Himachal Pradesh, with its pristine, snow-clad mountains and beautiful treks, is a favourite among tourists. The Dhauladhar range that stretched across the Kangra valley add a unique charm to the area. And, if you are a biker, it is the perfect place to go for a road trip across the mountains.
While there are several destinations that you may choose from, Dharamshala and Mcleodganj situated in its suburbs are the most famous among these. These twin hill-towns, nestled in the Dhauladhar range, have something to offer to every traveller – from beautiful, petite rock temples to picturesque Buddhist monasteries, the world’s highest cricket pitch and long stretches of tea gardens. Whether you are a spiritual traveller looking for some quite or someone looking for some adventure sports – these two destinations have something for everyone!
Here’s a comprehensive guide if you plan to go on a motorbiking trip to Mcleodganj and Dharamshala.
Know your Destination
Distance (from Delhi): 480 km
Ideal trip duration: 4-6 days
Altitude: Mcleodganj- 2,082 metres (6,831 feet)
Average temperature: 22°C during summer to 5°C in winter
Snow time: Late December to early February
Accessibility: Dharamshala and Mcleodganj are accessible throughout the year
A Little History: Mcleodganj (or Upper Dharamshala), named after Lieutenant Governor Sir Donald Friel McLeod for the state of Punjab, was the Lieutenant’s official residence. It is the same place that was later (in 1960) set up for the Government of Tibet in exile. Home to His Holiness the present Dalai Lama and several other Tibetan refugees and Buddhist monks, this place offers a glimpse into the Tibetan culture up close. The little town of Dharamshala is known as ‘Dhasa’ (an amalgamation of Dharamshala and Lhasa) or the mini Lhasa by the local Tibetans.
People and Culture: Mcleodganj, thanks to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, is majorly a Tibetan Buddhist community. Besides the Tibetans and some Christians (majorly foreigners who have taken residence here), the place is also home to people of the Gaddi Community.
Location and Weather: Nestled among the Dhauladhar ranges, Dharamshala and Mcleodganj lie in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Both Dharamshala, located at an altitude of around 5500 feet above sea level, and Mcleodganj, situated higher up at an elevation of about 7800 feet above sea level, enjoy pleasant weather almost across the year.
Considered as the wettest place in Himachal, Dharamshala also experiencing a long, wet spell from July up till mid-September. Summers are comparatively hotter with temperatures going up to 40°C around June. Winter starts to set in during October, and the temperature gradually starts to drop. The months from October onwards experience cold and chilly winters with the mercury dropping to around -1°C. December to January experience frequent and good amount of snowfall, especially in Mcleodganj. March onwards the weather starts warming up as the snow begins to thaw. Between April and June, the weather is excellent.
Best time to visit Dharamshala and Mcleodganj: Though Dharamshala and Mcleodganj are accessible throughout the year via road or other alternatives, the best (and safest as well) months to travel are between March and May or October and November. March is also the time of the 3-days long Losar festival. March is also unique as this is the time that the Dalai Lama holds a special 10-days teaching session. The only downside of visiting between April and June is the excessive crowd!
If you are looking for some snow, then later December to early February would be a good time to go. October is also an excellent time to get some splendid clicks as the mountains offer a stunning view. February is an ideal time to catch up with the Himachal Winter Carnival organised in this month. However, January and February aren’t that exciting for the weather is bleak and dull, though you may be able to enjoy some winter sports during this time. These two months, along with July and August are also not recommended if you are looking for a trek.
But, October to November are still the best time of the year to visit Dharamshala and Mcleodganj as the weather is the best during this time of the year.
