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Things to know before traveling to Dharamsala | Getting my Yoga Teacher Training in Dharamsala
After a month long yoga boot camp at Himalaya Yoga Valley in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, I finally graduated with my Yoga TTC (teacher training certification). Woot!
Muscles aching, belly battling waterborne parasites, while hurdling through two asana classes a day and intensive schedule of studies and teaching practicums… It was a lot! Along the way, I accepted my body’s shape-shifting to Dharamsala’s Indian-Tibetan hill region surroundings. Injury and bad diets (aka carb-loading for lack of veggies) happen and horrible toilet habits are spawned as a result of getting sick in Mother India.
But good things come out of these things as well.
Table of Contents: Ultimate Travel Guide to Dharamsala | My Yoga TTC in India
Getting my Yoga Teacher Training in Dharamsala
I’ve met people, who’s yoga practice was so focused, it blew me away. Others, who have unique backgrounds from designers, heath care practitioners, physical therapists and … then there was me. Every one is a teacher and like a family we occasionally have our moments. Cliques form, people mix and don’t mix. Each person has their own individual way, philosophy, practice, belief… and from this fury of passion, juices flowing in harmony and discord, acceptance and flexibility is born.
But what binds us all is that we went through a month-long yoga TTC in India… and survived.
Best things to Do in Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj)
1. Admire Dharamsala views
Perched in the Northern mountains of India, you feel like you’re worlds away beeping rickshaw horns, zig-zagging chaos and cows. It’s hard to believe you’re still in India. The mountain range is lush, green, majestic and frost-tipped. Watching eagles hover gracefully over mountain ranges, while contemplating the majesty of Tadasana (aka mountain pose), to hearing monkeys scamper over the roof while in lecture.
Focusing on the distant speckle of a goat herder and his pack as I gain my upright balance in Uttitha Padangustasana or absorbing the soft murmur of Tibetans chanting on their early morning prayer walks, as I follow silently behind them… are all peaceful ways of “finding center” and living within the grace of Dharamsala.
2. Explore nature and hiking trails from McLeod Ganj
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.
3. Bhagsu Falls
Located in the neighboring town of Bhagsu, Bhagsu Falls is an impressive waterfall for this hilly region.
4. Take a Tibetan Momo cooking class
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!
5. Listen to the Dalai Lama’s sermon at Tsuglagkhang Complex
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 Dalai Lama’s sermon schedule. Hours: 5am-8pm . Address: Temple Road, Central Chapel (near the main square)
6. Watch monks debate
One of the monk practices and training in Tsuglagkhang Complex 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. Visit the Karmapa
Not far from McLeod Ganj, situated in Gyuto Monastery in Sidbhari, Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the 17th Karmapa.. 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. Take a yoga , teacher training program or reiki class
Dharamsala has many reputable yoga schools offering 200 and 500 hour teacher training programs along with drop in classes. I took a reiki advanced certification workshop. Look for signs advertising classes posted on community walls around town. There is also an Iyengar Institute located in a woodsy area on the edge of McLeod Ganj ; it’s a perfect escape into nature.
9. 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.
Where to Volunteer in Dharamsala
What to Eat in Dharamsala
11. 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)
Things to Know Before you Go to Dharamsala
12. McLeod Ganj is travel-friendly and easy to live in 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.
13. Dharamsala is very hilly and can 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!
14. Limited water supply and littering
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.
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.
16.. Thunderstorms, chill and occasional power outtages
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. Going to the McLeod Ganj Hospital.
Food in Dharamsala showed me what my body liked….and didn’t .
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
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)
19. The Indo-Tibetan community & political unrest.
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.
That was all a part of my yoga teacher training in Dharamsala. What would you add to this Dharamsala travel guide? What are things to know before you go to Dharamsala?
Related articles about Yoga in India
- How to Choose the Right School in India for Yoga Teacher Certification. (Part II)
- Study Abroad: What is it like to study Yoga in India? (Part 1)
- When Tibetan Monks Get Downright Passionate
- Yoga & Volunteering: A Month in Dharamsala with a Purpose
- Eat,Pray, Love… 10 Things about an Indian Ashram?