Worldwatch: In the lap of lamas
Far in the distance, the horizon turns purple as the swollen clouds threaten to burst. Below, the bus from Pathankot continues through the Kangra Valley, whizzing past picturesque hamlets and startlingly pretty Himachali girls.
The mighty Dhauladhar blocks out the afternoon sun as the Punjab State Roadways bus hurtles to the root of the mountain. Around me the scene is much the same.
A pack of scrubbed pahadi boys fighting over a harassed puppy, assorted villagers with assorted luggage and a handful of reticent, chanting monks sitting behind the bus driver.
This was my first trip to magical McLeodganj. I had mentally prepared myself for a vacation of calm and solitude. Maybe catch the Dalai Lama in action too. Dharamshala, 9 km below McLeodganj, is crowded. Stay here only if you have no accommodation options up in McL.
To get to McLeodganj from Dharamshala, you can either hop on to one of the 10 rupee-a-ride Sumos, grab a rare bus, hire a taxi for Rs 200 or just walk. On the way up, you’ll cross the Church of St John that boasts a sprawling graveyard.
Walking into the cemetery here is like a tutorial in the days of the Raj what with all the moss-covered tombstones surrounding the gray stone church.
When you get here, the road bifurcates three ways. If you’re backpacking your way around, go left and check into any of the guesthouses you see. This area is usually populated with loud Israeli tourists that party up in Bhagsunag so you won’t get a lot of peace.
If you’re not on a shoestring budget, take the middle path and ask for
the Chonor House. Run by the Norbulingka Institute, each of the 11 tastefully
appointed rooms has stunning murals by Tibetan artists.
Chonor House overlooks the main monastery from where the Dalai Lama conducts his business. McLeodganj is a small town. You could walk all over the place in less than an hour.
However, if you want a little adventure, you could sign up for paragliding (in Billing) at any of the tour operators on the middle road (Daya Tours and Travels is an option). There are several nice restaurants here. The Pema Thang restaurant serves only vegetarian cuisine, but the food is fresh.
Come to McLeodganj to get away from it all, make friends with some genuinely nice people and if you’re lucky … maybe you’ll get to fly off the mountain as well.