Planning your road trip
Ride Time: Approx. 11 hours
Route(s) to take from Delhi to Dharamshala:
There are two best routes from Delhi to Dharamshala and Mcleodganj:
#Route 1: Via NH44 and NH503: 9h 47min (approx. 474.3 km)
Delhi – Sonepat – Panipat – Karnal – Kurukshetra – Ambala – Chandigarh – Anandpur Sahib – Una – Kangra – Dharamshala
#Route 2: Via NH9: 11h 58min (approx. 580.1 km)
Delhi – Rohtak – Hisar – Ludhiana – Jalandhar – Hoshiarpur – Una – Kangra – Dharamshala
Road Conditions: Though for the most part, the road journey from Delhi to Dharamshala is a smooth ride, the condition of the road to Dharamshala and Mcleodganj is a mix of average and good. While the highways are good, there are some terrible patches too, especially once you start the climb towards Dharamshala from Una onwards. The road condition deteriorates in this stretch, marked by several potholes on the road, which may slow you down a little. If you are planning a trip during winters, it is best to give an early start (around 4or 5 AM) as it tends to be quite foggy between Delhi and Chandigarh. The route via NH9 has little traffic as compared to the other route, and the road conditions along this route are average.
Trip Budget: Approx. 6,500-10,000
Here’s the break-up:
Fuel costs: ₹2000-₹2500 (for an up to 150cc bike)
Food costs: ₹1200-₹1800
Lodging costs: Approx. ₹1000 upwards per person inclusive of breakfast
Sightseeing and sports: ₹2000-₹2500
Tent Stay at Triund/Other Camps: ₹500-₹1200
What kind of motorbike to use?
If you have set your mind on a road trip through the Dhauladhar ranges, you may take a pick from one of these bikes (they are readily available for rent if you don’t own one). Just make sure that the bike is in excellent condition if you plan to rent a bike for the road trip.
- Bajaj Dominar 400
- Royal Enfield Himalayan
- Kawasaki Versys 650/1000
- KTM 1290 Super Adventure
- Yamaha FJR1300 ES
- Royal Enfield Thunderbird
- Royal Enfield Bullet
- Royal Enfield Thunderbird
- Bajaj Pulsar 220F
Things to pack for your motorbiking trip to Dharamshala:
- Food and beverages
- Carry some snacks and energy bars for the road trip
- Enough water and some energy drink for the way
- Juice and/or lemonade
- Clothes and Gears
- Biking gears to ensure a safe ride
- Trekking gears, especially comfortable track pants and a good pair of trekking shoes, if you plan to go trekking
- If you plan to visit during the winter months (November to March)
- Heavy winter clothes including thermals, warm caps, a pair or two of waterproof and warm gloves and muffler
- A hooded jacket
- Snow boots
- If visiting during summer months between April and June
- Sunscreen lotion
- Regular cotton for the day
- Light woollens for the evenings and nights
- If you are visiting during the monsoons
- Pack clothes that dry faster, preferably polyester
- Carry a pair of waterproof, all-weather shoes
- Other knick-knacks
- Power bank
- Bluetooth speaker
- Chargers for all electronic items that you are carrying
- Personal Items and Toiletries
- Personal ID and Address Proof documents
- Hygiene and personal care items, especially toilet papers and other sanitary items
- A kit consisting of a first-aid kit and other prescribed medicines
- Some cash (as ATMs are not very dependable in these areas)
Best food joints to stop by on the way
- Amrit Sukhdev Dhaba, Murthal
- Karnal Haveli, Murthal
- Bob Dhaba, Kangra
- The Abhis Dhaba, Kangra
- Masala Restaurant, Ranital
- Mannat Dhaba, Murthal
Some information for you once you reach Dharamshala and Mcleodganj
Where to stay?
Dharamshala and Mcleodganj have several options suiting every requirement and pocket. Here are some recommendations:
Resorts & Boutique Hotels
- Asia Health Resort and Spa, Lower Dharamshala
- Club Mahindra Resort, Dharamshala
Udechee Huts, Naddi
Gandhi’s Paradise, Bhagsu
Excellent budget stays, these hotels are managed by Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department. Best of these is the Hotel Bhagsu in Mcleodganj.
Dharamkot has some of the best homestays in Dharamshala, including the famous Eagle’s Nest.
