26 Things to Know Before Traveling Dharamsala, Mcleodganj

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Things to know before traveling to Dharamsala | Getting my Yoga Teacher Training in Dharamsala

Mcleodganj is a backpacker enclave high in the hills, where travelers love feeling a part of the Indo-Tibetan community. Crimson robes filled the streets reminding you that you are in a place of Buddhism. This Dharamsala travel guide shares things to know before traveling Dharamsala.

26 Things to Know Before Traveling Dharamsala

1. Mcleodganj

Traveling to Dharamsala most travelers stay in Mcleodganj and they stay from weeks to months. On one side, you have a city of monasteries and temples and red-robed monks roaming the streets, eating at restaurants and cute cafes. On the other side, you have scenic valley vistas, towering mountain ranges and the feeling of being closely connected with nature. There’s a surprising amount of things to do for such a small town.

I arrived in Dharamsala and got a month-long rental room in an guesthouse so I could have a home base for an  intensive yoga teacher training certification class program with Himalaya Yoga Valley.

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IMG 2447 Guesthouses at Bagsu (The opposite town of Mcleodganj, but not more than a 10-20 minute walk) Guesthouses in Mcleodganj (there’s a LOT)

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2. Hiking

You can trek to Triund or visit Bhasu Falls nearby in the neighboring town of Bhagsu. There are a lot of pastures to explore in these hills where you might find goat herders, travelers or monks laying their clothes out to dry.

dharamasala views
Dharamsala Views

3. Bhagsu Falls

Located in the neighboring town of Bhagsu, Bhagsu Falls is an impressive waterfall for this hilly region.

Bhagsu Falls
Bhagsu Falls in Bhagsu, a neighboring small town of McLeod Ganj

4.  Momos and taking a Tibetan Momo cooking class

Indo-Tibetan food is at the heart of cooking in Mcleodganj. You’ll find many Tibetan food cafes and of course, momos from the street to restaurants. I took a Tibetan momo cooking class with Llamo Cooking Class. It was my first cooking class and it took place in Llamo’s humble home. It was surprisingly fun and relatively easy to make. When I got back home to New York, I made it a lot!

Tibetan momo cooking class with Llamo Cooking Class, tibetan cooking class mcleod ganj
Tibetan momo cooking class with Llamo Cooking Class

 

5. Attend a Dalai Lama sermon

Tsuglagkhang Complex (aka the Dalai Lama Temple) is a definite must. It houses a Tibet Museum (Hours: 9a-5p) and you’ll find many residential monks roaming the grounds for spiritual training, debate and sermons. Check out the His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s sermon schedule. Hours: 5am-8pm . Address: Temple Road, Central Chapel (near the main square)

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Dalai Lama Parade
Dharamsala travel guide
Dharamsala travel guide

6. Watch monks debate

One of the monk practices and training in Tsuglagkhang monastery is debate. You’ll find that compassion and calm is not a monk’s only emotion. During a monk debate, they are known to get pretty fiery!

7. Get blessings from the Karmapa

Not far from McLeod Ganj, situated in Gyuto Monastery in Sidbhari, Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the 17th Karmapa.There are different sects in Buddhism and each sect has their own spiritual leader. The karmapa is similar to the Dalai Lama but a different sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Read my incredible experience meeting the karmapa.  Check out the Karmapa’s schedule for meeting and sermon updates.

8. Study yoga or alternative healing

Dharamsala has many reputable yoga schools offering 200 and 500 hour teacher training programs along with drop in classes.   There is also an Iyengar Institute located in a woodsy area on the edge of McLeod Ganj ; it’s a perfect escape into nature.

Yoga teacher training courses in Dharamsala

Here are some teacher training courses in Dharamsala. It is up to you to research and find the best yoga teaching for you.

