McLeod Ganj, a Taste of Tibet in India
The next day we slept like logs till noon, we had to regain energy after the trek from Batal to Chota Dara in Lahaul. The plan was to eat lunch in Manali, and leave for Dharamkot, a small village above Dharamsala, close to McLeoad Ganj. Since there were no buses, we thought of taking a taxi straight to Dharamkot, which is at a distance of around 246 kms from Manali.
Fortunately we got a good deal since a taxi coming from Dharamshala to Manali was returning back empty, so a friend who works in Manali sorted us out by arranging the taxi for us for a mere Rs 1300. The taxi was leaving in the evening, so we had enough time to enjoy some fruit wine in the golden wheat fields.
But before that we also had to book our tickets back to Mumbai, the travel agent in Kasol who we had paid to book our train tickets a week ago, couldn’t get in touch with us while we were in Spiti, since none of us had network. He missed the earlier date he was uncertain if he should book us for the next day, we had to collect the ticket money back from his main office in New Manali.
We walked through the golden wheat fields, it was harvest time, we noticed a local woman cutting the crops with a sickle. We reached the bridge connecting New and Old Manali, from here we took a rickshaw to the main market.Looks like it was not only harvest season, but nature itself was in its peak around us, plants seemed to be infested with colonies of catterpillars. On reaching the main market in New Manali we were on the look out for the travel agency and noticed this funny sign board. The traffic police seems to have got their spellings mixed up a wee bit, but we owe them one for the laugh. New Manali is a busy place, cluttered with shopping centers, souvenir shops, restaurants, offices etc. This vendor had something interesting, a dried seemingly dead plant that would come back to life if you left it in water overnight, from brown to a lush green plant the next day and he also claimed it would live for a life time. Although we cant seem to recollect what its called. All this for just Rs 10 seemed like a wonderful deal. A call back to the agent in Kasol when we reached the ticketing office was all it took to get our money back and we were all set to waste the remainder of the day until it was time for the taxi to arrive. So we headed back to the fields with some wine to sip on and waited.
Around 6 PM we got a call from our friend Virendra Chauan (Vinny) saying the taxi is here. So we went back to his office in New Manali, we kept our bags there and went to Zing Zing bar where we had a couple of beers before getting into the taxi.
We hit the road by 8.30 pm, it was going to be a long ride. Bhavika’s favorite pass-time on this trip was to sleep and thats what she did for most of the journey to Dharamkot.
Our only stop was at a dhaba in Kangra valley at 2 am, we only had a cup of tea. Next to the dhaba there was a huge statue of the Hindu god Shiva. Clyde and Brunel stayed up during the journey, to ensure everything went well and that the driver did not fall asleep.
A couple of kms away from the dhaba was another shrine of a Punjabi and Hindu deity, Baba Balak Nath ji, who is worshiped in north India.
The Bird Show in Dharamkot
At the break of dawn we reached Dharamkot, the narrow lanes made it difficult for the taxi to move about searching for the guest house where another friend had booked a room for us. We loaded off and started looking for a hotel known as the, Internet guest house. It was a beautiful morning as the sun rose in front of us, birds started chirping, gentle mist floated through the Kangra valley and Dauladhar range, which seemed like a warm welcome to Dharamkot!
The room cost Rs 500 at Internet guest house, and had a balcony facing the valley. The amount of birds we saw in a short span of time was more than what we had seen any where else in Himachal. Different species, varied colours, it was a treat. Apart from the birds Dharamkot had a good variety of flora and we even managed to catch a glimpse of a huge Mongoose walk through the pastures that lay before us and climb up a tree. Caught in the act, kissing birds.
Magpie perched on a hanging wire.
See who we got on camera, Woodpecker using his stiffened tail to climb the wall.
The journey was long, though Bhavika had caught up on her sleep she still wanted to hit the sack. Clyde wanted to chill and relax as well. We decided to go for lunch at a cafe opposite to the guest house, Trek-n-Dine, which served decent food at a slightly higher price. It doesn’t take too long to realise that lot of Israelis come to Dharamkot in huge numbers, hence many of the guest houses, cafes etc. have things written in Hebrew. In fact there is also a Friendly Planet restaurant catering only to them, which we entered once and couldn’t figure out any of the dishes on the menu. Besides, we also felt out of place with the kind of stares we got, so we chose to leave.
Trek-n-Dine also had the facility of watching movies for free, you get to select few movies from a couple of CD cases, there was a lot of choice. We picked up a movie called Borat and watched comfortably at no cost. If you have seen that movie, you sure know we had a very good laugh. Then we headed back to our rooms to relax for a while.
The day just flew by and before we realised it was time for us to rest yet again, hopeful that the next day would be filled with activity!
McLeod Ganj, the Home of Tibetans
We had read about McLeod Ganj, the residence of the Dalai Lama and home of the Tibetan government-in-exile and were very keen to check it out. The plan was to go down to McLeod Ganj after visiting Tushita Meditation Centre, a short walk up from our guest house.
