October 22, 2016

My trip to Mcleodganj/dharamshala- Had gone to eat and pray but fell in love instead


I haven’t announced yet, but I have been working on a novel. (There, I said it. Yikes, can’t believe I said it like that! A better announcement coming soon) That said, no doubt I have been working on it like a lunatic. My last two jobs in Mumbai didn’t work out, which was a blessing in disguise, as I later realised. I would have never started working on my own stuff if I were comfortable in my well paying job. The heftier my bank account got, the more spent I felt each day. One of those madly frustrating days, I came across this awesome Instagram account called abhiandnow. It was followed by my friends here in Ahmedabad and I learned it belonged to this guy called Abhinav Chandel, who has shifted to Dharamshala in Himachal and writes stories about his travels. I called my friend Ashima and asked about it, as she seemed to know his guy. She said he is this reserved person and may not talk to me, but I could talk to him and ask him if he would show me around if I planned to travel there.

So I dropped him a mail. This was in June this year. Mcleodganj has been luring me since last 6-7 years though. I had made up my mind to go alone this time if no one came along. Abhinav gets paid to travel (yes, some people get really lucky) as he is not only a great photographer but a very good writer as well. He was on a two month trip to Spiti, and said October is the best time to enjoy Mcleodganj. We would chat on and off and (thankfully) became friends. My plan was to live in Dharamshala for two months and wanted to go there directly from Mumbai; and thank heavens that didn’t happen. While most of my business plans are amazing, when it comes to these things I love, my brain works like a 12 year old. So I came to Ahmedabad, worked really hard on my novel, did some freelance projects and then whisked off to Dharamshala on 7th of October.

I went by train as I needed time to write and also because I love meeting new people. Train rides give me different perspectives, and also help me get a sense of the cities, cultures and people. I have sometimes made up a different name for myself, told people I met a different story about myself, and thoroughly enjoyed the conversations with the wonderful people I meet on such journeys. This crazy exercise helps me to be really creative and write satisfactorily.

Himachal Pradesh has been rightly nicknamed Dev Bhumi - ‘The Land of Gods and Goddesses’. It is the most beautiful place I have ever been to as it is straight out of those drawings of ‘nature scenery’ we made as children- a little house overlooking mountains, valleys, rivers and beautiful trees. There are perennial rivers and lakes breaking out from green hills and lovely pastures. Horses graze around like cats and dogs we spot in cities. I think I was meant to visit this lovely place six years after my initial plan as by then I had visited a lot of places all over India, and if I had gone here earlier and other places later, I would have ended up comparing those places to Himachal and somehow not enjoyed those so much. So yeah, Himachal is that special a place.
The view from Bogdo café, which became my favourite place to sit and write in Dharamshala.

Abhinav had connected me to his friend Manil, who is from Ahmedabad, who took me to Dharamkot – a village beside Dharamshala. We instantly bonded over the amazing Gujarati business acumen and bad Ahmedabad traffic. Also that extra spoonful of sugar we added into our coffees.

Bonding with a fellow Amdavadi over sweet coffee at someplace far away from home as you criticize your city, still not failing to express your love for it is something you must experience. So every big hill has its own village here. The best part was that Manil has an Enfield, and I had never been on a bike on mountains. It is a great experience! I am all set to go to Ladakh on a bike now :)
 
 

 Manil told me the Buddhist prayer flags spread the prayers all around the world. 


We went to the Illiterati café later; it’s this popular café, thanks to the delicious options on the menu and a really good collection of books. I loved the décor. It's the best place to meet really interesting people. For those who don’t know, the word Illiterati means the opposite of Illuminati. A wonderful name for a café with books, isn’t it? Make sure you visit this café if you go to Mcleodganj. It was started by Yannick who is from Belgium and is now owned by Rikten, Julian and Nalin. They are a great team and I enjoyed talking to them.

Here's something about the lovely people I met. Because travelling is as much about people you meet, along with the food you eat and places you see…

Manil introduced me to Sanhita; an incredible person from Mumbai. She works as a consultant in Mumbai but is in love with Himachal. She has been visiting Himachal since five years now. She is this ultimate dog lover, has also acted in a cute ad with her dog. Sanhita is someone who will pick up snails who have decided to doze off right in the middle of the road and put those in the corner so that no one steps on them. 

