Tibetan Buddhist Meditation and Yoga in Dharamkot – North India (Himachal Pradesh)
When I did my Yoga Teacher Training December 2016, I went to South India for the 2nd time and I love it down there! But it has been my dream for many years to finally explore North India a little bit. My Yoga teacher Vijay Amar is in Dharamkot (also known as the village near Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj) half of the year, so I knew I wanted to meet him there to practice more. After saving a bit of money in the last months in Australia I booked a flight End of April 2018 to India, this time I didn’t plan to volunteer. I wanted to have a holiday and just focus on practicing Yoga and Meditation and live in the moment. End of April, Mai and June are the summer months in the mountains before the monsoon. The timing was perfect!
Arriving in McLeod Ganj
The area of McLeod Ganj is home for many Tibetans and the Dalai Lama who have to live in exile. On a about 2000m, it is built into the hills in Himachal Pradesh. You can take a bus or a flight to reach the little mountain town. I took a flight from Delhi and met two travelers at the airport to share a taxi to McLeod which was about 800Rs. I spent the first days in town not far from the main square and slowly adapted to being back in India. After asking a bit around and walking away from the main spots, I found a little room with cold shower for 300Rs a night. This was quite cheap since it was the start of the main season. In McLeod Ganj you’ll find a lot of restaurants, shops and activities, but it’s also quite busy and the traffic is loud.
Tibetan Culture in McLeod Ganj
I’m super interested in Tibetan Buddhist Traditions so I went to the Dalai Lama Temple many times. I found it most beautiful around sunset and one evening I listened to the chanting of the monks for 1-2 hours. The Dalai Lama doesn’t teach that often any more, but luckily on my last day he gave a special tantric initiation and it was a beautiful teaching! Make sure to check his website every day when you are there and register with passport and photo. The temple opened super early around 5:30 am and you could still register there. Also I highly recommend the cultural center Tibet World, they offer Yoga, Culture shows with dancing and volunteering options. If you teach english there you get the chance to get to know the monks and become part of the community.
Walks to Tibetan Stupas
The walk down behind the Dalai Lama Temple is a beautiful Stupa walk with many prayer wheels and I found it very special. Another nice walk is up in Dharamkot, just walk into the forest up in front of the Tushita centre and you will find two Stupas, many prayer flags and huts of monks, who are in retreat in the forest. From there you can walk down to Naddi village which is also interesting.
Restaurants in McLeod Ganj
In McLeod Ganj I loved the sunset from the Temple or the rooftops! There are many small indian food huts, so it’s cheap to eat out and also a number of international restaurants. Of course I also tried on of the many Tibetan restaurants which are very nice, my highlight were the spinach momons at Cafe Tibet Cafe. If you like Japanese food, definitely try the vegetarian restaurant Lung Ta in lower McLeod Ganj, it’s not expensive and the daily changing food is amazing.
Bhagsu is the next village a little further down, you can easily walk from McLeod Ganj or Dharamkot. It’s a bit busy with traffic and people especially on the weekends, when many indian families stay there. I liked the indian restaurants down there and they have many places for Yoga classes. The Temple is a highlight with its popular pool, I didn’t go in but many Tibetans and Indian men and kids seemed to love it. I quite liked Bhagsu waterfall, there are some quiet places for meditation and enjoying a chai, just don’t go on a busy Sunday.
Mountain village Dharamkot
After a few days I moved up to Dharamkot because it is much more quiet and I again found a room with cold shared shower for 300Rs but it took me a while. I loved how the locals live with their cows and do some farming and rent rooms to all those hippies who come up to the mountains from hot Goa. There are a few interesting walks and treks close by.
I went to drop in Yoga classes daily and can highly recommend Universal Yoga Center. It was great to meet my teacher Vijay again after practicing with him in Goa nearly two years ago. I love his led Ashtanga classes but also like Hatha Vinyasa. Most travelers seem to hang out in cafés all day and there is even a little night life going on here and there.
Tushita Meditation Centre
Dharamkot is blessed with a Vipassana and a Tushita Meditation Centre just next to each other, many people come for those retreats. I loved the ten-day course Introduction into Buddhism at Tushita, they teach you a lot about Tibetan Buddhism and you practice a number of lead meditations. The focus is more on the teachings than on meditation I found and I was expecting that, such a beautiful course! The food is delicious and accommodation very simple, you have to sign up early to get a spot.
I ate Momos pretty much every day in Dharamkot and also in McLeod Ganj, never had a bad experience with the vegetarian ones I bought in the street. Up in Dharamkot there was this little health food truck with momos, juices and vegan chai, it maybe doesn’t look super clean, but I ate there daily and felt super healthy! And I loved the vegan Thali at Joy Food in Dharamkot, it’s cheap, healthy and super tasty.
I wasn’t into trekking too much in Dharamkot, but people loved the day trek to Triund. I only walked up to Gallu Temple (Aditya Cafe Road and then up the stairs and hill) and from there to the waterfall through the lovely forest. Make sure you wear some shoes, it’s quite a hike and you need to climb a little. The waterfall is super quiet and beautiful with deep clear pools and nice rocks to climb a little.
I had an amazing month in the mountains with lots of Yoga and Meditation. Afterwards I took a bus down to Rishikesh, there is a direct bus once a day. If you have any chance to plan your trip differently, go to Rishikesh first and then up in the mountains (which is the normal travel route). Otherwise the heat will be a bit crazy, especially in Mai and June.