OYO Hotels in Dharamshala and Mcleodganj
Several options are also available from OYO Rooms at Mcleodganj and Dharamshala. Some of these (based on overall guest ratings) include:
Hotel Naddi Hights, Mcleodganj
Hotel Anuj Regency (near Bhagus Nag)
Cozy 3 RK Hill View, Naddi
Hotel Nature’s Feast, Mcleodganj
Funky Town Deluxe, Norbulingka
Hotel The Woodz, Dharamshala
- The Clubhouse, McLeod Ganj
- Hotel Dhauladhar
- Hotel Kashmir House
- Hotel Kunal, Dharamshala
Food options at Dharamshala and Mcleodganj
Mcleodganj is a food connoisseur’s haven – from economical Punjabi dhabas to high-end Italian and Tibetan restaurants, you have numerous options to select from to satiate your taste buds. Here are some recommendations on the restaurants that you may try:
Italian Food: Try Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen and Nick’s Italian Kitchen for some authentic Italian cuisine from pizzas and pasta to lasagne and gnocchi.
Tibetan Food: Of course, you can’t miss out on some Tibetan delicacies when in Dharamshala. Try Tibet Kitchen if you are looking for authentic and mouth-watering Tibetan and Bhutanese food.
Japanese Food: Lung-Ta is an awesome place to get your hands on some real Japanese food. Try the sushi rolls, steamed fish and the Mizo soup when visiting Lung-Ta.
Other well-known and good local restaurants include McLeo Restaurant, Shiva Café (Near Bhagsunag Falls) and Namgyal Café. Besides these, for budget travellers, there are several local eateries along the Bhagsu and Jogiwara road that serve delicious thupkas and soups, sausages and stuffed omelettes.
Where (and what) to shop while here?
Dharamshala offers several shopping options for the shopaholic in you! While here you can shop for Tibetan souvenirs, Buddhist arts and artefacts, different types of teas, handicrafts and Tibetan jewellery, etc.
Some good places to go shopping include the Tibetan Mini Market, Jogiwara Road, Kotwali Bazaar, and the main Mcleodganj market, that sell beautiful Tibetan wares and trinkets such as singing bowls, Buddha statues, prayer flags, bells, decorative hangings, Tibetan jewellery, etc. Besides these, several handicraft shops flourish around the Dalai Lama temple and sell a good collection of items.
Some shops in Dharamshala and Mcleodganj that are worth a visit for the range and quality of their wares include:
Norbulingka Shop: This shop is located at the Norbulingka Institute sells beautiful paintings, wall hangings and decorative items that use the Thangka art form.
Nowrojis: It is one of the oldest shops in Mcleodganj that dates to 1860, selling beautiful metal crafts and wooden paintings and masks.
The Green Shop: Another outlet where you would find exquisitely handcrafted diaries and other paper and ‘green’ items for purchase.
TCV Handicrafts: This shop belongs to a not-for-profit organization and sells various handicrafts from carpets and silverware to Buddhist ritual items and woollens. The proceeds of all sales are used for the education and welfare of the children, especially those of Tibetan refugees.
Dharamshala Tea Company: If you are looking to purchase some tea, this shop will cater to your need with an exclusive array of different kinds of tea to choose from.
Palaco Handmade Crafts: Another shop located near the Dalai Lama temple and famous for its variety of crafts is the Palaco Handmade Crafts. You would find this shop a little high priced compared to others, but the quality of its wares is way superior to others. Shop for lamps, woollen shawls and scarves, and other handmade crafts here. Don’t forget to buy the thangkas from this shop.
