Immediately after the 8-day trek in the North-East this year, I hopped four airports in 24 hours (Kolkata – Mumbai – Delhi – Dharmashala) to reach the ever-welcoming, beautiful mountains of Himachal Pradesh. Shikha and I spent a week in McLeod Ganj – home to the 14th Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees in India.We needed our yearly holiday – one whole week of non-stop chatting and goofing around.
I feel like I could settle down and live happily forever in the mountains. Hot adrak-wali chai available round-the-clock, to-die-for delicious aloo parathas at every corner, the cool crisp air and tantalizing contours of the majestic mountains – that is my very definition of happiness. Oh and also, people in the mountains have excellent taste in music. That just completes my happy picture.
“ There is no love more sincere than the love of food. ” – George Bernard Shaw
I’ve said this before and I repeat – the food up in the mountains is to die for. We ate and we ate like there is there no tomorrow. We enjoyed amazing Tibetan food and hospitality at the lovely Serkong House where we stayed for most of part of our trip. Shikha and I have gobbled endless yummy, hot bowls of soup here. There are quaint little cafes all over McLeod Ganj that make for such happy discoveries – Café Illiterati was one of them. It had walls lined with dark-wood book shelves, a fire place, comfortable couches overlooking the valley, delicious food and soothing music – ingredients for a perfect evening. We also took a very expensive taxi ride from Mcleod Ganj up to Dharmkot to have the much praised wood-fired pizzas at The Family Pizzaria (It was okay. I’ve had better). Another tiny cafe that deserves a mention would be the Moonpeak Expresso Café that you will find as you walk towards the Dalai Lama Temple. Serves delicious sandwiches, muffins and of course coffee. :)
“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” – Gautama Buddha
We visited the temple (which is also the official residence of the Dalai Lama) and another beautiful monastery on our way to Palampur that stood against the backdrop of Dhauladhar mountains. As for finding calm and peace in monasteries and Dzongs, my trip to Bhutan last year gave me plenty of that. Being a Buddhist country, their sensibilities of approaching these sacred spaces, the discipline observed inside the Dzong, the absolute silence inside each premise created a milieu for musings, pondering and conversations with the supreme entity. Not the case in McLeod Ganj because all the monasteries were crowded at any given time, kids were running around and people were going crazy clicking pictures.
But all said and done, I do love being inside a monastery and without fail, I always walk along the prayer wheels turning them, making my wish/es. This little panel of lamps <pic below> is a very powerful visual in every Buddhist temple – it represents the belief and faith of so many people who lit these lamps and offered their prayers here.
From McLeod Ganj, we traveled about 80 kilometers to Bir. Another 14 kms later, we arrived at Bir Biling. This is Asia’s highest paragliding site. The paragliding launch site is in the meadow at Billing , at an elevation of 7874 ft, while the landing site is in the village of Chowgan. The flight from the top to the valley down below takes about 20 minutes. Twenty blissful minutes of jumping off the edge of an 8000 ft high cliff, gloriously flying amidst the snow capped mountains – it was my long awaited flight of fantasy. Not solo yet, but hopefully some day soon. Having done this, I’m more confident about being able to handle sky diving.
As soon as I saw the tri-colored gear, I jumped on it. If some accident were to happen mid-flight at least there would have been a sense of martyrdom to the whole thing. :) That’s Shikha in the picture below. I’m surprised even as I write this as to how she agreed to do this. Adventure sports of any kind isn’t really her thing but I’m so glad she did it. I took off first and after about five minutes of happily floating in the sky – absolutely speechless and awestruck, I turned back to see if Shikha had taken off or if had gotten cold feet at the last minute. I spotted her cruising up around the snow capped Mt. Dhauladhar. :)
Love endless steaming hot cups of adrak wali chai in the mountains!
“If a man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.” – Japanese proverb.
Who am I to disagree with the Japanese? They are wise people. :)
I have come to a stage in life where I think I could carry an entire conversation almost entirely consisting of quotes – it’s easier and certainly more effective.
Love early morning walks… (on the days that I do manage to wake up :))
We stayed a day at the tea gardens in Palampur. It wasn’t a hotel or a even home stay but just a stand-alone bunglow in the middle of a sprawling tea estate. By the time it got dark, we were second guessing our decision on account of safety.
Anyway, we did have have a good time. We had a warm home-cooked meal at night, watched a lot of senseless TV and went off to sleep in the living room. Next morning, we woke up pretty early and walked around the tea gardens at sunrise. It was just beautiful!
Love discovering charming little hidden cafes….
The day after we arrived in McLeod ganj, we set out in the morning to have breakfast at Shiva Café. We knew it was somewhere around Bhakshu Waterfalls but we hadn’t anticipated the almost mini-trek adventure we had to undertake to get there. Best of all, I was wearing Osho chappals. :) After quite a climb, we got there and what a stunning view it was! And because this was a kind of secluded hippie paradise that comes alive only at night, it was completely empty and quiet at this time of the day. Aloo parathas & veg maggi here- highly recommended – absolutely delicious!
As I was sitting there happily sipping my tea, I happened to spot this ‘Breaking Bad’ poster. :) Got me really excited because I’d just finished all six seasons and was experiencing withdrawal symptoms. After ‘Breaking Bad’, its been hard to find something that is as brilliantly written & enacted. As I witnessed Bryan Cranston’s remarkable metamorphosis into Heisenberg across the seasons, I kept thinking to myself, ‘I can’t believe this guy played Tim Whatley, the dentist from Seinfeld’.
Love shopping for handicrafts and souvenirs
We visited the Norbulingka Institute in Dharmasala that is committed to preserving Tibetan culture and art. We saw artists at work making Thangka paintings, metal and wood-work crafts and also visited a small doll museum depicting fabrics and clothing patterns of ancient Tibetan tribes. If you think of Tibet’s struggle over the years, it’s quite heart breaking. All over McLeod Ganj on hoardings that speak of the Chinese atrocities, you can see the pain of this displaced nation and the refugees who now call India their home.
At the gift shop, I forced/bullied Shikha to buy something ‘for Tibet’. :) I bought a couple of things too. All the proceeds from sales of this shop, went towards encouraging Tibetan artisans and preserving their culture.
And above all, I love this…
Laughter, endless conversations about nothing & everything, happy dances, big breakfasts, hearing bad jokes, taking long walks, listening to item songs – it is all the therapy I will ever need in my life. :)
If my Patronus could take a shape, I’m fairly certain it would probably look something like this. :)