She would buy biscuits for all neighborhood dogs and feed them. She has a common nickname for all the animals – Pappuchand. This sweet girl saved me from dogs, cats, guys, etc., and I was so happy to have her around and talk to her as we sipped our favorite coffees, exploring new cafés. We bumped into each other once, and had some amazing Sushi at this place called Lung Ta. It was mind blowing how easily we could cover topics like spirituality, men, yoga and food in less than five minutes. She is one of the most intelligent people I have met, I miss her company. Her Twitter handle is very interesting - @ExactlyThat

I got a chance to explore few villages around Mcleodganj. Manil and his friend Manan live in this village called Rakkad/Rakkar, 40 mins away from Dharamshala (I don’t like to use km every time) Their landlords daughter was getting married, and Manil invited us. We passed through another village called Dari and reached Rakkad, in the Sidh Bari district.
Rakkad

These guys live in the most beautiful house surrounded by lush meadows and a river bed called Neugal. The water force is strong and you can hear it from far away. We hopped on the stones in the middle of this river and listened to the flowing waters. These waters seem to tell their stories and have a huge impact on you. They get you all worked up in a second and then calm you down in another.

Manil has a cool startup sharethelove.in, an online place for people who want to find volunteering opportunities and yes, share some love. Manan works with him and we spoke about their plans. These guys keep walking while talking – they have taken the ‘walk when you talk’ campaign too seriously. So all three of us walked as we talked about our work and business plans.

Manan is a truly distinctive individual. You hardly ever meet people like him. Like the meaning of his name goes, he is calm and said I was jumpy when we were introduced. We bonded over Kabir’s dohe, Ayurvedic products, agarbatti’s, spirituality, feeding some neighborhood horses and some delicious chocolate mousse from Kunga (a famous bakery) later. I raided his kitchen and stole some Chinese green tea bags. 

He told me about some stupefying phenomena called synchronicity and angel signs, which I have experienced but didn’t know that it has a name. I just can’t stop experimenting with it now! The perks of meeting intelligent people - now I can make some dull moments interesting, and interesting ones even more so. Here is his blog – rainbowroutes.wordpress.com

I had heard about people leaving their big cities behind and shifting base to Dharamshala to work on coding and other complex tech stuff.

Well, it’s for real. They stay here – It’s called Ghummakad.

I met the guy who has coded Manils website - a 21 year old, really sweet guy. His name is Shantanu.
 

Breakfast at a tapri cum provision store in Rakkad

The Dharamshala stadium  
The mountain glow
Manil took me to the Tashi Jong Monastery (meaning auspicious valley), some kilometers away from Palampur. It has a stupa of Khamtrul Rinpoche, who established the monastery. It’s basically a community of realized practitioners called ‘togdens’.  There are some 15 monks who have been meditating since years in this monastery.
Always get amazed to see the senior citizens walk on the hills so effortlessly in these places

The monastery



A bear in a zoo on the way to the monastery, I know it's hardly visible. Still, I saw a bear :P

What strikes you is the road to this monastery – with beautiful snow laden mountains, some green hills, expansive green fields with golden dancing crops and hilly slopes with aromatic tea gardens.
 

The air was as fresh as the snow I saw on the top of the mountains (which wasn’t visible on my way there, but while coming back) and luckily, the weather was perfect for a long bike ride. I had to get down and pose like a tourist. Couldn’t help it, as I don’t see this every day. We entered someone’s private property, and clicked away.

I attended the wedding for two days. The first day was the mehendi ceremony. We were from the bride’s side. 

When Sanhita said she can apply henna, she was immediately asked to start applying it on Dimple’s (the bride) hand. We fuss about the beautician, decorations, food and what not; we even have wedding planners these days. These Himachali weddings remind you, planning isn’t (and shouldn’t be) crucial when it comes to weddings.

The wedding day was very special. Everyone in the village is invited and so were our friends from Ghummakad. Two foreigners came along and I must say they really made an effort to dress up traditionally; kurta, pyjama, Himachali topi et al. I looked like a ‘jhali’ with ripped denims, sweater and big shoes.





We had the traditional dish called ‘Dham’ which is served on leaf plates called pattlu. It has more than six courses, they serve a good quantity of rice and then various dal’s, vegetables and beans are served to be eaten with the rice. It started with moong dal, chole, aalu, maa-ki-dal and finished with mitha bhatt, which is a rice dessert.

The most interesting aspect of this meal is the fact that everyone finishes their food at the same time and gets up together. While Manan was busy taking pictures, Manil, Sanhita and I were eating with everyone. It goes without saying we didn’t finish eating with everyone. Manil gobbled up his food quickly and said he was leaving us to face the embarrassment. Sanhita and I got up saying we were full. This one is always going to crack me up.

