Up In Mcleods: An Introduction to Mcleod Ganj

In India, Travel Guides
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Mcleod Ganj is the perfect holiday destination for you if you’re in India and want to soak in some cool high-altitude atmosphere, go on winding cliff-side walks, eat cheap, tasty food and just chill without blowing a hole through your savings. Unlike other more popular holiday destinations in India like Agra, Kerala and Jaisalmer, Macleod Ganj (and its larger neighbour Dharamsala) is both affordable and rewarding at once.

Herp:
Mcleod Ganj is quite special to me because I went there in July – I was new to India and living in Delhi with the Bore. We were both struggling to cope with the heat and dusty smog that settled on everything after the early monsoon. The big city felt sticky and crowded; my English country-boy instincts made me want to head further North out of the boil and the bustle.

Bore:
As the responsible one, I figured Mcleod Ganj was our best option. It is easy to get there from major cities – from Delhi, just book a Volvo overnight bus to neighbouring Dharamsala from the Kashmere Gate bus depot (you can find the options and details on any travel website like TripAdvisor or MakeMyTrip). If you are reading this right now in your hotel in Delhi and want to leave immediately, that’s also okay – just turn up at the bus station! It will be chaotic, but if you like that sort of thing and know a little Hindi, then you can get a ticket on the spot and hop on the next bus heading that way. Most buses leave by eight or nine in the evening though, so hurry up.

Herp:
Once you’re on the bus it’s an easy ride – the roads are empty at night, so being stuck in traffic is rarely a problem once you’re out of the city. Even some of the most affordable buses are also air-conditioned, so you may not even feel the change of temperature ‘til the next morning when they drop you off at Dharamsala. Just remember to bring supplies – water and snacks are a good bet.

Night on the Bus

On the Volvo Bus

Bore:
What managed to wake me up at 6am on the bus was the view. Outside the window, the dusty, busy plains of Delhi we had seen the previous night had changed completely into narrow, winding roads trailing along the sheer side of the lower Himalayas. I was lucky to have a window-seat on the left, and the view was almost entirely bougainvillea and rhododendron covered hill-side. Occasionally there would be a lurch and the bus would wobble onto a bridge. The brooks on the edge of the Outer Himalayas are all lined with heavy, smooth rocks and shadowed in cedars. Whether you see them during rain or sun, they make for a rather dramatic landscape.

Herp:
Not more dramatic than the other side, though. The rickety two-lane motorway gave way to a dead drop on the right. From the bus you could see the distant wall that circled the valley on the opposite side and up close the strange, gnarly shrubs and trees that climb out of the cliff and form a provisional safety net around it; just try to ignore the occasional suspicious-looking gap in the scrub.

Bore:
Once you near your destination, the sky will stop being a soft horizon. We went there in the monsoon season, so the clouds were both thick and wispy at once. Heavy enough that they could create flash floods – something that would become a real possibility when we went to the neighbouring Manali – but here around the curves of the Dhauladhar mountains, also too slow and quiet to be scary. Instead the clouds become a constant companion; it becomes hard to distinguish them from the mist sprayed up by the roaring waterfalls and the fog that obscures everything in the mornings.

Herp:
We reached Dharamsala at about 7:30am. Once the bus had left we easily acquired a taxi to take us up to Mcleoganj – it’s about 550mts higher up. The curves around the Dhauladhar get narrower, but the traffic is also sparse and quiet, so the taxi ride is quite relaxing if you don’t much mind cliff edges.

Mcleod Ganj Rain

Mcleod Ganj

Herp:
This town is a late riser – at 8am our hotel reception was completely empty. We rang for a bit and found a sleepy but friendly man who came up and told us to wait on the straight-backed wood benches. I fell asleep for a while but, wide awake by nine, I discovered to my (mild) horror that the hotel was still mostly asleep and there was no public-facing washroom nearby that I could use.

Bore:
A smartphone is a godsend on journeys in India—a panicky search on Zomato (a food/café/bar finding app that you must try) told me that there were quite a few cafes nearby, so we went off for breakfast and hopefully a usable loo. Incidentally, it turned out that most cafés in Macleodganj don’t have that facility.

Herp:
Although they are pretty fantastic when it comes to getting a banana milkshake and waffles.

Bore:
If you are more adventurous, there will also be a long list of omelettes, thukpas, momos and thenthuks available. These are all absolutely yummy Tibetan and Bhutanese food.

Herp:
My advice to the terminally fragile-of-stomach like me would be to ask your waiter how spicy your order is likely to be. The seemingly humble homemade red chilli sauce served with everything is certainly not for the ulcer-sufferers or the faint-hearted, so I stuck to predictable fare for my first meal at one of the small Tibetan cafés. As we had our breakfast and watched the sky get lighter, I noticed how the sun doesn’t really make an appearance in this little hilltop town at that time of year. If you’re from Britain, it’s a strange kind of familiar after the shock of Delhi.

Bore:
By the time we got back, the hotel staff had awoken and our room was ready – a pretty little labyrinth of stairwells and balconies led to our room. It was one of the more expensive rooms in the hotel at around 2000INR a night, but on the corner of a cliff-side hotel then view was nothing short of spellbinding. The hills rose around the hotel, leaving a large gap between us and the immediate object of our view. It felt a bit like being suspended in the air, especially with the swift grey rainclouds lumbering around and playing with what I could see.

Mcleod Ganj Panorama

Herp:
After staring at the clouds for a bit, I realised just how exhausted I was. We decided to take a nap and were eventually awoken by thunder. This was, unforgettably, monsoon amongst the Himalayas.

Hotel Room View

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