Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Life at Little Lhasa: McLeod Ganj

Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh
If you are lover of the mountains and are seeking to know Tibetan culture and cuisine at close quarters, McLeod Ganj should definitely feature in your bucket-list.
Mcleodganj or McLeod Ganj is a quiet hill town in the Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh. Bordered by Dhauladhar mountains, the town offers you undisturbed peace of mind. It derives its name 'Little Lhasa' from the fact that the majority population of McLeod Ganj is Tibetan.The town is the headquarter of Tibetan Government in Exile.

Reaching McLeod Ganj:

If you are travelling from Delhi, the best way to reach McLeod Ganj is to get on a Himsuta (the volvo run by Himachal Pradesh Road Transport department). The volvo starts from Kashmiri Gate around at 7:30 p.m. and reaches McLeod Ganj at 9;15 next morning.
Alternatively, you can board any train going from New Delhi to Jammu and get off at Pathankot. You'll find a lot of autos and cabs waiting outside the station.

Where to Stay at McLeod Ganj:

People at McLeod Ganj are extremely cordial and polite. If you are a woman traveller on a solo trip, you needn't worry at all about your personal safety in this pretty town. There are many good places around McLeod Ganj where you can put up for your stay. But it's best to stay a little away from the hustle and bustle of the main chowk to enjoy your Himalayan retreat fully. You can check out these places:
  • Pema Thang Guest House: For an experience of authentic Tibetan lifestyle, do check in. Not only the delicious food, but the friendly nature of the staff will ensure that you enjoy your stay to the fullest. Most of the hotel stuff are women, making the hotel extremely convenient for female travellers. The room tariff varies from INR 1,200 to 3,800
  • Hotel Bhagsu (HPTDC): This hotel, surrounded by tall pine trees, has the charm of an old-world circuit house. The wooden floor and the wall panels add to the feeling of a warm cozy corner. The lush green lawn surrounding the hotel is quite tempting. You can enjoy your morning tea, basking in the sun here. The room tariff ranges from 1,900 to 4,000 approx. 
  • Kunga Guest House: Check in here for a comfortable stay at affordable rate. All the rooms in this guest house has a private balcony offering a view of the Dhauladhar range.

Why visit McLeod Ganj 

1. To unwind in the lap of nature

And to experience the Himalayas in all its grandness. From dawn to dusk, the mountains will mesmerise you with its different beauties at different points of time. Take a walk along the slightly uphill way towards Dharamkot in the morning. The coolness of the misty morning air will suffice to purge you of all the cares of modern life. Nothing feels more heavenly than to sit awhile in a shanty chaai store beside a ravine, sipping hot masala tea, and watch the morning mist rise from the ground upward, like fairies departing from earth after a night's stroll. 
At sunset, the vast sky, girdled by mountain peaks, take on an unearthly charm: the snow-capped mountains become the colour palette in the hands of a master painter. Enjoy a cold drink of apple cider while witnessing the colour of mountains and sky change from light pink to blood red to dark magenta, till the stars begin to appear on a cloudless nightsky.

2. To taste adventure sports: Trek to Triund

If you are a first-timer at trekking, Triund is ideal for you. It's a relatively short and easy trek. Nestled among the Dhauladhar mountains, Triund offers a grand view of the mountain range on one side and the Kangra valley on the other. A popular trekking spot, every year Triund is visited by a host of trekker both from Indian cities and abroad.  
The trek to Triund is pretty easy through a straight forward route. Sure exhaustion there will be. As the path gets rockier, it may seem a difficult task to hold your breath and continue uphill. Don't worry. Rest for a while at any of the roadside teashops. The view of the mountains around will inspire you to push on a little more, just to see where the path leads to. The destination really becomes less important, when you find yourself enchanted by the beauty of nature around you.
Climbing uphill to Triund

It's absolute bliss when you reach Triund at long last. You are exhausted after your trek, but catch your breath now, 'cause you are now face to face with a beauty that only nature can create. The place perfectly matches the pastoral descriptions found in poetry---vast stretches of green, with mountains bordering the valley from all sides. Clouds float freely before you; you can touch them; they leave dewy mist in your hair. The sky seems to clear, so close, as if you can touch it.

