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A Month in Dharamsala with a purpose | Yoga and Volunteering in Mcleodganj

Finally, travel with a purpose.

Today, I started my yoga intensive teacher training classes with Himalaya Yoga Valley!

Many travelers come to Dharamsala with a purpose

In Mcleodganj, Dharamsala you’ll come across many travelers, who have come for a purpose.

Some come to study yoga at the ashrams, do a Buddhist meditation retreat, study Ayurveda or take Tibetan Buddhist studies. Others, come to participate in volunteer projects, teaching English to Tibetans and monks, ridding the natural environment of trash that’s been thrown into the valley or come on pilgrimage to meet his Holiness, the Dalai Lama (or the Karmapa)!

There’s not a lack of purpose in Mcleodganj. In fact, if you came without a purpose, you might feel a little out of place.

But not to worry, Mcleodganj welcomes all.

Already I’ve been here a week and  did so many things that I hadn’t planned. I went hiking, took a cooking class on Tibetan momos, met some long-term Mcleodganj squatters, volunteered at an English center for Tibetans, explored the Dalai Lama’s temple, the list goes on…. But yesterday, I finally dropped my bags!

 Guesthouses at Baga (The opposite town of Mcleodganj, but not more than a 20 minute walk)
mcleodganj guesthouses, dharamsala guesthouses Guesthouses in Mcleodganj (there’s a LOT)

Food in Mcleodganj

Mcleodganj is a crosstown of Tibetan, Indian, hippy and Asian. Food wise, you’ll find Tibetan, Indian, organic vegetarian, Japanese and Korean restaurants. Lots of  fresh fruit and veg stalls in town and grocery stores for basic necessities.  Practice standard food safety tips for traveling abroad, where it comes to street food.  Water is still quite bad here, so drink only filtered or bottled. There’s a handful of vendors in town who will sell purified water whereupon all you need do is bring a pitcher or water bottle and pay them to fill it up. It’s cheaper than buying bottled water.  Or you can bring a SteriPen water purifier. Here’s other options.

what is sherpa food, mcleodganjSherpa Food vendor


I have an apartment in Mcleodganj

For the next month, I’m a resident of Mcleodganj, doing my Yoga Teacher Training Certification program (read here).  I’m staying at the Sidarth House.

I’ve stayed at two other guesthouses at Mcleodganj, before I could move into this one. All of them were pretty enormous rooms for a single person. This is the nicest, with the most accommodations to make it feel like an apartment. I have an enormous room with a mini kitchen, a spacious bedroom with a TV, closet and dressers and an outdoor balcony.  I’m just below the yoga shala (which is on the top floor) and the rest of the yoga ttc students will be staying in this guesthouse, as well.

It’s quite swank, especially for lodgings in India.

Best of all, after a month of traveling India (from Mumbai-Goa-Hampi-Gokarna-Cochin-Alleypey-Trivandrum-Kanyakumari-Madurai-Trivandrum-Delhi)… I finally get to root down!

The Sidarth House mcleodganj, guesthouses in mcleodganj dharamsala, long-term rentals in mcleodganj, places to stay in mcleodganj

The Sidarth House: One of the many guesthouses in Mcleodganj and where I’m staying for a month, while doing my training.The Sidarth House mcleodganj, guesthouses in mcleodganj dharamsala, places to stay in mcleodganj, long-term rentals in mcleodganjMy huge room with a view and outdoor balcony

The Sidarth House mcleodganj, guesthouses in mcleodganj dharamsala, places to stay in mcleodganj

My apartment kitchen The Sidarth House mcleodganj, guesthouses in mcleodganj dharamsala, places to stay in mcleodganj, toilets in mcleodganj Spacious bathroom
The Sidarth House mcleodganj, guesthouses in mcleodganj dharamsala, places to stay in mcleodganj, long-term rentals in mcleodganjCloset


Creating a relationship with a place 

Anchoring myself to a place means having time to  get to know its community and live its lifestyle.  For me, this is  an exciting perk of long-term travel and the part I’ve been looking forward to. You get to spend your time in a place, exploring it and gaining a deeper understanding of it.

I like to think it’s about creating relationships.  Relationships are what makes the places you visit beautiful, meaningful.

