Aside from the excellent people watching from cafes around town, you'll find many activities and things to do in McLeod Ganj. Day hikes, workshops, and volunteer opportunities abound.
Numerous posters and timely fliers around McLeod Ganj advertise an array of 'cultural' events. Unless an event is sponsored by one of the various nonprofits or charity organizations, use your judgment: some events are just an excuse to get tourists into a bar or restaurant.
First, see this McLeod Ganj travel guide to get started.
Visit the Tibet Museum
The Tibet Museum should be high on your list of things to do in McLeod Ganj. Not only will you better understand the hardships the people around you have suffered, you'll find interesting booklets and informational materials such as the free Contact magazine.
The museum rotates through excellent, one-hour documentaries about Tibet every day at 3 p.m.; tickets are Rs 10.
Find the Tibet Museum just inside of the Tsuglagkhang Complex at the end of Temple Road.
Entrance is only Rs 5, so donations are important. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed on Mondays.
Learn About Tibet
Opportunities to learn about Tibet go beyond just a visit to the museum! You'll find no shortage of Tibetan people to talk to in cafes around McLeod Ganj; many speak good English.
If you're too shy to approach random monks, numerous happenings such as talks, documentary screenings, and other events take place weekly with sporadic schedules. Keep an eye out for fliers posted around town or check the schedule of events in Contact (www.contactmagazine.net) -- a free, monthly newsletter circulated around McLeod Ganj.
Several charitable organizations offer Tibetan language, cooking, medicine, and massage courses.
- McLeod Ganj is a great place to try Tibetan food for the first time!
See the Waterfall in Bhagsu
Located just a pleasant, 30-minute walk east of McLeod Ganj is the rubbish-strewn village of Bhagsu. While a few travelers opt to stay in Bhagsu, most prefer to walk through the village to the impressive waterfall just beyond.
You'll find plenty of outdoor cafes for taking breaks as you wind up the steep stairs to the scenic falls.
Get to the waterfall in Bhagsu by taking Bhagsu Road east from the main square in McLeod Ganj. Walk through the village, past the swimming pool, and then follow signs to the start of the stairs leading up to the falls.
Do a Pilgrimage Circuit
Many Tibetan pilgrims and visitors choose to do a kora, a clockwise walk around the Tsuglagkhang Complex at the end of Temple Road. The complex is home to the 14th Dalai Lama; the walk around is peaceful and enjoyable. The trail has some excellent views of the valley, passes a colorful temple, and you'll get an opportunity to spin countless prayer wheels -- always in a clockwise direction!
Plan on around an hour for a leisurely walk around the Tsuglagkhang Complex. Begin your kora by taking the road downhill just to the left of the iron entrance gate to the complex; the trail meanders clockwise around the complex through a forest strewn with prayer flags and shrines.
Watch the Monks Debate
Visit the Tsuglagkhang Complex on any given afternoon to catch the lively monk's debate in the courtyard. Monks break into groups; skeptics sit while one stands, shouts, gestures, and seals each point made with an energetic clap and foot stomp.
The debates are an old tradition and may appear hostile, but they are actually done so in good humor; all are friends again afterward.
Entrance is free. Photography is allowed inside the complex whenever formal teachings are not in progress, however, you must pass through a quick security screening. Cigarette lighters are not allowed inside.
- See 10 travel photography tips for better photos.
Hike to Triund
Not for the faint of heart, a four-hour uphill hike past Bhagsu to the tiny camp of Triund and the snow line is rewarded with incredible views of Himalayan peaks. On a clear day the scenery from 9,432 feet (2,875 meters) is amazing.
If you cannot make it back to McLeod Ganj before dark, there is one very basic rest house in Triund without water or electricity; you will need to bring your own bed sheets and a flashlight. You can purchase snacks and drinks at small cafes along the trail and on top.
For an average hiking pace, plan on around five hours up to Triund and at least four hours down. Ask for the shortcut trail in Dharamkot to shave some time off of the walk. Alternatively, you can take a taxi from McLeod Ganj to Galu Devi Temple and begin the trek from there.
From giving an afternoon to a week or more, there are endless opportunities to help the Tibetan community. The Lha is a grassroots organization with a mission to support Tibetan refugees in many different ways and can put anyone to work teaching newly arrived Tibetans a skill that will help them to succeed.
You can volunteer only for an afternoon English conversation session -- more friendly practice than formal teaching -- or pass along any skill that you have such as: cooking, first aid, IT and computers, writing and editing, etc.
Find the Lha office (open hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) on Temple Road before the junction. The lha certainly isn't the only place to volunteer, but it's a great place to get more information.
Learn a New Skill
McLeod Ganj is a very popular place to study Buddhism, holistic therapies, and a wide array of other subjects. Meditation retreats of up to 10 days or longer are available, or you can find schools for every subject imaginable such as cooking, jewelery making, wood carving, yoga, massage, and even how to play a Tibetan flute!
The Lha offers classes to tourists with all proceeds going to support the Tibetan community.
Do a Serious Trek
If the day hikes around McLeod Ganj aren't enough to sedate your Himalayan appetite, consider signing up for a longer trek. Adventures from two to seven days are available.
Check with the Regional Mountaineering Centre on the steep road to Dharamkot, north of the main square in McLeod Ganj. The center can arrange treks, rent equipment, and hire a certified guide for you.
- First, see these 10 hiking safety tips for Asia!
See a Movie
If you're totally out of ideas on a rainy day, a tiny cinema screens movies throughout the afternoon and evening; the schedule changes daily. The moldy, one-room cinema has a large projection screen with dirty seats.
Look for the cinema sign with schedule on the left side of Jogiwara Road. The cinema is located downstairs. Tickets are 200 Rs each.