Yoga Vidya Mandaram– 22 Day 200 Hour Hatha & Ashtanga Teacher Training in Dharamsala- Dharamkot, starts $1599

Sarvaguna Yoga– 28 day 300 Hour Dual style Teacher Training in Dharamsala- $1606

Om Yoga Ashram – 25 day 200 Hour Yoga teacher training, starts at $750 (stay at an ashram over a guesthouse)

Aranya Yoga Ashram– 31 day 300 Hour Multi-style Yoga teacher training, starts at $1855 (includes ashram housing)

Read: Things to know about yoga ashrams . or Guide to Yoga in India

yoga teacher training certification in india, yoga ttc india
Yoga teacher training certification program

9. Get spiritual healings and readings

Dharamsala has a community of visiting and resident teachers, who offer a variety of workshops, healing sessions and classes. Learn and/or practice healing: Reiki, Ayurvedic, Energy. I also took a reiki advanced certification workshop and had an energy healing to help heal my muscle fatigue during my yoga session. I also had a local astrology reading. Look for signs advertising classes posted on community walls around town. They all cost a fraction of what I might pay in the U.S.

10. McLeod Ganj’s Main Street

McLeod Ganj’s Main Street is Jogiwara Road. The street is lined with businesses from cafes, restaurants with rooftop views of the valley, bookstores, souvenir shops. McLeod Ganj’s main street is Jogiwara Road.

McLeod Ganj's Main Square of Jogiwara
McLeod Ganj’s Main Square of Jogiwara
shoe repair in india, shoe men in india
Street vendors in Mcleodganj: Shoe repair vendors
Read 5 Essential Tips for India

11.  McLeod Ganj is easy town to live long-term

Dharamsala is a city in Himchal Pradesh. It is so removed from the craziness of India that it doesn’t feel like India. Mcleod Ganj is a small town in Dharamsala (nicknamed Little Lhasa) . It is also the home to the Dalai Lama.  The lush hills and valleys tell a different story of beautiful skies, nature and laid back Indo-Tibetan community which seems for the most part, content. There is a strong backpacker-traveler flux which comes through this town, so the streets are lined with businesses from cafes, restaurants with rooftop views of the valley, bookstores, souvenir shops.

You’ll find many travelers extending their stay in this town, sometimes for a month or longer.

12. Learn astrology

You can learn astrology at Men-Tsee-Kang, the Tibetan Medical & Astrological Institute.

13.  Mcleodganj will test your fitness

Due to the hilly setting, you’re practically hiking daily getting from shop to shop. Having my apartment and yoga shala located at the base of a hill, it was  a daily StairMaster hike  up a crumbling 300+ stairway just to get meals. That one steep stair was my only access to town, where there are grocery stores and restaurants and believe me, after a day of developing aching limbs training in yoga, you’ll wish you didn’t have to eat!

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My daily climb: The town piping system-adding to the culprit of contaminated water

14. Limited water supply

There is a lot, lot, lot of beauty in Dharamsala and it feels like such a sanctuary. But there are ugly sides  which make you more aware of how your footprint and waste has an impact on the community and its cleanliness. Spaces for vendors are limited and some spill over into the road.

Trash disposal is separated by recyclables and perishables.  Due to the limited water supply, you’re asked to not take long baths or to use your water wisely. I’m forced to develop a more eco-friendly awareness, knowing this is my temporary home and I must do my part to conserve water, eradicate waste efficiently and protect my home’s loveliness.mcleod ganj water supply

environmental recycling in india, dharamsala clean environment programs, keep dharamsala clean

15. Beware of Monkeys

Dharamsala has wild monkeys which roam and scamper on rooftops. Remember to close your windows and doors and never leave belongings outdoors unattended.

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16. Thunderstorms and occasional power cuts

Despite being April and other parts of India are spitting with sweat, weather in McLeod Gganj can be freakishly cold. At nights, it can feel like it’s 40 degrees Celsius and that brisk feeling can mellow out to 70 degrees Celsius by 11:00am. Street vendors sell wool blankets and scarves and they are a godsend if you haven’t packed for winter.

And thunder storms… oh, how they howl and boom with rabid ferocity, only to pitter-patter and clear up the next day, releasing a mountain full of yellow butterflies! I lived with occasional power outages, an eco-aware attitude about recycling and  got used to the fact that a 10- minute hot shower was necessary to keep Dharamsala clean and healthy.