Being in my second month in India, my favorite places are of places, where I have the most fulfilling memories.

music, flute player, indian snake charmer



To awaken each day to the lush green of mountains and occasional goat herders with their pack and Tibetan flags… To stroll the streets, to pass a cobbler running his business part street-part shack, buy groceries from street fruit vendors and wait for a donkey to pass so you can continue your stroll on the narrow stone walkway to your guesthouse.  The streets are small and winding, so you essentially see some of the same faces daily. It’s calm and a place you could call home. On weekends, I could trek the mountains or visit the neighborhood town of Bagsu.  I wanted to live in Dharamsala to experience this and more. So I chose a yoga school in Mcleodganj. Okay, the school is actually based in Goa, but they run a program seasonally in Mcleodganj.

Of all the Indian ashrams and Ashtanga yoga training schools, I narrowed it down by location. I wanted to be in Dharamsala..  in the mountains,… in a Tibetan community. The Dalai Lama’s residence is in Mcleodganj, so you’ll be seeing a lot of crimson robed monks in the streets. The temple of the Karmapa is a taxi ride away.  I wanted the Be attitudes of compassion and mindfulness to be a constant reminder to me in my environment.

Even though Tibetan monks are a very passionate sect and there is still much political unrest for Tibetans!

tibetan buddhist monks in mcleodganj, monks in dharamsala, dalai lama temple

tibetan monks make sand drawing mandala, monks making a mandala in mcleodganj, dalai lama temple Monks design a maṇḍala in the temple of the Dalai Lama mcleodganj india

Short-term and long-term volunteer programs in Mcleodganj

There are many ways for travelers to make a difference in Mcleodganj.

There are many programs for travelers like myself (even short-term ones) to have a positive impact on the community, and it doesn’t entail dishing out gross amounts of money on “voluntourism”. I’m surprised how easy it is to find and take part in volunteer programs here. There are signs everywhere.

The Tibetan volunteer programs are smart. They know how to use short-term travelers and their swing-shift schedules, as well as, long-term travelers.

I’ve noticed there are three main types of volunteer programs:

  • English Conversation: You show up in a room filled with travelers and Tibetans, find a Tibetan and converse with them to help them practice their speaking skills. Usually, there is a facilitator, who might have prepared questions written for you to ask. If you have more time to commit, you can tutor people or teach at one of the facilities. (There are a few of these programs)
  • Environmental cleanup: Dharamsala has a bad littering problem. You go out and help clean this up.
  • Daycare/Babysitting: You babysit and accompany Tibetan toddlers to where the program needs to take them.
volunteer programs in dharamsala mcleodganj, english conversation volunteer programs in india

Volunteer organization: Gu Chu Sum Movement of Tibet litter problem in Dharamsala, Dharamsala problemsLittering problem in Mcleodganj and a volunteer program that aims to clean Dharamsala

Volunteer organization: Tibet Hope Center dharamsala mcleodganj

Volunteer organization: Tibet Hope Center (check here for how you can help).  They also offer all inclusive stay and pickup from Delhi, starting at $200 (1 week), which doesn’t sound too bad. What you’re in actuality donating is still very low.

Where to volunteer in Mcleodganj

Volunteering with non-profit organizations in Mcleodganj is as easy and open, as donating an hour or more of your time to pick up trash in Dharamsala or joining an informal English conversation group with Tibetan students. Many organizations are flexible to travelers and their schedules.

For travelers, it’s a great opportunity to meet people, get involved in the community .

Rogpa ( runs a child day care center and a coffee shop with a clothes donation clothes section. Located on Jogiwara Road (just before the steep steps going down the hill to other guesthouses, they are a small shop which also posts fun events and performances around the town. Volunteers needed: companions for the children and babies and people to work in their shop. Clothes donations are welcome and will either be donated to refugees or resold for charity.

Gu Chu Sum Movement of Tibet ( provides help to Tibetan political refugees and former political prisoners. Their classes (from 4:30pm-6:30pm).

Tibet Hope Center ( is a center in which volunteers can offer their time to conversation classes (from 4:30pm-6:30pm), community cleanup, being nanny’s to children and English language classes.

The start of my Yoga TTC program: What’s in a room name?

Each room at my guesthouse  has a theme and a name. For me, a name encapsulates an essence and an energy. I’m in “Music“.

