The abode of the Dalai Lama and the seat of the Tibetan Government in exile....McLeodGanj is a thoroughly unique proposition where India is concerned. This beautiful hill station at the foothills of the Himalayas is also a major draw for devotees and foreigners who swarm all-year-round due to the salubrious and damp climate (2nd wettest place in India!). It is a place of bountiful natural wonders as any trip to google image search can testify!
It's an extremely compact town and one that is sure to work your calf muscles as you navigate the hilly terrain and shuttle between the transport hub of Dharamshala and the main Buddhist complex almost a mile overhead at McLeodGanj
Devotees and 'touristers' alike will encounter a simple main street overladen with a vast array of restaurants and food-holes...even a few disco beer bars which provide an incongruous backdrop to the maroon-robed monks making their way down to the monastery...
This is a strange tension in McLG, on the one hand it is a village town catering to the vast streams of Tibetans who have endured the trauma of resettlement and now look to carve a new life for themselves in exile. At the other end of the sadhana scale, the fledgling buddhist westerners who haven't quite relinquished their worldly attachments, are served with beer and meat and discos in between that all-important audience with the Dalai Lama. Perhaps this is not an issue or deserves my judgement and I should not have had such lofty expectations of what is after all the nerve centre of Tibetean Buddhism in exile...but when I visited the scale of 'entertainment' development was one of the most over-riding arcs of concern amongst the locals, as it generates the very real prospect of Tibetan culture being diluted in the one place which was established to preserve it!
There is ample opportunity to attend a discourse by the Dalai Lama, visit the monasteries and cultural centres, walk/talk/befriend a young monk or two and absorb the Buddhist/Tibetan flavours. Volunteering and campaigning work is also available for those who wish to aid the Free Tibet campaign. For this reason McLeodGanj is very much a long-stay town and one that would facilitate multiple visits. It is also, for obvious reasons, the one town I visited on the subcontinent where India felt like a guest at its own party!
An airport is imminent which will free up the ease with which McLG can be visited and inevitably change its complexion forever. Such is the nature of impermanance and transience of life!
But few would bet against the plucky Tibetans, who have already lost more than we can begin to imagine......