Sunday, January 10, 2010

Weekend in McLeodganj @Day 1

March 20-23, 2009

Off we go: Sanjay and I finally had a long weekend all to ourselves and we were going to make the most of it! So we booked our tickets on the Volvo to McLeodganj- a place on our travel radar since some time. It is about 20km up the mountains from Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh and primarily a Tibetan settlement; filled with monks and foreign students/tourists.

Back to our trip. The Volvo ride was pretty uncomfortable to say the least. The seats are not what one would expect and they played the same movie (Vivah) thrice till it stopped each time at the same point after the hero and heroine go for a picnic during courtship! But once we got off at McLeodganj, we knew the trip was going to worth every song we endured.

We were picked up by the hotel car- we were staying at Udeechee Huts in Naddi, an isolated village, about 20km higher up from McLeodganj. Round and round we went till we reached Udeeche Huts- settled on a mountain top with not much on either side. Our hut room was of OK size and clean. The best part was that we had unobstructed views of the Dhauladhar range. Time seems to stand still at such places. Where happiness means looking at snow capped mountains, grazing horses and rosy cheeked children walking to school. And hot chai certainly adds to the charm!

It was just 8 in the morning and we had the whole day to ourselves. We headed down to McLeodganj-walking down the turning roads and then a short cut through the local school and woods.

Exploring McLeodganj: The best part about the town is that it is walk able. There are two main streets running parallel and a few lanes behind. All you have to do is walk and observe. It is a quaint place filled with character. We headed first to the Tsuglag Khang, the Dalai Lama's temple complex at one end. A simple building, it houses statues and paintings of Buddha. So I went in and chanted the Buddhist prayer I learnt from a friend “nam myoho renge kyo” (indicative meaning being “to devote oneself”). Then I went and turned the prayer wheels, something I always do in a Buddhist temple as I find it reassuring for some reason.

It was almost noon and time for lunch. Mcleodganj is a foodie’s paradise. But what you need to do is explore, explore, explore! We headed off to Jimmy’s Café serving mostly Italian food and sandwiches. It is a cheery looking place with old movie posters and shelves lined with books. I picked up one titled “Tales from Tibet” while Sanjay chose his ever favorite Tin Tin. My vegetarian pizza was thin crust and delicious; Sanjay’s chicken sandwich looked wonderful even to me! We read some more and enjoyed ice teas till the sun came down a bit.

We went again strolling down the streets, first to the prayer wheels at the center. These are red and blue and green versus the plain gold in the temple. They line four walls and off I went to turn them round and round.

The streets are filled with cafes, curios and stalls. You can look around for a long time. There are colorful caps, gloves, scarves, bags, Buddhist key-chains, wheels, singing bowls and stone jewellery. But most of the stuff is expensive. This is because of the large number of foreigners in residence plus the tourist inflow which increases substantially every year. So, we window shopped on the streets and walked till we reached the town’s end- which came pretty soon.

We walked a bit further out of town towards the St. John’s church (constructed in 1852) and the memorial of Lord Elgin, the British Viceroy of India (1862-63) who died while on a tour to McLeodganj. You need to walk down and then take a left. The area befits a black and white Hindi horror movie. Spooky with not a soul in sight; the church stood with its shutters closed with chains. One side were some graves, which we quickly crossed and right behind the memorial. Out of the blue we heard a loud voice from inside the church (this is serious stuff and the absolute truth) and we fled! We slowed our pace once on the main road and then caught an auto (tuk-tuk) up to Naddi.

We were just in time before it started to drizzle and then pour. Sanjay asked Shabhu (the caretaker) if there would be any snowfall and he said there had been none in summer in the last 2 years. It continued to rain and we slept to the sound of raindrops splattering on our roof.

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