Dharamsala is a town in the north of India. It’s often called the “Little Lhassa” because of the huge Tibetan community exiled here. When I was there, I was even lucky enough to run into the Dalai Lama! It’s a place full of culture and spirituality, where the days go by slowly. I stayed there for only a week, but I could feel that it’s the kind of place I could stay for months at. In fact, many of the backpackers you’ll meet there are here for an extended period of time, for courses, volunteering, or some kind of personal project. The mix of hippy backpackers and Tibetan people makes Dharamsala a very peaceful town, a lot less crazy than the rest of India. I found it was a good first stop to ease into the Indian culture and way of life!
The town is divided into two parts, and you’ll most likely spend your time in Macleod Ganj, the upper part of the city. From there, you can see everything in the city on foot, gaze at the snowy peaks, go hike or just get to know the Tibetan culture! So, for a perfect budget weekend in Dharamsala, follow the guide:
One of my favorite spots in Dharamsala was the Tushita Meditation Center. Situated above Mcleod Ganj, it offers drop-in free meditation sessions every day at 9:30 am, for both the complete beginners and experienced students. From Mcleod Ganj, a road climbs up to the Center through the forest (half an hour on foot, or you can take a tuk-tuk). On the way, you’ll get a breathtaking view on the snowy peaks of the Himalayas.
After the meditation session, take your time to walk around the center, discover the stupa, the view, and enjoy the complete peace of the place. You can also check out the program on their website, there’s often interesting teachings or events happening there. It’s one of the most famous buddhist center in the world, just saying.
On the way back to town, stop at Lhamo’s Kitchen on Bhagsu Road (take the stairs going down on the left of Lhamo’s Croissant) to register for his amazing cooking class! If you’re the first there, you can choose what you want to cook, so definitely ask for Momos, they’re the best!
Once your spot for the 5pm cooking class is secure, head towards the center. At the main crossroad, make the full turn around the Temple to activate all the prayer wheels. Sometimes, kids stand there and ask for an entry fee, but you should know that you don’t need to pay anything.
For lunch, go to Nick’s Italian Kitchen (Bhagsu Road). There’s many options here, and all at very affordable prices. Despite the name of the restaurant, I still recommend choosing an asian dish…
After lunch, take your time shopping around Mcleod Ganj. The little shops are full of Tibetan art, and you can quickly loose yourself in all these fantastic jewels and sculptures. One stop I would particularly recommend: The Green Shop on Bhagsu Road sells eco-friendly products (like locally made peanut butter), the funds give work to local artisans and also go towards recycling. They also sell filtered water. Don’t forget to take a look at the little bookstores as well, they’re delightful!
At 4pm, make your way to Lha Charitable Trust on Temple Road for the daily drop-in conversation class. Every day, Tibetans come here to improve their english by talking with english speaking volunteers. It lasts one hour, and it’s a great way to really get to know some locals (plus, you’re helping them out a little bit!). I had the opportunity there to share with teenagers (big One Direction fans), monks, bakers, … It’s really a conversation, no teaching is expected of you, so no pressure!
At 5pm, it’s time for your cooking class! Followed by my favorite part of the cooking process: eating. I ate a lot of momos in Asia, but these were the best by far!
To sleep, I recommend the Loseling Guesthouse (Jogiwara Road), run by monks. It’s one of the cheapest in the city (don’t bother trying to bargain there), but the rooms are big, really clean, with separate private bathrooms and all the comfort you need.
After a good, cheap breakfast at Shambhala Restaurant (Jogiwara Road, near the main crossroad), walk all the way down Temple Road. Keep going down after the Tibet Museum until you see a little path heading off into the trees, marked by white rocks and prayer flags. This is the start of the Kora.
The Kora is a path circling the Buddhist complex. It takes about half an hour to walk it, and many Tibetans do it every day. The path is decorated with many white rocks, prayer flags, prayer wheels and small altars. And it’s full of monkeys! I loved walking the Kora, it was a nice break from the noise of the town, and I took my time turning the prayer wheels and watching the cute baby monkeys.
The path leaves you at the temple and museum entrance, so go ahead and visit both, it’s free! The Tibet Museum also often screens documentaries on Tibet, ask at reception.
Once you’re done, buy some snacks for a picnic, and let’s go walking! Follow the Bhagsu Road for about 2km, until you arrive at the Bhagsu Waterfall, where you can enjoy your picnic. Back to Bhagsunath village, you can also take the opportunity to visit the Shiva Temple there.
If you’re back in time, head to the conversation class once again! Otherwise, the Tibet Kitchen is waiting for you for your last meal on Jogiwara Road. For a last taste of Tibet, I recommend Thenthuk, a noodle soup with square noodles.
That’s all the time we have here, don’t forget to check out my other Perfect Budget Weekends and to tell me all your adventures if you ever do one!