17. Visiting Mcleod ganj Hospital

Staying a month in Dharamsala, I got comfortable and slacked where it came to food safety. So I got sick with amoebic dysentary. India is great because it has a lot of local pharmacies and they are easy to find. Nevertheless, I visited a doctor (who’s diagnosis wasn’t accurate), then ultimately, ended up at  Mcleod Ganj hospital, a five minute drive from my apartment. As a small hospital servicing a small hill community, the facilities were old but good. I was clear health in a week.

Read my Food Safety Tips for Travelers

Getting sick in India
read my post on Getting sick in India
mcleod ganj hospital, getting sick in dharamsala
Planning a Trip to India: At McLeodganj Hospital’s pharmacy counter getting my prescription

 

18. Clean & Filtered Water

You don’t think about clean water until you don’t have it. Although Dharamsala had water tanks for practical uses of bathing, toilets, etc…, a sip of clean water always took either, money or effort. So I thought about it often–  how and where I was going to get my water, make it and use it.  There were water stations, where the water had already been boiled and sterilized and you could refill your drinking water for a few ruppees.  Our guesthouse also sold boiled drinking water too and I also had my own ways of boiling and sterilizing water on my own.

From using a sports bottle filter to a boiling wand, each either took time or effort. Either I got tired of fist-pumping my sports bottle for every sip or I got tired of drinking only hot water and tea. Pick your poison. Buy, boil, squeeze… it all boiled down to how lazy I was that day.

Tip: Take a water sterilization pen (Read my SteriPEN review)

Read 5 Essential Tips You must know before traveing India

ways to purify your water, boiling wand, clean water, water purification techniques
Water purification techniques: Use a boiling wand.

 

19. Indo-Tibetan community

Each day, I pass a flock of red-robed monks enroute to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama’s temple. Some hang out at cafes. I pass old Tibetan grandmas and grandpas faintly murmur “Om mane padme om” with jangling prayer beads and this is easily drowned under the cackle of Tibetan toddlers, just out of school.  All these subtleties of daily living make up different notes of a grand opera. They collide, clash and resolve together.

To live as a part of this environment is humbling. Each day I feel a mix of both, gratitude and awe. For me, there are no words to describe the privilege I feel to experience this. … to describe the realization of knowing I chose this place and got here on my own… solo. How can I be capable of such choices, such a bold act and such a daily lifestyle?

I don’t know, but I’m living it right now.

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Tibetan women at the prayer wheels in Mcleodganj
Monks in DharamsalaMonks at a cellphone store

DH dlposCustom framers mounta a life-sized photo of the Dalai Lama to be famed.\

20. Volunteer programs 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 programs”. I’m actually surprised how easy it is to find and take part in volunteer programs in Mcleodganj.

I’ve seen Tibetan volunteer programs in Mcleodganj take short-term and long-term travelers. Usually, there are three 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.

21. 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 ( www.tibetrogpa.org) 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 (www.guchusum.org) provides help to Tibetan political refugees and former political prisoners. Their classes (from 4:30pm-6:30pm).

Tibet Hope Center (www.tibethopecenter.org) 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.

22.  Food in Mcleod Ganj

Living in Dharamsala for a month, I had international food at it’s fingertips.  Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian, as well as, baked goods shops.  It’s almost as if foreign travelers have been figured out-  keep them happy with some western baked goods like donuts, chocolate chip cookies, cheesecake…) It all feels a little odd and a bit like cheating if you’re in Dharamsala wanting to experience native foods.

There’s also a nice selection of Tibetan and Indian restaurants to choose from.  If you want to go local’, Tibetan is it. Tsampa (tibetan porridge) is a bit like oatmeal but made with sweet barley (Yum).  Momos (or Tibetan dumplings) are another easy staple, which travelers love and find filling.

