Saturday, January 15, 2011

Travelogue: The little Himalyan town that is more than just mountains

“Am I returning in the next two years?” The crystal answered “No!” “Will I return with him?” the crystal answered, “No!” Both of these answers left me bitter, worried and scared. I am not returning here in the next two years meant for me that I am not going to be travelling and not returning with him again meant the end of the world in another sense. It was 5th October 2008.

Well, the bad news turned into even better news on January 7th, 2011 as I sat by the window covered in mist, the vistas of Delhi barely visible, I leaned on the pane and saw my two companions looking at me. We exchanged smiles and the thrill of what we had undertaken and what lay ahead - Our first all girls’ trip in India.

If you are a girl, the idea of travelling alone on an overnight bus will scare you. But it was the discussion around this trip with my colleagues which made me realize that the idea baffled guys even more. Tones of advice some welcome some not so welcome, suggestions on alternative destinations, last minute glitches and changes in plan, invective outbursts of an angry Tibetan travel agent who told us “Shame on you never seen more bad people” and kept scaring us of the Karma which will bite our asses for last minute booking cancellations.

The first night of travel from New Delhi to Dharamshala I was told by him would be “worst night of my life”. I was ready for the bus to topple in the extreme cold weather and fog of which our colleagues had warned us. We peacefully slept through the night and woke up to the call of “Kangra!, Kangra!”. The three chattering chickies who did not sleep a wink discussing the cute guys, lipsticks, facebook and their blackberries and everything else pink in the world got off. And then perfect silence ensued. I pasted my nose to the window staring at the beautiful views of the Kangra valley and the enthralling sights of Dhauladhars. The freshness of the hills was so much better than the smell of urine that pervaded the ISBT Kashmere gate bus stand. Ruchi and I exchanged glances while Sukku slept through till Dharamshala.

We got off at Dharamshala running wildly from point to point on the bus stand looking at the fantastic views of the views of the valley. Then we got some grip and got on to a bus to Mcloedganj, 10kms from Dharamshala, @ Rs 10 per person. Then started my favorite part of travelling, hunting for the right hotel to stay in. We covered most of the Mcloedganj market area on foot looking for the right place to stay in our budget. You will get all kinds of rooms in all price ranges. Starting from rooms with hot water facilities for Rs. 400 in off season costing around Rs. 10000 per month. You could also live with the club house by HPTDC for Rs 1500 per night. For on-season prices you can check their website and book in advance.

The view of the mountains and the cleanliness was of prime importance to us so we decided on a room with the “Mount View”. We had an open balcony in front of the room that merged with the mountains. A heater, hot water, warm blankets, clean bathroom and very warm hospitality for three at a steal of Rs. 700/-. In the night, it looked we were blanketed in the stars.

Our first day, we walked to Bhagsu falls then further up to the much hyped Shiva CafĂ©. The place was shady and we spent as much time there as a yawn would last. And there lies the one of the many gender differences. A must visit place for the guys was just enough to look at for a girls’ group.

The overrated Shiva (NOT SHIVA's CAFE)

We then returned to the main square and ate at the famous Jimmy’s Italian kitchen. The food
was good Italian food you would get in Delhi. But what made it awesome was that you paid for it a third of what you pay in Delhi. For a grilled chicken salad, pasta in Carbonara sauce, Tomato basil soup, baked pasta with mozzarella and a cup of honey blended latte cost us Rs. 415/-.

The next morning the highlight was truly our breakfast at Carpe-diem, “Seize the day!” My food plate was as always most experimental with assorted meats and scrambled eggs, toast, butter, marmalade, potatoes, coffee and juice of my choice. The other dishes on the table was a chicken sandwich with fries, baked beans on toast and mixed fruit pancake. The total bill was Rs. 385/-. Can you beat that!

The next stop was the Ghallu temple the starting point of our trek to Triund. We took a cab from our hotel to the point. I was not hoping we would make it to the top but we had decided that we will get to the snow and be back. We were greeted with snow sheets and a frozen pond in front of the tea shop next to the temple. The tall mountains, the views of snow clad giants that I know I will get to sooner than later stood there waiting for me. I will come back for a tight hug later I said. The snow did not let us go any further. We then turned back to the main square after a little strolling.

Back to the main market now, endless shopkeepers selling ornaments, incense, winter wear, rosaries made of yak bones, sandalwood, and souvenirs for tourists to take back home. The air was full of the smell of incense and the little murmurs of “Om Mani Padme Hum” and the colors against the backdrop of mountains covered in white. Religion such a strong part of everyday existence was a sight to savour with people of all ages telling the beads.

Come back you might in 2 days from the but the peace that blankets you in Mcloed will haunt you and pull you back for more. And the call for "Free Tibet" will resonate in your sub-conscious like the deep ringing sound of "Om" from mouth of a monk.

Things to do in
• Religion: Spiritual Retreat for close encounters with the Tibetan culture and Buddhism
• Trekking: Trek to Indrahar pass, Day trek to Triund, can couple with a night stay on Triund, Trek to Chamba Valley
• Alternative therapies: You can learn Reiki, Chakra awareness, Hypnotheraphy, Yoga, meditation. I particularly like this
• Drink and Make merry: Not beer Dude! Sometimes a cup of coffee with a book will give you all the intellectual high needed to carry on! Drink to the beautiful views of the valley at the Mandala coffee house
• Shop till you drop! for the little knick knacks such as silk scarves, junk jewelry, shawls, incense, Buddhist chants, the list is endless…
• Read your book: Mcloedganj is truly a book reader’s paradise with over 5 bookshops in a little area. Books on spirituality and ancient wisdom of India and Tibet are easy to find

Tips for accommodation:
• If you want a peaceful stay and have a cab at your service, look for a place near Dharamkot, a few kilometers ahead of Mcloedganj
• Better places to eat and cheap places to stay are around the Mcloedganj Main Square area which is also closest to the Dalai Lama temple

Links for places to eat:
• Well go and explore! There is plenty that is good and more than worth your money
• Definitely try food at Carpediem. It’s a big hit and a “must do”
• Do not miss the local street food. To go away from Mcloedganj without tasting the Tibetan specialties is a gross injustice many commit

For booking buses: Go for the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporations buses. They are safe, reliable, on time and comfortable. The only AC Volvo we found from Delhi to keep our feet warm in cold winters.

1 comment:

Sukanya said...

Very well written. Aptly described just the way I enjoyed the trip!!

And the Karma thing... well I hope the outcome of the trip has put to rest all your fears.

Mcleodganj will be an experience i am going to cherish for the rest of my life. And that I went there with you girls made it even more perfect!!