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Thread: McLeodganj in 6 days

  1. #1
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    McLeodganj in 6 days

    I spent 6 days in Mceodganj in April 2012 and this is a series of post which I wrote for my travel blog. I hope that some people may find it useful or even interesting.

    I wanted to go on a solo trip somewhere for a long time and 1st week of April seemed like a good opportunity. But I had no idea where to go until last week of March. All I knew that the place should be mountainous and not crowded. McLeodganj seemed to be a good enough place and after thinking about it for a bit I chose it as my destination. Getting there from Delhi takes approximately 12 hours by road. I took a Volvo bus which was full of tourists from all over the world. It wasnít very comfortable journey but I managed to doze through most of it.

    I woke up as the bus stopped at the townís bus stand just before 6 am. As I opened my eyes, I was greeted by the sight of mountains covered with lush greenery and dozens of crows cawing loudly. Unlike their city cousins, these are a bit larger and completely black. Gathering my belongings, I got out of bus and stretched my limbs. First thing that hit me was the cool breeze. It was colder outside than the air conditioned bus ! Thatís one of the reasons why I love mountains. <3


    I called the hotel I had talked to earlier for a room. Someone picked up the phone and asked me to take taxi to some address. As it happened, the hotel I had asked for after checking on net was full and only available rooms were in another hotel, right in middle of the city. I didnít like the dinky room and itís not-worth-it price. The place was full of hotels and lodges and I started looking for another one on foot. After walking for a while down a steep slope, I came across one which I liked. The place had a great view of Dharmshala town in the valley below on one side and snow covered distant peaks on other. Found out that only empty rooms available were with a kitchen attached. Although I had no need for one, I just took it without much haggling and further search. After a hot shower and a short nap, I got ready and stepped out to explore the place.



    Luckily this hotel was very near to my first destination, Dalai Lamaís temple Tsuglag Khang. I had to walk up (climb up is a more apt description) a rather steep road to get there. Although it was just a short walk of less than 500 meters, I realised that I needed much more stamina than I had just to walk around. For that, I needed to eat. Found a small eating joint and climbed up the stairs to be greeted by the sight of Tibetan monks having breakfast and watching some soap on a Tibetan channel. A Tibetan lady along with another young Tibetan girl were the only staff. I ordered a chocolate flavoured banana shake with some kind of fruit pie.

    As soon as I finished, my phone started to ring. Friends and family calling to congratulate me on my birthday. The thing had slipped off my mind entirely. Seemed like my phone had been mostly non-operational during the night long journey. Keeping the phone glued to my ear I walked around the market a little which was just starting to open up. The place was full of posters and slogans asking for liberation of Tibet. One remarkable thing was number of people who had lost their lives while fighting for their cause. Pictures of one Tibetan activist, Jamyang Yeshi who had set fire to himself a few days back in Delhi were every where.

    After a few minutes of walking around, I entered the gates of Tsuglag Khang temple, Namgyal monastery complex. The place is big, full of people and still peaceful. As I entered I saw some people, many of them foreigners engaged in Buddhist prayer rituals. Main prayers are performed in Tsuglakhang complex which has prayer wheels around itís walls. This was the first time, I had the chance to see them for real and spin. Apart from Buddha, there was an idol of Padmasambhava who is credited with bringing Tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism into Tibet. Interesting thing is that he was born as a Hindu brahmin in what is known as Swat valley in Pakistan. All the idols are made of metal and very beautiful as you can se in the pictures. One exception was a Buddha idol made of wood encased in a glass case visible in the photo above. Right by side, thereís Kalchakra temple which is as impressive as Tsuglakhang. Itís walls are covered with intricately detailed and beautiful Tibetan murals. Lord Budhha is the presiding deity in both places, but both places have beautiful idols of other gods and ancient Tibetan leaders.. Try clicking on picture to take a better look. Unfortunately, photography inside this temple was prohibited.




    After spending some time there, I came out and walked around the market which had finally opened up to business. After a walk of 15-20 minutes I reached the main town square, right next to the bus stand. Following signboards and asking a few people I took the path to church of St. John in the Wilderness. Itís about 30-35 minutes walk from the city and very picturesque. The road is flanked by dense growth of trees on both sides and walking on it is a pleasure. Iíve been living in ugly cities for so long, the place seemed like heaven. I stopped numerous times to enjoy the views or look at some bird. A fair amount of vehicles do travel on that road, but itís almost negligible as compared to a city like Delhi.



    After that walk, view of church from itís gate was surreal and almost eerie. Path from 1st gate to church is flanked on both sides by old graves and beautiful big trees.


    Sunshine reaches the ground only in patches and in this setting, the black church seems to have a presence of its own. It was closed at the time, so couldnít get a view of inside. ( I saw it on another day). It isnít an architectural marvel as some people say. Itís just an ordinary church made of black stone, but in very beautiful place and ambiance. I spent some time walking in between graves and trying to read the inscriptions on tomb stones. Most were in a state of disrepair due to passage of time and mostly illegible. Almost all were of colonial British officers and their family members .


    Wandering around, I came across a small path which lead to slightly bigger graveyard, but with less trees right next to the road. A small brook flowed through it along ruins of a small man made path made of stones. Curious about where it goes, I walked down the path. But it disappeared completely after just a few meters. Undeterred I kept walking down the slope along the brook which was partially paved with stones. There was no semblance of any kind of path or trail, but I kept following that brook down. After struggling through a bunch of dense bushes, trees and slippery ground, I finally stopped at a point where water from the brook formed a waterfall 2 feet high. Not much, but better than nothing .

