The call of the mountains: Rishikesh, McLeodganj, Dharamkot and Bir

Q.

Hey,

We’re a group of 3 friends planning to travel to Rishikesh (2 nights) and then head to Himachal Pradesh for 6 nights to see Bir, McLeodganj and Dharamkot. I’m open to suggestions of more places we should see there. We will be flying into Dehradun and out of Chandigarh.

It would be great if you could suggest and help plan some experiences we shouldn’t miss and accommodation options (also hostels) to stay in.

Thanks.

Anuj

Hey Anuj,

Sounds like a great trip! But do pack warm, since you’re not likely to be greeted with central heating ☺

RISHIKESH

It's easy to see why the Beatles loved Rishikesh too

Sadly, rafting in Rishikesh isn’t as exciting as it used to be so what I’d really suggest you do there is stay just outside the city where it’s quieter and views of the river are better, or wander around if you’re staying in the city. You could go to Haridwar for the daily evening aarti ceremony, which is a more low key affair than the one in Varanasi but still interesting.

Rajaji National Park: I have not been here myself but I had recommended it to some clients who travelled here last year and enjoyed it. This 820sqkm park is home to elephants, sloth bears, tigers and goral. You can read more about the park here.

Accommodation

Seventh Heaven Inn: This is not exactly a hostel but they have lovely, large and clean en-suite rooms from Rs 2,200 approx. They also organise yoga activities etc.

Glasshouse on the Ganges: If you’re looking for a quiet retreat on the banks of the Ganges this Neemrana property is your best bet. Not cheap, though.

Wild Brook Retreat (inside Rajaji National Park): This is where my clients had stayed and they’d liked it. They can organise jeep safaris inside the park as well as arrange to pick you up from Rishikesh etc.

MCLEODGANJ

McLeodganj is as beautiful as it is peaceful

I have not been in this area in the winter so I am not sure which outdoor activities will be available when you are there. As the region experiences rain and snow in winter (highest amount of snowfall experienced in Jan) you’ll really need to see what the weather is each day before deciding what to do.

These are the historical averages:

This article talks about McLeodGanj in the winter.

Here are the activities that you definitely will be able to do in the winter:

Activities

Tibet Museum (Dharamsala): This museum has photographs of Tibet and tells the story of refugees and their journey to India. They also show a documentary film on the same at 11am and 3pm everyday. The museum is shut Mondays and Saturdays.

Tsuglakhang Temple Complex: The spiritual and religious heart of McLeodGanj. More info here.

MY FAVOURITES

  • Norbulingka Institute
  • Kangra Fort
  • Kangra Valley Narrow Gauge Train
  • Pragpur

Norbulingka Institute (30 min / 10km away in Sidhpur): This is where you will see Tibetan arts and handicrafts being showcased, such as wood-carving, thagka painting, etc. Rather than a mere shop or museum this gives a much more enjoyable glimpse into Tibetan culture. There’s also a doll museum where the dolls show the different clothes and living traditions of different parts of Tibet, and also Norling House which is one of the accommodation options of Norbulingka Institute. Norling House has lovely rooms with great views but I think you will find it isolated in the winter and it is located outside McLeodGanj.

Kangra Fort (20km from Dharamsala): This was one of my personal favourite bits of this area. The fort is sprawling and picturesque with a very interesting history. Read more here and here.

Narrow Gauge / Toy train: This is a lovely way of experiencing the Kangra Valley. You can take the train from Kangra Station (27km from McLeodGanj) and travel to Palampur and beyond. This train line was opened in the 1920s. There’s a nice documentary about this here. You can get more information here and here.

Accommodation

Chonor House (McLeodGanj): This is a hotel that’s on my personal bucket list as I didn’t stay here when I visited. The rooms are simple but decorated with Tibetan paintings and furniture. They have a cute café that serves tea and cakes.

DHARAMKOT

I have not been to Dharamkot myself. I found this interesting article about it.

BIR

This is a pretty detailed and well-researched article about Bir.

Accommodation

Zostel:

Have you stayed at a Zostel yet? I’m quite intrigued by the concept though I haven’t stayed at any myself.

Looks like a nice place to stay. You may meet more travellers also.

OTHER NEARBY PLACES

Norbulingka is a treasure trove of Tibetan arts

Pragpur: The perfectly preserved stone and brick houses of Pragpur are just over an hour’s drive from Dharamsala. This 16th century heritage village is set in the fruit and flower filled Kangra Valley. There’s a beautiful turn of the century country manor here if you decide to stay overnight: Judge’s Court.

Palampur: The tea estates of Palampur are close by. Palampur’s misty hillsides and clear views of the white capped mountains make it an ideal place for a quiet overnight stopover staying in cottages on a tea estate such as Country Cottage or in the grander Taragarh Palace.

Have a great trip!

Shalome

Photos: Header: Su Yin Chen, 123RF
Rishikesh rafting: Minerva Basumatary @marvelsofmin
McLeodganj: @o_choru_
Norbunglinka Institute: @sixyeargapyear

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