Mcleodganj

A suburb of Dharamshala. The abode of Dalai Lama. Headquarters of the Tibetan Government in exile. Nicknamed Little Lhasa or Dhasa by the Tibetans. A popular place for tourists. A pilgrimage destination for many. A paradise for food lovers. This sort of summarises Mcleodganj or Upper Dharamshala.  The highest peak of the Dhauladhar range of Himalayas called ‘Hanuman ka Tibba’ lies just behind Mcleodganj. The popular trek to Triund starts from Mcleodganj. The popular Dharamshala International Film Festival is held here annually. Mcleodganj was named after Sir Donald Friell Mcleod who was the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab. The suffix ‘Ganj’ means neighbourhood in Hindi. We did a day trip from Dharamshala to Mcleodganj in the last week of September this year. It takes around 45 minutes to get there despite it being just 10 km away.

History

During the mid-nineteenth century, Kangra town became overcrowded and the British moved two regiments of the army to Dharamshala. By 1850s, Mcleodganj and Forsythganj had civilian settlements. Soon 14 Gurkha villages were established. The Gurkhas patronised the ancient Shiva Temple of Bhagsunath near Mcleodganj. Lord Elgin who was the viceroy of India liked this place so much that he suggested it be made the Summer Capital of India. The twin towns of Mcleodganj and Forsythganj grew steadily and were thriving by the start of the twentieth century when a major earthquake of magnitude 7.8 struck the area in April 1905. Most of the town was destroyed including the Bhagsunath temple and thousands of people were killed and injured.

In 1960, the Government of India settled the Tibetan refugees in Mcleodganj and around. Mcleodganj became the official residence of the Dalai Lama and the headquarters of the Tibetan Government in exile. Many Buddhist monasteries were set up and the population has substantially grown over the years. Thus Mcleodganj evolved as a popular tourist and pilgrimage destination.

Bhagsu Falls

The Bhagsu Falls is a waterfall that is about 20 metres tall and a popular tourist spot. It is about 3 km from Mcleodganj. The waterfall can be reached by a brief walk on a well paved path which starts just after the Bhagsunath Temple and some shops.

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Bhagsu Falls as seen from the start of the trail

 

Bhagsunath Temple

Bhagsunath Temple is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. As per the local legend, the story of this temple is as follows. Long ago this region was the dwelling place of the Nagavanshi Gods and Goddesses. King Bhagsu of Asuras who was a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva ruled over his kingdom in Rajasthan. There was a big famine and his subjects threatened him that they would leave his kingdom and go away if he did not arrange for water.

Bhagsu who was devoted to the welfare of his kingdom assured them that he would provide a solution for this problem. He walked and reached this place at the foot of the mighty Dhauladhar range of mountains. He saw plenty of lakes in the mountains. Using his magical powers, he drained a lake called the Nag Dal into a pot and started walking back. When it became dark he paused his journey at the spot where the temple stands now. The Nagas were enraged when they realised that their lake had been emptied. They set out in search of the culprit.

A fierce battle ensued between the Nagas and Bhagsu during which the water fell out of the pot. This created a series of water falls that have been flowing since then. Bhagsu was defeated by the Nagas and he realised that they were a manifestation of Lord Shiva. He pleaded with Lord Shiva for forgiveness as he had committed the sin for the wellbeing of his subjects. Moved by his pleas, Lord Shiva asked him what his desire was. Bhagsu requested him to  make it rain in his kingdom and provide water to the people. He also requested the God to grant him liberation and make his name immortal by using it in conjunction with the name of Lord Shiva in some manner. He gave up his life saying thus. Lord Shiva granted his wishes by making it rain in his kingdom and named the place as Bhagsunag. The idol worshipped here is believed to have self manifested.

Raja Dharamchand is said to have had a dream in which Lord Bhageshwar, a form of Lord Shiva, told him that he could be found in this place. Dharamshala is believed to have been named after Raja Dharamchand. The ruins of his fort can be found in the neighbouring village of Dharamkot which is also named after him. Raja Dharamchand established the temple at Bhagsunag as per the wishes of Lord Shiva. It is believed that anyone who prays here sincerely will have their wishes fulfilled by God. Many people take bath in the tank of the temple complex and then offer their prayers as it is believed that a bath here will get rid of their health problems.

 

 

St.John in the Wilderness

The Anglican church of St. John in the Wilderness looks straight out of a fairytale. It is located on the road to Naddi village from Mcleodganj. The church built using neo-Gothic style was constructed in the mid-nineteenth century. It is one of the oldest cathedrals in North India. There is a graveyard behind the church. Lord Elgin who was the Viceroy of India fell in love with this area when he visited it. He died while he was on a trip to Dharamshala in 1863 and was buried in the graveyard here. A memorial dedicated to him can be seen near his tombstone.  A notable feature of the Church are its beautiful Belgian stained glass windows which were donated by Lady Elgin.

 

Tsuglagkhang Temple Complex

The Tsuglagkhang Temple Complex also popularly known as the Dalai Lama’s temple is the most important Buddhist site in town. There are statues of Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, Avalokitesvara and Shakyamuni Buddha inside the temple complex. Lot of people can be seen offering their prayers or meditating.

 

Dal Lake

The Dal Lake is a small lake around 3 km from Mcleodganj on the road to Naddi village. An annual fair is held here in August or September and attended by the indigenous Gaddi community.

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Dal Lake on a foggy evening

Food

Mcleodganj is a paradise for food lovers. Foodies will be spoilt for choice here. Lots of cafes and restaurants are present catering to various international cuisines. Say Italian to Japanese to Tibetan to Korean and it is all there! Since we spent just half a day here, we managed to try just a handful of places though I had a long list compiled from the internet.

Nick’s Italian Kitchen

Nick’s Italian Kitchen is a charming place located on Bhagsunag road. Lovely views of the Dhauladhar range can be seen from the outdoor seating area. We went here for a breakfast of pancakes and some Tibetan bread along with some healthy juices. This place is popular for its Pizzas and Chocolate mousse.

Moonpeak Espresso

This small cafe on the Temple road is good for some quick eats. Although our intention was to try the Himachali thali at their next door restaurant, we ended up here since the chef who prepares the thali is off on Mondays. We loved the presentation and the taste of the sandwiches as well as the delicious chocolate cake. The walls have been decorated tastefully with photographs of local flora and birds with brief handwritten descriptions. The person who was serving told us that the owner had clicked the pictures.

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Moonpeak Restaurant

Woeser Bakery

This hole in the wall bakery on Jogibara Road is easy to miss as it is in the basement of Black Magic restaurant. We had delicious homemade Carrot cake and handmade Cappuccino here.

 

 

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