A place worth visiting while in McLeod Ganj in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh is the Anglican church of St. John’s in the Wilderness which is at a height of 5742 feet above sea level. This church is easily accessible from McLeod Ganj and is just a 20 minute downhill walk from the bus station. It is better to walk there than take hire an auto rickshaw.
The first thing one will notice when they walk through the gates of the church is the graveyard to the left which is in ruins and is the resting place of the British people who passed away in the earthquake in 1905 AD. The church was left untouched in the quake other than for the bell tower which was destroyed. This is considerably negligible damage since over 19,800 people died in that disaster. There are also very tall pine and coniferous trees all around the courtyard of the church and it is a very common site to see horses coming there to graze in the mornings.
This church was built in 1852 AD and is made of stone. The church has a very gothic appearance to it and the interior and exterior walls of the church are of exposed stone whose forbidding appearance is reduced by fine Belgian stained glass windows which is the main attraction and one of the unique features of the church. These stained-glass windows were donated by Lady Elgin since the church graveyard is the final resting place of her husband Lord Elgin.
The other unique features of the church architecture are the polished wood of the altar railing and the brass of the old oil lamps – which now have been modified to hold electric lights. The church has police officers to keep watch and see that no one destroys or damages anything of this ancient monument. The church is kept closed everyday of the week other than for Sundays when mass is held in the morning at 10am in English and 11am in Hindi.
A short walk in the church premises leads one to the other side of the graveyard which oversees the whole town of McLeod Ganj. Many of the graves have a short description of how the person died. The most notable memorial and one which adjoins the church, is the elaborate stone memorial that was erected over the body of the British Viceroy, Lord Elgin who died at Dharamsala in 1863 AD. The walking path in the church compound has the symbol of the cross which is artistically made of colored stones and is located in four to five places along the path.
One will also notice a huge bell in a cage which is just a few meters away from the entrance of the church. This is the new bell that was built in 1915 AD and was brought from England to be installed outside in the compound
Due to its unique location and Gothic feel St. John’s church in the Wilderness attracts a lot of people who come to visit and spend time near this very special church which has unique architectural features.
The church of St John’s in the Wilderness is truly a marvel in McLeod Ganj, an architectural masterpiece in the middle of nowhere that is a must visit for those who visit the town.