    I rested there for a while listening to bird calls. Trying to locate the birds themselves was almost impossible for me and I gave up trying to locate them visually after a while. It was really quiet there except for those birds and gentle sound of that small waterfall. After some time, I got up and traced my steps back to the graveyard. Walked around the graves again, taking some pictures. By then it was almost 1:30 and I was starting to feel hungry. There was no shop or place to eat nearby (thankfully), so I decided to walk back to McLeodganj in order to get something for lunch.



    n nutshell, I spent better part of my birthday wandering among old broken graves and trying to read the inscriptions. Interesting to some people, I suppose.

  2. #2
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    Coming back to the road, I started walking back towards McLeodganj when I came across a a small trail going upwards which I thought led to another road above. I was right in this assumption, but I wasn’t 100% sure if it led back to the town. Nevertheless, I kept walking. I wasn’t really sure about where to go next. I thought about walking to Dal lake, which didn’t seem too far away according to the map that I was carrying. But I was wary of visiting so many places in one day and getting bored during rest of my stay. A few minutes later I came across a foreign tourist who asked me directions to some place in broken heavily accented English. Then she showed me pictures of the place she wanted to go on her phone. It seemed like Dal lake but I was not 100% sure. So I asked an aged local who was walking by. He was fairly certain that it was Dal lake and told us that it was about 2 km away.


    2km didn’t sound that far to me and I asked her if I could tag along with her to which she accepted happily. Turns out that she was a retired dance teacher from Taiwan who had came to Mcleodganj to study Buddhist Lama teachings and to learn yog . She told me that she wanted to go to a yoga teaching center near the lake. She had been there last year, but had forgotten the way. We kept talking as we walked the road. I’ll call her An from now on. Dal lake turned out to be a bit of letdown. Although the surroundings were beautiful, the lake itself was very small and had very little, mostly murky water. The place is famous for it’s 150 or so years old temple. Perhaps the lake looks better during rainy season when it’s filled up. Tibetans have this custom of hanging rows of coloured cloth flags covered with Buddhist teachings in a row. (Right now, I can”t remember what it’s called). I saw one such bunch of flags high up on one of the mountains around the lake and wondered if I could go there. I did stumble across that place later but entirely by accident. But that story is for another day.

    I asked some locals about An’s yoga school and was told that there was one in Naddi, which was about a hour’s walk away. As we kept walking towards naddi, weather started changing. While it was sunny and warm till afternoon, grey clouds started to cover the sky along with a cool breeze . Snow covered mountain peaks seemed nearer than ever and were almost completely hidden by dense clouds. An’s yoga school turned out to be a Sahaj Yoga center made popular by Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi .





    Mcleodganj. Another view of mountains from Naddi

    As we entered the premises, everything seemed deserted. I took a peek inside a few doors when I found one Chinese looking woman in a kitchen. Turned out that she was indeed a Chinese and had been practicing yoga for 6 years. An was overjoyed to find someone who spoke her language and the two got busy chatting. I excused myself, went out and started clicking pictures of cloud covered mountain peaks. It was a beautiful sight. After sometime, An came out and asked if I wanted to get some yoga lessons along with her. I was a bit reluctant but joined in due to curiosity. Inside a room made for meditation we were joined by a European lady dressed in traditional Indian salwar-kameez dress who gave us a short introduction. After a few minutes the first Chinese lady entered with another Chinese and they both gave us a crash course on basic Sahaj Yoga techniques, Kundalinis and Energy Chakras etc in English and Chinese.


    Someone near Dal lake

    I couldn’t help but notice the irony of the situation. There I was, an Indian sitting along with a Taiwanese getting Yoga lessons from 2 Chinese in a town for Tibetan refugees. I tried to shake this thought off my head and concentrate on what I was being told, but it wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I tried. After the lessons were over, we were invited to the kitchen where another Chinese lady joined us at the table. Each one of them had been a yoga practitioner for a number of years. During our conversation I came to know that there were a lot of foreigners staying in and around the place. One building nearby was actually an international school for children of expatriates.

    Food was simple and very different from what goes for Chinese food elsewhere in India. Watery boiled rice, fried eggs with some salad and sweet soup like dish made of boiled colocasia (kachaloo). Almost no spices and it still tasted good.



    By then, it had stopped raining/snowing on the mountain peaks and the clouds had shifted elsewhere. It was sunny where we were but a light shower was in progress the whole time. After some time, me and An took leave of our Chinese hosts and left. It was sunset when we reached back town. I walked An back to her place, 1-2 km away from my hotel. By then it was dark and moon was starting to come up, although it was still hidden behind mountains. There was a shortcut down the mountain, but it was not safe going down that path in dark. Fortunately, a Tibetan man who was just walking in front of us was carrying a torch and offered to guide us down. An was living in a rented house just down the path. After seeing her off, I started walk back to my hotel. By that time, moon was up in the sky and everything looked amazing i it’s light. It was still 2-3 nights short of a full moon but good enough. I tried taking pictures but most came out really bad. On the way, I found one book cafe kind of place. The owner was a foreigner who spoke accented but fluent Hindi. :O

    Walking back up the slope was considerably more tiring than going down, but I reached my hotel room after a while. Turned on the TV, watched some movie for some time before sleeping.

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