Do you consider a spiritual journey across India but you don’t know where to start? I have spent more than 6 months in India to figure it out. I would like to share with you some tips about places I think are worth visiting if you are looking for an authentic spiritual journey in this magnificent country.
The Himalayas have always been considered as the spiritual mainland and therefore have been attracting many people from all over the world for the same purpose; self-realization. Starting your spiritual journey in this part of India is definitely a great option.
- Start in Dharamshala
- When is the best time to go?
- Where to stay?
- Best places for meditation*
- Holistic healing*
- One more tip
1. Start in Dharamshala
Dharamshala region should be definitely on your list when visiting the North. It is located in the beautiful Himalayan mountains in the state of Himachal Pradesh. I just love this state, it is way cleaner and calmer than the rest of India (and I did not get food sick here, yeah!). It is already in the higher altitude so make sure you take warm clothes even though you are heading there during the season.
You can reach Dharamshala either by plane or by bus from Delhi. I have never flown to this destination as flights are quite expensive and I don’t like flying. I’ve always taken the bus. The ride is quite fast, safe and cheap (buses are pretty comfy in India!).
2. When is the best time to go?
The best time to go is between March and October, although it is a rainy season in July and August. I do not recommend going during the winter between November – February as it is pretty cold with possible snowfalls and almost everything is closed. I went there in December and we were freezing as they do not have heating in the rooms and you wake up to 0 degrees. I spent there also several weeks in May and July and the weather was just great. In July, heavy rain starts and getting worse in August. You can’t do much apart enjoying the beautiful landscape from some well-hidden coffee place.
Oh, talking about coffee places, definitely visit Raku’s place in Bhagsu where everyone is gathering around the great food, coffee, and live music 🙂
3. Where to stay?
I talk about Dharamshala as it is the main point in the region but actually nobody stays there. Once you reach there, you have to take a local bus or a taxi and head all the way up to Mcleod Ganj which is already at 2000m altitude. The taxis are quite expensive in the hills (you will pay for this 15 minutes ride around 500 RPS). But it is pretty much the only way to get around. You can also rent a scooter if you are comfortable to ride hilly roads. Try to avoid rush hours during the high season as roads are tiny and tend to be extremely crowded.
Mcleod Ganj is an official exile for Tibetan refugees and you will also find there the main temple of his holiness Dalai lama. However, the majority of people stay either in Bhagsu Nag or Dharamcot which are villages situated around 15-20 minutes walking distance from McLeod Ganj. Both villages are very hippie, attracting the spiritual crowd (many people who stay/work in Goa move here during the Goa off-season). I stayed in Bhagsu and loved it there. There is literally one street and you will very easily find like-minded people if you travel alone.
If you are on a lower budget like me (I guess most of the spiritual people are?!), you have two options for accommodation, a hostel or a guest house. The best way to get around is to book any hostel for the first night and then just walk around and choose the guest house you like. A private room in the guest house will cost you the same price as one bed in a hostel, between 400 – 700 RPS per night.
Be aware, most of them do not have cooking facilities so you will have to eat outside which can be quite expensive unless you stick to the local food, Indian or Tibetan. I was spending between 700 – 1200 RPS per day for the food, eating mostly in Indian-western restaurants. I just enjoy healthy and delicious food and there are so many amazing options! And definitely try out Bhagsu cake, it is delicious 🙂
4. Best places for meditation
Being in this region, you will not escape the Buddhist meditation. This is a Tibetan exile and the region is full of Buddhist monasteries and nunneries following Tibetan tradition.
The main temple of Dalai lama
You will very likely visit the temple of his holiness which is nice to see but nothing spectacular in my opinion unless Dalai lama is teaching there. Check his teaching schedule and if you are lucky you will see him live. Don’t forget to register in the registration office and get a radio for his teaching. He teaches in Tibetain which is being translated in English and other languages and diffused live via radio. To be honest, I did not get much from his teaching as my radio decided to strike. But seeing him was definitely a life-time experience!
