A day in Naddi, Himachal Pradesh: Defeating the rain clouds
Known as Little Lhasa, McLeod Ganj in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, is full of unpredictability and revelations — the comfortable homestays of the pretty little town of Naddi, another version of the Dal Lake, the rewarding Bhagsu trek, and cafés that wait to indulge your taste buds.Updated: Jun 25, 2018 18:03 IST
I open my eyes. A little ray filtering through a crack in the curtain has lit up a bump on my blanket. The rain that fell all day yesterday has mated with the night to lend an entirely different meaning to the proverbial nip in the air. I look back regretfully at the thermals I’ve left at home. The forecast is that is going to rain again.
Stifling a shiver, I step outside onto the balcony of our homestay, which is awash with a generous swig of morning sunshine. I’m witnessing a glorious sunrise, not far from the Sunset Point, Naddi. The mountain right in front cradles a little village with red rooftops. Red and green are the colours for rooftops in these parts. But rain looms near, and we need to hurry if we want to make the most of this day: Some forecasts say the rain won’t be here till afternoon.
We freshen up quickly and trek up to the taxi stand flanked by a sahaja yoga meditation centre. Tourists and yoga trainers flock the tea shops and shacks scattered around the place. A cabbie spots us and directs us to his vehicle, as if by telepathy. He obviously knows about the rain.
The taxi speeds away to Bhagsu through the local market, negotiating turns with the aplomb that you often associate with India’s pahadi drivers. We pass countless state transport boards, foreign tourists out on hikes, hairy mountain dogs strutting about, and cows perched precariously on the edges of hillocks. The taxi leaves behind McLeod Ganj and finally pulls over near a couple of buildings painted in ochre.
As we walk down the arcade that leads to the point that marks the start of the Bhagsu trek, we spot an interesting collection of places — the Bhagsu Nag temple, a fancy-looking pool meant seemingly for holy dips, departmental stores and kiosks selling curios, tea and homemade muesli. Bhagsu the village is a haven for backpackers looking to stay for longer and avoid the crowds. Its main street is usually full of cafés serving Israeli breakfast, centres for meditation and skill-based classes. Stalls selling paraphernalia — carpets, jackets, masks, trinkets and prayer flags abound here, too, as do Israeli migrants talking in Hebrew. We halt for a moment and decide against entering the temple — we’re short on time as it is, and more importantly, we’re supposed to leave footwear outside, the prospect of losing which is the stuff travel nightmares are made of.
The Bhagsu trek is now before us. A vast patch of flat slate rocks glints in the sun from afar, beaming at us like the waters of a dried creek. A stocky man in a cap is perched on a rock, getting his next display picture clicked. Behind us in some distance, a family prepares to tick off another in their long line of tourist spots to be covered..
As we go up and down with our sights firmly on our present goal and larger objective for the day, we pass by a number of cafes, both empty and running, which could easily double as reliable rain shelters if the rain decides to show up. They’re covered in an uplifting, bright mélange of colours, decked with all the latest in beverages and snacks, with proprietors that sit like monks — hidden behind a counter, or busy mopping the crates outside. My partner, who isn’t great at climbing, offers to sit at a café that has flat slate rocks for furniture and décor and has a direct view of the Bhagsu waterfall. But it isn’t to be. I eventually wheedle her into accompanying me — it isn’t much of a climb really.
After spending two hours at the waterfall and a little resulting lake at its base where there are also a few eateries and a lazy mutt dozing in the shade near our feet, we make our way back to McLeod Ganj. Managing time and energy effectively is our preoccupation this day, and we take a cab to McLo, our next stop where we will make the most of our final day here, before the impending rains and thunderstorm arrive.
Shopping is therapeutic and our souls could do with some therapy, but these two things are hardly related in our case. Unlike yesterday, when we were a little too relaxed in our exploration, we are focused today. We decide to shop and zero down on what we want: eating at least one memorable meal, buying a Tibetan chuba, prayer flags for my bookshelf, and a nice walk down the bustling area. We also end up digging into some divine Irish cream coffee and lemon tea at a café, as we speculate away on the feasibility of the rooftop restaurant serving Punjabi fare that our table has a direct view of.
With most of our targets for the day achieved, and it not having rained so far, we make our way back to Naddi. Our vehicle of retreat is an old-school auto with a door that bolts with a latch. We witness an entirely different route on the way back, the cantonment area with roads that have a trademark on the hairpin bend. Our tuk-tuk scoots past a dense cedar jungle that shelters a brooding church adjoining a quaint cemetery on the road to Lower Dharamsala. We instantly decide we’re coming back, come what may.
We reach our homestay, politely turn down our host family’s offer for tea. The property is managed by a native Gaddi family. Their faces light up when you first arrive at their property and also when you go downstairs to order food. One could do with a little less sweetness, and I mean it for their chai. Anyway, this is going to be our final conquest on this trip. The clouds rumble ominously above, but not enough to deter us. We grab our windbreakers and take one long, hard look at the skies: Deal with us, Zeus.
We are headed for the church that we saw on the road to Forsyth Ganj on our way back home, making our way through the lanes of Naddi, stealing glances at natives going about their day and bashful buffaloes turning away from our cornered, plundering selves. As we trudge on, higher and higher, to reach a point that overlooks a sea of the same red rooftops in McLeod, it is a sight to behold.
- Getting there: The Gaggal Airport is the nearest to McLeod Ganj, even though the number of flights is severely limited. Otherwise, one can take a night bus (state road transport or private) from the interstate bus terminus in Kashmere Gate, Delhi. Cabs and tuk-tuks connect McLo to the Naddi village and Bhagsu , but one can just as easily walk.
- When to visit: McLeod Ganj is pleasant and cool all year round. Avoid the monsoon months of July and August. However, do check the weather forecast and carry essentials in case of rain.
- Attractions: Buy silver jewellery, Mani wheels and prayer flags in the bustling markets of McLeod Ganj and Bhagsu, or gorge on and take home some sumptuous, indulgent Bhagsu cake.
- In addition to the above, the 10-day Shoton Festival organised by TIPA, held usually in late April, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, is a major draw here. Witness a smorgasbord of performances, including high-pitched singing, Tibetan opera, and others.
We locate a steep flight of steps that leads to a winding road closer below, and walk down the trail to come upon the city’s own version of the Dal Lake. It is a quiet, mossy water body, underwhelming as far as its christening after the name of its more illustrious counterpart goes, and on the jungle banks of which stands guard a proud thicket of pointy conifers. Elsewhere, polite, approachable police officers — young Himachali women with their wits always about them, can be seen strolling everywhere in sight.
One such officer, seated on a little parapet with a little local girl, guides us towards a little trail that cuts away from the road to McLeod Ganj. We gallop away downhill and go down a serpentine flight of steps and come upon another road that leads us to the gates of the St John in the Wilderness Church. This is like sighting land after months of seafaring. A sublime sight, made even more melancholic by its unyielding exterior and ancient-looking stained glass windows.
Constant on our pact on not entering places of worship, we walk on to find a young man, bearded and probably with a bandana over his hair, strumming away on his guitar to a sad old Bollywood song. A sparse bunch of onlookers surrounds him, recording his performance to watch it later. By the way, the rain is still not here. We have defeated the forecast, and the conquest is complete.
First Published: Jun 25, 2018 17:56 IST