Tuesday, August 02, 2005

McLeodganj – A walk in the Tibetan woods

There comes a point in your life when you just get tired of your life being ruled by external factors – someone else’s daily schedule, or your work or concerns about what this person would think or that. Sometimes you just need a break, to be by yourself.

I took a Himachal Pradesh State Transport bus to Kangra on Friday night, and went up from there to Dharamshala and finally McLeodganj. History has it that Dharamshala so captured the imagination of the then Viceroy Lord Elgin that he wanted to make it the summer capital of India. However, fortunately for the small hill settlement, it was spared that fate – and it was Shimla which finally got that 'honour'. I can tell you that Shimla has none of the charm that Dharamshala has today, thanks to hordes of tourists and innumerable hotel constructions along the mountainside there.

McLeodganj, 10 kilometres uphill from Dharamshala, is today the abode of the Dalai Lama. Quaint and very Tibetan (though the troops of Israeli and French backpackers almost make it more foreign that Tibetan – can you imagine hotel menus in Hebrew?!), anyone who goes to the place will come back charmed. I met an Indian couple on the bus who were going to meditate in the hills there, and they were able to give me some valuable information – such as the fact that staying in McLeodganj makes much more sense than in Dharamshala because it is much more interesting with its little market lanes. I went to the Dalai Lama’s residence and walked around the Buddhist temple within (the Dalai Lama himself was away in Switzerland) on my first day there, then went to Norbulingka which is a centre for the preservation of Tibetan arts and crafts spread over a lovely campus near Sidhpur. To get there, simply take the local bus to Palampur and get off at Sidhpur (a ticket costs Rs.4), then walk the 15 minutes to Norbulingka. I spent a couple of hours in the lazy afternoon there, then went back to Dharamshala where I popped in at the Kangra Arts Museum. I suggest you give it a miss – the government enterprise is dark and gloomy. I sat on a sack of potatoes (truly an Indian experience!) during a crowded van trip back as mist began swirling around the valley, then ate Hotel Snow Lion’s famous lemon curd cake in McLeodganj as I watched the slow drizzle change to a steady downpour. Deciding that it was not going to stop for a while, I dashed to my hotel, getting thoroughly drenched in the process.

As a result of that rain soaking my running shoes, I had to traipse around Bhagsu and Dharamkot, both 2 km from McLeodganj, in – catch this – Bata slippers, the next day! It wasn’t such a bad thing as it started raining again during the day but it wasn’t so comfortable after a point! I met an Israeli girl on the way to Bhagsu (the place is known for its temple), and she accompanied me in rambling about the most wonderfully green and mysterious woods nearby. There are a number of meditation camps in Dharamkot, and during our exploring we found a stone hut which looked like it was something out of an ancient land, with a couple of French backpackers eating fruit calmly as the mist loomed up the hills yet again. We spent an hour sitting there peacefully as well.

I caught the bus for the long journey back that evening, but Monday morning and the honking of Delhi only made me wish for the peace of the hills once more.

1 comment:

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