 My fave restaurants were located on the main center road of Jogiwara: Tibet Quality Bakery (mini shoebox bakery on the side of Jogiwara Road) Tibetan Kitchen (veg momo soup, fried and steamed momos; Located on Jogiwara Road), Lungta Restaurant (Korean food, Located off of Jogiwara Road)

tibetan momo soup, momo restaurants in dharamsala, momo restaurants in india, momo dishes, momo cooking classes
Wheat veggie momos (Tibetan dumplings)
tibetan tsampa porridge, tibetan foodsTsampa (Tibetan porridge) is a porridge of sweet barley. Totally delicious!y
Street momo vendor in Mcleodganj, dharamsala food, food in dharamsala
Street momo vendor in Mcleodganj

 

23. Finding an apartment in Mcleodganj

Mcleodganj is the most convenient town to stay in as it has the best traveler infrastructure with things to do, restaurant options and a buzzing community of Tibetan Buddhism. 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. The next town beyond Mcleodganj is a ten minute walk to Bagsu. It is significantly smaller with less shops, but further into the hills.

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

 

24. Accommodations in Mcleodganj

There is wealth of guesthouses in McLeodganj, with dorm rooms starting at 150 rupees per night.

Long-term rooms can be found with cooking facilities and range from 3000-6000 rupees (US$60-$120) per month. Jogibara Road, below McLeod Ganj, and around Bagsu Road are quieter and are out of town.

Finding my apartment in Mcleodganj is simple as there is a lot of housing for travelers. From small hotels to apartment buildings, you’ll find accommodations in the heart of Mcleodganj as well as on the outskirts. The further you go from the center of town, the less it costs. So I stayed in the cluster of apartment buildings on a lower street along the valley where the view of the mountains were breath-taking and I could see the other nearby towns of Bagsu across the way.

When I arrived in Mcleodganj a week early, I stayed at two other guesthouses in the vicinity, before moving into the apartment recommended by my Yoga Teacher Training program,  Himalaya Yoga Valley. We stayed at the Sidarth House, where there was a studio space on the rooftop. I had a large studio room with a mini kitchen, a TV, closet and dressers and an outdoor balcony .  My room was just below the yoga shala. It was quite nice for budget accommodations in India. After a month of traveling India, it felt nice to root down!

Read my yoga teacher training experience in Dharamsala.

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26. Getting from Delhi to Mcleodganj

Mcleod Ganj bus station is about 20 kilometers away from Dharamsala and is accessible by frequent buses and taxis. Always ask your school if they do airport pickups first. This is the easiest way.

Flight

You can fly into Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) or Dharamsala’s Gaggal Airport (DHM).   From Delhi, you will either take the train, bus, taxi or ask your school if they have an airport pickup. The Dharamsala airport is 40 minutes away from Mcleodganj

Tip: fly to Dharamsala direct. You might find yourself on a flight with the Dalai Lama (a couple of students in my program were!)

Bus

There is a 10-hour overnight bus from Delhi to Dharamsala. Buses leave around 8pm and drop you at Dharamsala bus stand, where you catch a public bus, shared jeep, or taxi to Mcleodganj bus station.  Alternately, you can take a bus from Delhi to Pathankot (my bus broke down and I got dropped away from the bus station and need to tuk-tuk there). Then take the government bus to Dharamsala and transfer to the bus to Mcleod Ganj.

Read  Is taking the Indian bus safe for solo travelers?

You can book India trains and buses in advance here.

Train

Take an overnight 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. From Pathankot, take the public bus to Dharamsala. The bus journey from Pathankot to Dharamsala is 90 kilometers or 55 miles and takes approximately three hours. There is a prepaid taxi stand outside of the Pathankot railway station. Read my Complete guide to Indian trains for Solo travelers.

Read my India transportation guide to prepare yourself!

 

What would you add to this Dharamsala travel guide and list of things to know before traveling Dharamsala?

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29 Comments.

  • 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!

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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!

  • really appreciate your article, at http://www.jeevmokshayoga.com/ you can learn yoga at dharamshala, rishikesh india, Thailand.

  • Yoga is a systematic attack to ego
    gedeprama|bellofpeace.org

  • […] I was in Dharamsala, it was cold and thick blankets were necessary. The one in my room had questionable […]

  • […] Yoga  & Volunteering: A Month in Dharamsala with a Purpose […]

  • 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 cold..is 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 :))

    Cheers,
    Karunya

    • @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!

  • 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..

  • Laura in Cancun
    April 8, 2011 12:31 am

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

  • 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.

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

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

  • 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.

Comments are closed.