘I feel like I’m in another Country’. These were my words on my Instagram Stories after arriving in the town of McLeod Ganj, a town within the Dharamshala area of India, up in the state of Himachal Pradesh with a big Tibetan Influence.
I went from Amritsar to Dharamshala by bus which was only about 5 hours and not that bad. To be honest I nearly didn’t go because it was November, winter was descending and I’d heard it gets very cold in the state of Himachal Pradesh then and in Dharamshala and in Manali where I also wanted to visit.
Thankfully I did visit Dharamshala (Manali was indeed too cold in November) and now I’m here to tell you that you have to go to Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj on your trip to India, especially if you want fresh mountain air, mountain views, peace and quiet and to see the home of the Dalai Lama, and who doesn’t want that??
So here is my guide to the area of Dharamshala for travellers and backpackers including things to do, where to stay, places to eat and things to note about Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj especially!
To SEE Dharamshala, have a watch of my Youtube Video here:
Dharamsahala or Dharamsala (it’s the same place, slightly different spelling) is in the North Western state of Himachal Pradesh in Kangra. It’s one of the hill stations in Himachal Pradesh and it’s part of the traveller and backpacker trail but I feel that if travellers are coming to India for the first time and only for a short time it’s likely they won’t make it up here as it is a bit out of the way and that’s a shame. I visited just after being in Northern India for 1 month.
Dharamshala is an area and it’s also it’s own town, however within this area is also McLeod Ganj, Dharamkot and Bhagsu. So when people say they are visiting Dharamshala, like I am saying, I mean the area it’s in with it’s other towns and villages. This confused me when researching where to stay in Dharamshala so I wanted to clear this up for you!
Dharamshala By Train!
Dharamshala does not have a train station, the nearest station is Pathankot which is 85km to the East of Dharamshala and a then a 2.5hour drive up very windy roads so getting to Dharamshala by train is not really an option.
Dharamshala By Air!
Kangra Airport is the closest airport and only a 30 minute drive from Dharamshala, internal flights in India can be pretty cheap so if you are coming from further away flying to Dharamshala could be an option. Check out flights on Skyscanner here and look at transfers from Kangra Airport to Dharamshala here!
Dharamshala By Bus!
The bus is the easiest and cheapest option even if it’s not the nicest!
There is an overnight bus from Delhi to Dharamshala which I heard is ok and only really bumpy and windy once you’re close to Dharamshala.
Other popular places to visit before or after Dharamshala are Amritsar, Rishikesh and Manali.
There’s a day bus from Amritsar to Dharamshala which is what I took to get there, it was a mini bus with Laxmi Travels, took 5 hours and cost me 1000Rs and it wasn’t too bad at all.
I went to Rishikesh afterwards and took an overnight bus from Dharamshala to Rishikesh, this was one hell of a journey as the roads are very windy and bumpy all of the way! I didn’t enjoy it I’ll admit, but it was the only option really! It takes 11 hours and cost 1000Rs.
Manali is another place in Himachal Pradesh and a good place to go to before or after (although I didn’t as in November it was already chilly in Dharamshala and it was snowing in Manali!) a bus from Dharamshala to Manali is only a few hours.
I booked my bus tickets with agents in Dharamshala and Amritsar but you can also book buses in India on Red Bus and Via. Buses do also go to McLeod Ganj bus station and they might even go to Bhagsu so if you are staying up there try and get a bus there rather than to Dharamshala town as you’ll then need to get a taxi to one of the other towns!
Related Posts: Tips for Visiting Amritsar!
Dharamshala By Private Car!
Getting a private car in India is a popular thing to do, it’s not as cheap as public transport of course but for tourists with more money to spend or for people on a tight timeframe a private car is often the preferred option.
Taxi’s are readily available, a lady in my hotel was taking a day taxi from Dharamshala to Rishikesh which cost 10,000Rs. If you are visiting from Amritsar and want a private car, have a look at this good option on Viator!
As mentioned I stayed in the town of McLeod Ganj which I would really recommend as it’s only a short walk from Bhagsu and Dharamkot, it has plenty of cafes and shops to keep you busy but it can also be very quiet off the main streets. This is also where the Dalai Lama Temple and the Tibet Museum are which are some of the main things to do in Dharamshala, so McLeod Ganj is a great central base I think.
I stayed at Ram Yoga House which I loved and I think is the best hotel in Dharamshala! It only has 10 rooms, all with balconies and mountain views. It books up fast and I was lucky to get the last room on Booking.com! I had the budget room and it was ‘budget’ as the balcony view had a building in front, but I still had a good view to the side, especially of the sunrise and at roughly 1100RS per night it is great value for a double room with private bathroom!
Ram Yoga House also has a cafe on site which makes it really convenient to get breakfast or dinner if you don’t want to go back into the town. The staff are really lovely including Ram who owns the place. And perhaps best of all is the Yoga Studio on the rooftop with an incredible view over the valley. Daily lessons are offered in high season but whether lessons are on or not, you can use the studio on your own for free which is so great if you want to practise yoga in Dharamshala! As you can tell, I did love it and you can check availability and rates here on Booking.com!
There are plenty of Guest Houses and Hotels in McLeod Ganj and more in Dharamkot, Bhagsu and Dharamshala. Most will be quite basic and the decor may be quite outsdated but that’s kinda the vibe of this place. I’d just make sure you get somewhere that is warm if you are visiting in Winter!
In terms of hostels in Dharamshala, there are a few although there are none of the Chains like Zostel, Moustache, Backpacker Panda which is kind of a shame but hostels that I heard are popular are: Hostel LaVie, Flugler Hostel although these are further up in Bhagsu.
Search for Guest Houses, Hotels and Hostels here on Booking.com! I always use Booking.com as they offer really flexible options!
When I say ‘Dharamshala’ I mean the whole of this area! The top things to do in Dharamshala are:
In general, this area is a good place to visit to chill out a bit, take in the fresh mountain air, explore and connect back to Nature. However if you want to see a lot Dharamshala in one day or with a guide so you can understand the area more, there are lots of day tours of Dharamshala on Viator which range in price, so I would recommend checking out these Dharamshala Tours!
There are plenty of places to eat in McLeod Ganj but here were my favourites:
I hope you find this guide to Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj helpful! Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter when you’re going! I really loved it here and really recommend adding it to your India itinerary!
To SEE Dharamshala, have a watch of my Youtube Video here!
For more of my posts on India see:
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My Name's Ellie Quinn.
I'm a complete travel addict and have been since I took my first backpacking trip in 2010.
Since then I've visited 50+ Countries on various trips! I created this blog to share my travel tips to help you travel better!
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