Tips for your trek:

  • Your trek to Triund should start as early as possible, since night falls quite quickly in the mountains. As a result, climbing down the mountainous path may prove dangerous. Although there are arrangements available in Triund to spend the night under the starts, at the top of the hill, it's not advisable to stay back there if you don't have prior booking for a tent. 
  • Avoid a heavy breakfast. A full stomach will make your uphill walk all the more difficult. Instead pack small portions of nutritious food with you—like boiled eggs, dry and fresh fruits, health bars, etc.—to munch on.
  • Carry a lot of water. The strain of trek will make you sweat a lot, even if the temperature is quiet low. You sure don't want yourself to be dehydrated soon.
  • Wear light clothing. Don't make the mistake of putting on heavy jackets, even though you might feel a little chill at the start of the trek. 


3. To live a Tibetan life

 McLeod Ganj is famous all the world over as the residence of the 14th Dalai Lama. People from across the globe come here to pay homage to His Holiness. From the main chowk, if you walk down the Temple Road, you will hit the Dalai Lama Temple. The temple is the centre of Tibetan Buddhism and also has a museum showcasing the history of Tibetan people: their struggle to preserve Tibetan way of life against oppressive forces, their sacrifices and hardships.
Tibetan religious scripture; inside Tibetan Museum, McLeod Ganj
History of the Tibetan People Told through Photographs; at Tibetan Museum
The Dalai Temple lets you witness magnificent pieces of Tibetan art. The murals painted on the walls of the temple are brilliant works of art. Besides, the Temple sits cozily in the lap of mountains. Meditate sitting on the inner ground of the temple, along with Buddist monks, to experience inner peace. The calmness of the Temple premises, broken only by the sound of revolving prayer wheels, soothes you.
Monks at Prayer; inside Dalai Lama Temple

McLeod Ganj is a little piece of Tibet in itself. The Temple Road is peppered with small shanty stores that sell beautiful Tibetan turquoise jewellery and hand-embroidered Tibetan dress. You can buy souvenirs like Tibetan prayer mat, incense or notepads made from handmade paper.
There are many quaint restaurants along both the Temple Road and the road leading to Dharamkot, where you can enjoy a hearty Tibetan meal of Balep and yak meat stew or a bowl of steaming thukpa.
Credit: Pixabay

Credit: Pixabay
For that matter, actually, McLeod Ganj offers a great variety of cuisines. Foreigners travelling from different countries have all brought their special cultures and cuisines to McLeod Ganj, making the small town a hub of multiculturalism. From Israeli to Italian, continental to Indian-with-a-twist, all types of food can be found in McLeod Ganj. Talking of food, let's move on to our next point:

4. To tickle your taste buds in a whole new way

If you're a foodie and seek to explore newer varieties of food, then McLeod Ganj has a lot to offer you. 
  • After finishing your night-long bus journey from Delhi to McLeod Ganj, gorge on a sumptuous English/ American breakfast at The Four Seasons' Cafe. It's located just inside the main chowk, precisely the point where you will hop off the bus. The decor of the restaurant has a old word charm, that complements the breakfast platter made of toast, grilled tomato, fried bacon and egg.
  • Too fond of Indian cuisine are you? Then head to Temple Road and find yourself inside The MoonPeak Cafe. They serve Indian food with an innovative twist. Try their mango chicken or watermelon curry (yes, you've heard right). They are quirky, without compromising on the side of taste.
  • Nick's Italian Kitchen. Located on the way to Dharamkot, this place serves awesome baked goodies. Starting from waffles with honey to tarts, you name it and they have it. Enjoy your fruit pancake while sipping cold coffee and enjoying the view of Hanuman Tibba from their terrace.
  • Along the Temple Road, stands Pema Thang, the home of authentic Tibetan food. The ever-smiling staff here will always be ready to present the most delicious Tibetan dish before you. Do request them to explain the recipe of the items whose names perhaps will seem a bit unfamiliar to you. They will be happy to familiarize you with their culture and cuisine. There's a Tibetan spa adjacent to the restaurant. You may pamper yourself here after a wholesome meal at Pema Thang.

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