A very recent personal celebration of ours sent me and A into the hills, to seek out some quiet, the rolling vistas, the easy conversations of the pahadi people, the musty book stores, an unhindered palette of food options, and huge helpings of the outdoors. McLeodganj was where we landed.
Through the winding roads along the Beas, I lay awake, probably in a trance, as the bus trundled on through the thick of the night, past the sleepy town of Kangra and then past Dharamsala, the last of the flats before the majestic Dhauladhars bore down on us. With the first light of the sun, the snow-capped peaks glinted beyond Mcleodganj. The air seemed to glisten with promises, barely able to contain itself. The grand mountains seemed a hike away!
Through the waking town, the trickle of early risers and the monks making their way through to the morning markets, we came upon our base for the stay – the gorgeously located Horizon South Villa. Past the tiny town, just beyond the Dalai Lama’s Temple, built on a steep road dwindling down into a cluster of homes and a small monastery, overlooking the expanse of the Kangra valley, the villa packs in a touch of home, that luxury perfect to erase the fatigue in your bones, warm food prepared to your taste and a view to garnish it all with! A perfect base camp before we ventured out on our trek to Triund early next morning.
Making inroads back into the now awake and buzzing town, we came upon the Dalai Lama’s Temple, the place held in warm reverence by Tibetans the world over. Yet it wasn’t that fact that had me riveted but the snaking queue of more than a kilometer outside, of foreigners and the locals waiting for the temple gates to be thrown open. The intrigue of this small town of Mcleodganj, that held within its bounds a culture threatened politically and a charismatic spiritual leader at its helm, bore down on me, just like it had on the thronging crowds from all over the world at its gates! Vendors selling sacred sashes to the excited customers, meant to honor the Dalai Lama with, seemed to be having a hectic time, using either their voices, or eyes or hands to negotiate and bridge the language gaps.
Mcleodganj’s a town from a quaint past, where a large part of the town’s soul still seems to reside. Chupa clad ladies and peaceful looking monks, mischievous school children and foreigners in a charas-induced daze, trekkers and laid back travelers – all come together in a town that effectively falls within a 4 km radius.
Shop owners putting up their wares on makeshift stalls lining the narrow roads, monks with prayer beads between their fingers, restaurants and cafes dishing out the most sumptuous Tibetan fares, book cafes, breakfast joints, and adventure-gear selling shops, alongside some aesthetically done up shops vending Thangkas and Mandala paintings against a backdrop of the majestic snow-capped Dhauladhars, that’s all there is to it. It’s where the Tibetan culture found refuge and made its own.
The queue had taken up a length too long for our tastes! Moving on, I found myself eyeing a treasure-house.
The Mcleodganj markets are nothing short of a treasure hunt, especially for a trinket junkie like me – Tibetan lamps, jewellery, spices, interesting woolwork to take back, cheap copies of Thangka paintings, prayer wheels, earthy incense sticks, wood bound notebooks, and even some adventure gear that’ll see you through some rough terrain easily. Relieving our pockets and burdening our daypacks with some extraordinary souvenirs, we moved on. For our famished selves, it was time to reach the nearest lady with a cartful of hot dumplings and treat ourselves to some spinach-potato stuffed dumplings. A lady with a warm generous smile and equally benign hesitant about gracing my camera. Our tryst with Mcleodganj had begun!