I always pray for an interesting life. Before starting a journey, I pray it is interesting. Now these vibes created by my prayers are so strong that ‘the interesting’ becomes too much to handle sometimes. Yes, I meet a lot of interesting people; hence witness some really interesting things – at my own expense sometimes. We started playing ‘Truth and Dare’ and this girl called Ambika gave me a Dare to call the fifth person on my contact list and propose to him/her. It was Abhinav. I hadn’t even met him, but was (already) chilling with his friends and was supposed to meet him the very next day. Wretchedly, everyone got very excited and I had to play along.  He was returning from Spiti the next day and Manil said it would be perfect, he said Abhinav gets lots of proposals on social media. When he didn’t pick up the phone, my phone was snatched away and Sanhita typed a crazy msg to him. 

Thankfully, he didn’t buy it and saw through it. Some more pranks were played on me the next day, this time by Sanhita and Abhinav and then we went for a trek and had dinner at this lovely place called Indique.

I had a great time exploring Mcleodganj with Abhinav. We also discussed some projects I am working on and I tried my hand at writing poems like him.

 He would recommend me places and cafes and I would go there alone and write. When I told him I would also be writing about this trip, he said he would not read the things I write about him. Hehe. So here goes - His Instagram account would make you think he is a serious, no-nonsense guy, but he is this eccentric person who jokes around, loves to eat, steals your chocolates and doesn’t take himself seriously at all. But then, he says something really witty and you are like oh ya he is the same person you see on social media. 
 
 
 

He took me for a trek on my last day there, to this really wonderful hill. He ran off like a mountain goat, and I lagged behind like a frustrated goat, the one you spot in cities like Ahmedabad. I struggled to keep up with him and was told I wasn't wearing proper shoes and proper clothes for hiking and just then I stumbled down, regained my balance quickly and hoped he didn't hear it when he said "Sambhal ke". 

 



I met some other interesting people too - Ipsa, Amit and Bithika. It’s wonderful how they are all living here in mountains.

Mcleodganj is visited by a lot of tourists as well. I was walking on an uphill road and this American couple was walking ahead. The woman slowed down and now I was behind the man. He turned around and said, “Would you like some chai?” He thought he was talking to the woman with him. He was surprised to see me and smiled nervously. I smiled too, to make him more nervous and because I wanted to say something really funny about the way he said ‘chai’, but I decided to mind my manners. On my last day there, I came across this group of foreigners while on my trek, they said Namaste and I said Hello at the same time. That kind of says it all about how everyone exchanges their experiences, culture and life in this little global town.

Beware of these manmade pits on the roads. I almost fell in these. Twice. Two monks caught me and laughed at me the first time and then this cute girl from Delhi called Mira who was travelling with her friends caught me just in time. I know most of you can’t be as clumsy as me even after trying really hard, but just saying.





The Dalai lama temple and the Tibet Museum.


I met this crazy group of engineers from Gandhinagar Institute of Technology on my way back, nine of them travelling with a professor - Nirmeet, Umang, Purval, Pinakin, Pranav, Parth, another Parth, Jay and Rahul. Thanks to them, I had so much fun on the train. They sang, danced, sketched, and played the mouth organ. I am convinced Indian engineers are really good at extracurricular activities in comparison to the ones from other countries. 
 

They are destined to become great businessmen, artists, writers, in short anything but engineers. Jokes apart, they were a smart bunch and had gone to Lovely University to represent their university for a competition – SAE Efficycle. They had made this tadpole tricycle from scratch and they showed me the videos. Some of them started telling me about their female friends and I understood for them equations and formulae are much simpler to be understood. I decided to leave it at that, and simply asked them to enjoy college.

As people from all around the world come to Mcleodganj due to the Dalai Lama Temple, there are some amazing cafes serving authentic food from different parts of the world here. Here is a list of places I highly recommend:

 
 
 
 
 
 


-        Bogdo Café – great breakfasts
-        Budan Café – coffees and desserts – they put dollops of fresh cream on the desserts
-        Lung Ta’s – Sushi and lemon tart
-        Illiterati – Hibiscus tea, coffees, pancakes and books!
-        Himalayan tea shop – the view and ambience
-        Coffee Talk – breakfasts and tourists!
-        Seed Café – Tibetan food
 Kunga – chocolate mousse 

2 comments:

  1. Seems like you had a great trip...also food and nature, they are lovely indeed.

    ReplyDelete