Each room has it’s own name and theme

Originally, I was in “Ocean“… until I saw it.  First floor, basement-level, corner room, dark, lifeless, dead energy. No flow.  And though it opened to a lovely patio sun deck, I had no balcony to bring in light or air. It didn’t sing.

Being in “Music” feels livelier and I literally, have musical instruments as decor in my room. I don’t know how to play them…  But that doesn’t matter.  Getting settled in, I’ve already met “Happy“, “Taj Mahal” and “Sun“.

So far the yoga student’s (of this program) personalities are aligned to their room names. “Happy” (Autum) is bursting with bubbliness and Red Bull. The “Taj”(Kristina) is graceful and elegant, with a very statuesque demeanor. And “Sun” (Maria) is strong, confident and centered.  I’m hoping our room names are indicative  of the energy, talent or personality, we bring and will share with others in our teaching.

indian musical instruments, Indian sitar, indian guitar

Indian sitar?.

mcleodganj road, dharamsala

Me in Mcleodganj!


How to get to Mcleodganj:

Mcleod Ganj is about 20 kilometers away from Dharamsala and is accessible by frequent buses and taxis.

Bus: From Delhi, take the overnight bus directly to Mcleod Ganj or to Pathankot. If you get to Pathankot, you will need to transfer (likely you’ll get dropped away from the bus station) via tuk-tuk to the Pathankot station; from there you’ll take the government bus to Dharamsala and transfer to the bus to Mcleod Ganj.

Train: A train from Delhi to Pathankot (the closest station to Mcleod) takes approx 7 hours and will cost around 1400 Indian Rupees for a seat in second or third AC. Sleeper and day trains run  daily. When you arrive in Pathankot station you can get a taxi  to  Mcleod for around 2500 Indian Rupees and approx 2 + hours.
Flight:  The airport is 40 minutes away.
Accommodation: There is wealth of guesthouses in McLeod Ganj, with dorm rooms starting at 150 rupees per night. Longer-term lodging, rooms can be found with cooking facilities and range from 3000-6000 rupees (US$60-$120) per month. Villages near Jogibara Road, below McLeod Ganj, and around Bagsu Road offer quieter accommodation out of town.

Note: Above is appended information I got through my yoga school, and information I discovered on my own.


Related articles on Yoga in India and Dharamsala


  1. A very inspirational post about social awareness and humanitarian action. Dharamsala is truly a heaven on earth for me because of its sacred mountains. I fell in love with the place even if I was there for a 4-day vacation and got to attend the Dalai Lama’s teaching on Jataka Tales in February 2013. I wasn’t able to volunteer, but Tibetans are in my prayers for the peace and freedom that they deserve.

  2. Anupriya says:

    I want to go to Dharamshala for peace of mind and to find myself. I’ve been struggling with depression ever since middle school and I’m in my second year of college now. I was thinking of going there for an internship of sorts, where I’d be required to help with education for children. I also wanted to learn proper meditation and yoga, though not for a profession. Could you please provide a deeper insight into whether this will prove to be beneficial for me? I want to stay there for about at least a month, and have a better sense of my inner being. Is it common to sight people my age living alone there? Have you during your stay come across anything that one should beware of? I appreciate your response. Thank you!

  3. Anurag Verma says:

    Thank you so much for the wonderful informations. You have shown me a way but I have a question, what if I do not have money? can I earn there while travelling? Is there any ashram that provides free accommodations?

  4. Tratul says:

    Hi. I am planning to visit Dharamshala this May and stay there for probably 2 months. Could you please tell me about the living expenses in Dharamshala? Also how can I find a single room apartment for renting?

  5. varun says:

    Thanks for the lovely blog. Be always blessed and have your inner peace. What we seek is within us … yet I am searching too. ☺ Do keep posting about your amazing adventures!

  6. John says:

    really appreciate your article, at you can learn yoga at dharamshala, rishikesh india, Thailand.

  7. Bellofpeace says:

    Yoga is a systematic attack to ego

  8. Karunya says:

    Hi Christine,

    Totally enjoyed reading your blog @ Dharamsala. I am planning on heading to the area this December/Jan but am not sure if this is the best time to visit the place:

    Do you recommend taking up some Yoga + Volunteering in Dharamsala in December? Have you been there around that time of the year? I hear it gets very it manageable?

