It must have been very long since I wrote a travelogue on this blog. I got down today to jot my experiences at Dharamsala, hoping to conclude it with a short post on spending three days at the charming little town. I got carried away and let the words flow, stretching it long enough even before I began and forcing me to split it into more than one installment. Here is the first. See part II and part III
McLeodganj is split into three worlds. A modern world offers all the creature comforts, largely targeting tourists who flock into this worldwide headquarters of Tibetan Government in Exile. Another world belongs to the Tibetans themselves – with their monasteries and housings spread across many corners of the small town. This world is like an island, a small place unlike its surroundings where you see unusually large congregation of people who have escaped the clutches of Peoples Liberation Army of China. The last of the three worlds belongs to the old residents, largely Gaddi Shepherds, who have lived here for a long time.
It was first of three worlds that hit me the moment I alighted from the bus at the small square at the heart of the town. “A lot can happen over coffee,” said a loud colourful sign which seemed to be bent on transporting me back home. It could perhaps have comforted me with the cliched feeling of being at a ‘home away from home,’ but I could not take any of it and quickly made my way to Bhagsu – once a quaint little Gaddi Village that is now a backpacker’s heaven.
Bhagsu is at the edge of greenery, reasonably far away from the restaurants serving ginger lemon honey, falafels and mueslis but close enough to reach there in fifteen minutes of walking when needed. The Himalayan slopes rise quickly on the other side of the village, where magpies caw happily as they hop over tall conifers. But Bhagsu is no heaven, which it perhaps was once upon a time. Ugly backpackers joints spread across the village haphazardly as Gaddis who own the land have discovered an easier way to make a living instead of roaming the remote mountains along with their sheep in bitter cold weather. Guesthouses and restaurants have sprung up in every corner, making it an effort find a quiet little place of stay that offers a good view.
Thus began my three days of discovering the abode of Dalai Lama. But don’t let my ramblings discourage you. No sooner I settled down, I put the complaining parts of my brain to rest and saw plenty of good things in McLeodGanj. The air was crisp and the weather was pleasant, though it was beginning to get a little chilly with the onset of winter (second half of November). It was a clear day and my balcony offered views of the plains below somewhere very very far away in Punjab. Between the plains and me were several layers of hills painted in the morning blue gently fading into the plains. Immediately below me was a valley where a stream gurgled and sang happily on its way down the hills, surrounded by green grass, pine and cedar trees. It was all quiet but for an occasional caw of a magpie or an even rare honk of a vehicle carrying a tourist up or down the hill.
On the other side, up the hill and behind my guesthouse, the mountains climbed steeply till the snowline at Triund. Somewhere on either sides were snowy peaks which remained hidden by the hills around me, but visible after a good walk to a vantage point.
It must have been nearly four years since I made a visit to the hills on my own and reflected on the charm of cedars without having to keep company of anyone else. The crisp air, the quiet surroundings, the scenery and perhaps the good vibes from Tibetan Monks quietened my mind and subdued its train of thoughts. I put aside all my plans for three days at The Ganj, let my camera rest in the room and dedicated most of my time to walking in the hills, a bit of reading and sunning in the balcony. It was going to be a holiday for my mind, body and hopefully the soul as well.
I began my sauntering along the small road that connects Bhagsu with McLeodGanj, which was going to be my favourite walkway for the next three days. I could happily go up and down in this short road that goes through an empty stretch flanked by tall trees, pausing every now for a good look at the valley and then at the tall peaks to the other side. Few vehicles took this road and occasional chai shops kept me energized when needed.