You can check his schedule and the address of the registration office here https://www.dalailama.com/schedule
Introduction to Buddhism
The best way to discover Buddhism is to take a 10-days Introduction course at Tushita. This is a great Buddhist center welcoming people from all over the world. They are located in Dharamcot in a beautiful forest area. They organize various retreats in silence. You can also volunteer there or just attend their morning Dhamma talks and meditation open to everyone. All courses are donation based as per Buddhist tradition. Make sure to book your retreat well in advance as they tend to be overbooked a good few months in advance.
You can check their schedule here http://tushita.info/
Vipassana / Silent meditation
If you want to take it further and experience a 10-days silent retreat, then go for the vipassana meditation. The vipassana center is right next to the Tushita center. I did my vipassana in Chennai so I don’t know about the facility here but it is located in a nice forest area so you might enjoy your walks outside (the only time you are allowed to escape the meditation hall). This course is also donation based.
If you want to learn more about this type of meditation, I invite you to read my post about my experience. Please consider vipassana if you have prior experience with meditation otherwise it might be more harmful than beneficial.
For the schedule, check and register here in advance https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/index
Planning to explore life in a monastery? You are definitely on the right place. There are many monasteries and nunneries around where you can stay for a small contribution for the food and accommodation.
I stayed for some time in the Thosamling, a beautiful nunnery hidden in the rice fields equally open to females and males. They organize 3-days silent Shamatha meditation retreats which are the best way to explore Buddhist meditation in my opinion. The retreat costs between 3500 – 3900 RPS depending on the type of accommodation you take. They also provide Tibetain language course so some people live there to complete the course. You will enjoy this retreat place with delicious food, beautiful nature and always smiling nuns. The stay per day including food goes between 600 – 900 RPS if you are not taking any course. You can still participate in morning prayers and meditation though.
Ready for a spiritual awaking?
Some of you, spiritual seekers, are maybe interested in a non-Buddhist meditation teaching with an authentic Indian guru. This one is not easy to find but I have great news for you. I encountered one while staying in the region and after completing a 7-days spiritual-meditation course with him, I became his life-long dedicated student. Swami-ji teaches only one to one sessions. His teaching suits mostly to those who take spirituality seriously and would like to bring more clarity into their spiritual journey. If you are a complete novice in this world, this might not be the right course for you.
If you want to know if his teaching resonates with you, read more about it here. You can find him in Bhagsu between May – October and in Goa between November – March. For more info and to get in touch with him: http://www.be-meditate.com/
5. Holistic healing
If you are searching for a deep self-reflection and healing, you should definitely consider Umaya – a center for deep emotional healing and self-knowledge in Upper Bhagsu. Umaya is run by an amazing and very knowledgeable couple. Their menu offers rebirthing sessions (1200 RPS), ecstatic dance (300 RPS) and 3-5 days intensive self-love and emotional healing workshops (starting from 8000 RPS). They also offer trauma healing therapy sessions. My experience with the self-love workshop was an excellent way to uncover my limiting beliefs, release deeply rooted blockages and discover my inner child. It is definitely an intense experience that requires a monetary and energy investment from your side but the results are incredible, immediate and lasting!
You can find them between April – October (except for mid-July until mid-August). Check their schedule here: https://umaya.love/
6. One more tip
One important thing I wish I knew before coming here. If you want to save some money and I talk about a good amount, make sure to bring enough cash with you for your stay. It is not a problem to get cash here but you will pay really high fees to the local bank for each withdrawal or to the western union which is the only option to get cash if the local atm runs out of the money which happens quite often.
To conclude, the Dharamshala region has definitely plenty of other options for spiritual practices such as yoga, sound therapy, massage courses, healing circles, reiki course, Ayurveda and all kinds of alternative healing with the local and western people. I do not recommend to book these things in advance but rather spend the first days exploring the place and choosing whatever course/healing/therapy you are looking for based on your good feeling. There are many options but not all of them are authentic and spiritual. Always trust your good feeling in this matter!
*I have visited all the places I recommend here and express my honest opinion about them. Please note I do not take any commissions.