Things to do in Dharamshala and Mcleodganj
Dharamshala and the surrounding areas offer plenty of places to visit and explore. Here are some recommendations for places to visit in Dharamshala and Mcleodganj and activities to enjoy:
- Dalai Lama Temple (Tsuglagkhang Complex)
- Norbulingka Institute
- Namgyal Monastery
- Gyuto Monastery
- Bhagsu Nag Temple
- Bhagsu Waterfall
- Shiva Café
- Dal Lake
- Kareri Lake
- Tibet Museum
- Naddi Sunset View Point
- Masroor Rock-Cut Temples
- Kangra Fort
- Triund Hill Trek
- Saint John in the Wilderness Church
- Gunna Devi Temple
- Bhagsunag Temple
- Kalachakra Temple
- Brijeshwari Temple
Activities to enjoy here:
Paragliding at Bir Billing
Boat ride in the Dal Lake
Enjoy the Tibetan cultural heritage in their food and cultural shows
Best Campsites in Dharamshala and Mcleodganj
4.1 km from Dharamshala
INR 3600 per night per person without breakfast
Dharamkot and Triund Camp
1 km from Mcleodganj Main Market
INR 2800 plus per night per person
Himalayan Quest Camp & Café
6.3 km from Dharamshala
INR 2000 per night per person including breakfast
Kareri Village and Lake Camps
15 km from Dharamshala
INR 4720 per night per person including breakfast
Snow Monk Camp
15 km from Dharamshala
INR 4600 per night per person including breakfast
Trekking options in Dharamshala and Mcleodganj
Mcleodganj to Bhagasunath falls
- Ghanjar Maharj
Other interesting facts you should know
Almost all major banks have their branches and ATMs at Dharamshala & Mcleodganj.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any petrol pumps in Mcleodganj, Dharamshala is the last where you will get a petrol pump. Though there are some enroute to Dharamshala.
However, mechanics are readily available in Dharamshala though they are fewer in Mcleodganj, mainly for puncture fixes.
Both Dharamshala and Mcleodganj have a good network of hospitals, pharmacies and clinics.
- All major service providers from Airtel, Idea, BSNL to Vodafone offer good connectivity including 4G data in the area. Most hotels and restaurants have good high-speed internet and Wi-Fi.
Suggestive Itinerary for a 4 days bike trip to Dharamshala and Mcleodganj
Start from Delhi early morning around 4-5 AM. Stop at the famous Sukhdev Da Dhaba for some tea and breakfast. Don’t forget to taste their paranthas. Continue towards Anandpur Sahib Gurudwara and take an early lunch. Enjoy the sumptuous langar here before continuing towards Dharamshala. You would arrive at your destination towards late evening. Take rest after the long bike ride. Enjoy dinner at your hotel or Mcleodganj Café.
Start your morning with a walk around Upper Dharamshala. Visit the Tsuglagkhang Complex and Namgyal Monastery, followed by lunch at Namgyal Café or Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen. Later visit the Dal Lake and enjoy the sunset at the Sunset Point. Spend the evening shopping at the Kotwali Bazaar and Jogiwara road.
Give and early start next morning and head to the Bhagsu Nag temple and fall and later relax at Shiva Cafe. Take lunch at the Café and head out for the Masroor rock-cut temple followed by the Kangra fort this day. Also, club in a visit to the petite but beautiful Dharamshala cricket stadium. Return to enjoy a bonfire and tent experience at a camping site. Book a tent with sleeping bags and enjoy the night with a small bonfire and some steaming hot rice and dal just for ₹130 a person.
Early the next morning, trek down back to Mcleodganj. Visit Gyuto Monastery and the Norbulingka Institute. You may also enjoy paragliding or zipline at Indrunag. Spend the evening trying out some of the recommended food joints and shopping for souvenirs.
Start back for Delhi in the morning. You may plan a pit stop at Chintapurniji on your return stop and enjoy the tranquillity of the place.
Other Useful Tips
Though Mcleodganj is quite a safe place for a tourist, some patches become secluded after sunset, and it is essential that you are careful.
Mcleodganj has a regular electric supply, but power cuts are frequent. It may be useful to carry a torch that may come handy once the darkness sets in. Places such as the Triund trail becomes quite deserted after sunset and it would be good to plan your trek accordingly.
Being a conservative, Buddhist community, it would be best that one avoids wearing too body-hugging or revealing clothes.