    How is it living there as a single Woman ? How safe, How did you like it? Do you have any recommendations on places to stay? I read up about the place you rented out , how safe was it?

    Would really appreciate your inputs, wud def help me plan out my trip :))


    • @Karunya: Thanks for your questions. I’ve only been to Dharamsala around springtime (April) and while the rest of India felt like it summer, Dharamsala felt like winter (around 50 deg F). I imagine Dec/Jan would be very cold. Check the weather forecast or Lonely Planet to see what the temperatures might be. McLeodganj sells wool blankets, armwarmers, scarves etc that many travelers end up getting to bundle up and they’re pretty funky styles but pants, sweaters & jackets, they don’t sell and one of each is what you’ll want. No heating so bring a sleeping bag and ask your guesthouse for extra blankets.

      Dharamsala has a large population of Tibetan exiles and buddhist monks and higher up the mountain in McLeodganj (the main backpacker area, where I stayed) or the neighboring village towns of Bhagsu & Dharamkot, it’s probably the cleanest and most relaxed I’ve seen India; like an oasis. Tibetans are pretty laid back and aren’t strong hagglers/business folk, so I always felt safe and like I was getting a fair quote. Also, they don’t seem as horny or repressed? LOL. As a woman, I felt safe knowing that I didn’t have to watch out for groping or men approaching me in the wrong way. Not to mention, you see monks EVERYWHERE. It’s the safest I felt in all of India. But one should still be on their guard and not walk around late at night..

      Internet cafes and bars are open fairly late and you’ll see travelers in them. Occasionally there are rain storms and periodic blackouts at night; I wouldn’t want to be out alone then (only bc it can feel miserable). My gh was below Jogibara Road & the step/walkway is steep, dark and isn’t well constructed. Rooms in ghs can be a tad more spacious there w/ nice views, but you’ll be hiking to get into town and I’d buy a flashlight at one of the stores.

      There’s a wealth of guesthouses & they all range in price. If you’re staying for a good length of time (which is common for travelers to do here), you’ll get a better bargain. The monastery run guesthouses are probably of the cheapest, central and safe, but they’re basic. If my yoga program weren’t located below Jogibara Road, I would’ve wanted to support the Tibetan guesthouses more just because the community has been through so much persecution and were held back from thriving in China. Our yoga program (Indian run) also told us that most Tibetans are honest and run a fair price, so we shouldn’t try to haggle them down too much.

      Yoga wise: you’ll see signs posted up. One of my reiki teachers, Aryan Vedh (good guy) also does a yoga ttc, there’s Kailash school, Om yoga (?) and an Iyengar school closer to Bhagsu.

      All-in-all, there’s nothing scary to Dharamsala. Other than the weather, I wouldn’t say there’s much you need to plan for. When you arrive you’ll find more resources and community events/things to do at your fingertips than you imagined! Hope this answers your questions! Safe travel wings & best of luck to you.

      Keep us posted!

  9. Woman, it’s like you have a home all over again. At least for a while. “No flow.” LOL. I hear ya, this is going to be an exciting chapter in your life!

    • @Jeannie: Definitely a home for a while but it takes adjusting just like Korea. Recently came upon stomach issues so even tho the Tibetan food is easy for me, I find myself wanting comfort food. It’s so weird how the idea of “living” in a foreign place changes your perspective of things like food, diet and health, etc..

  10. Laura in Cancun says:

    No. Friggin. Way. Is that your view? Seriously? For real?

  11. Gray says:

    That is a sweet little apartment you’ve got there! I think you can have music in your heart even if you can’t technically play a musical instrument. I have a feeling you’re going to learn a lot about yourself this month.

  12. Dharma says:

    Which kind of yoga teacher training are you doing? All the best. Which tradition?

  13. “The universe is perfect and exacting like that.” ~ True! Stoked for your move and yoga training, get some GRRRL!

  14. Great post – sounds amazing!!!! Id love to go to India long term and learn yoga…Im visiting for the first time in 2 weeks, and Im already planning to go back as it just seems like a magical place.

    Enjoy nesting in your new digs!

    • @nicole: Thanks & have a great time in India! If you’re in Dharamsala within a month, give me a holler! How long is your trip for?

      @Joshy: Thanks, J! My apt is only for a month, but it will be nice to get to know someplace for that long.

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