Prior to making our way to Tushita we grabbed a quick breakfast, Dharamkot is the place we actually fattened ourselves. This time we tried the Milkyway cafe across the road, a cheaper option as compared to Trek-n-dine. We sipped on herbal tea as we gobbled up our omlette, sandwich and an unusual Israeli dish called Ziva. Its a snake-shaped bread stuffed with olives, cheese, bulgarian cheese, hard cheese, mushrooms and covered with sesame seeds.
We had to dip it in salsa sauce and green chutney, this experiment was a success, because Ziva turned out to be extremely delicious. It aet us back only by Rs 80, and it was quite filling as well. A funny name for incense sticks lying at the cafe, they were called Google. Just outside the guest house, an electricity pole covered with banners for yoga and meditation courses. Many tourists come to Dharamsala with a purpose of discovering themselves, in fact most classes are conducted by foreigners themselves.
Tushita is basically a centre for the study and practice of Buddhism, they conduct various Buddhism and meditation courses throughout the year. A friend was keen on finding information of the courses and we got to spend some time waiting in their lovely garden. What beautiful flowers were on display, an array of colours blending with the peaceful environment.
There were bunch of these growing around Dharamkot.
A red and black beetle seemed to be lazing around on a leaf. Tushita seems like an ideal place to go on a retreat, its away from inhabitation and faces the valley. Just besides the entrance of Tushita there is a short cut that leads to McLeod Ganj, a pleasant walk through the forest that takes around 20-25 minutes if you walk at a leisurely pace, although the ascent would take longer.:)
There were lot of monkeys on the way, and one was caught doing something strange, looking at himself by using a small mirror piece. This makes us wonder how much have we evovled that we do the same thing that this monkey was doing, virtually every day of our lives. How do I look today, I have a date tonight:) Its a lovely picture.
The history of McLeod Ganj…
People often mistake Dharamsala as the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-exile, the actual Tibetan settlement is in McLeod Ganj. Known as ‘Little Lhasa’, McLeod Ganj is a historical place, under the British rule it was a hill station, where British officers, their wives and children spent hot summers.
By 1855 there were two important places of civilian settlement, McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj. These places became important centers of trade, commerce and official work of Kangra District. But the 1905 earthquake destroyed a lot of buildings, so the district HQ were shifted to lower parts. Then in 1959 the Indian Government offered refuge to Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. He was allowed to make McLeod Ganj his headquarters.
As soon as we stepped out of the forested area we see hordes of shops and restaurants dotting the landscape. Bustling with activity, its home to thousands of Tibetan refugees and several Buddhist monasteries. It was a different feeling, walking down the narrow lanes of McLeod Ganj, absorbing a new culture altogether.
The colourful monastery in the market place, adorned with prayer wheels on the outsides and people passing by would often turn them clockwise to evoke blessings from thousands of mantras. By turning this wheel once one earns merit equal to the recitation of the mantras filled inside this wheel. The Tibetans have built religious, educational and cultural institutions in and around McLeod Ganj, which has helped in preservation of their rich and diverse culture. No wonder tourists from around the world are attracted to McLeod Ganj, they can get a taste of Tibetan culture. Women selling shawls and blankets, most of them know Hindi, so haggling is not a problem. I bought a spiritual CD for Rs 150 that had Buddhist chants to help induce meditation. You can find a lot of spiritual music available here. It seems like a major part of the economy revolves around spirituality. As we walked we noticed a couple of pamphlets stuck on the sidewalk speaking about the struggle of Tibet against China and the historic Tiananmen Square protests. This is the building belonging to the officers of Gu-Chu-Sum, that holds english courses for former political prisoners and their family members, some of who were jailed and tortured for exercising their political rights and were unable to get any educational opportunity in Tibet, a nice cause indeed.
Many young monks were walking around, this one was engrossed in his book, perhaps before a religious class. On a lighter note, on the road Tibetans were cooking black Tibetan sausages, Clyde thought of trying it out. Unaware as to what it was, he just felt like trying them out, hoping its not some private parts of a yak or sheep.
You can gauge the excitement on his face of trying out something new. It turned out to be decent in taste, chewy texture, and the spicy sauce went well with the sausage. Clyde says he wouldn’t mind eating it again, but he doesn’t mind eating anything again. A huge pretty flower on the way. I haven’t seen any place that offers different kinds of massage treatments, from Thai to Tibetan massage, the choices seem plenty to pamper yourself here. We walked quite a bit right from Dharamkot to Tsuglag Khang, the Dalai Lama’s temple, which is on the temple road about five minutes walk from the bus station. Opposite the temple was this huge poster screaming out for the unity of Tibetan people. I saw lot of Tibetan Buddhists using prayer beads to keep count as they chanted mantras. They seem to be pious. The Tsuglagkhang Temple complex, or the Dalai Lama Temple, is the most sacred monument in McLeod Ganj. The complex has a long corridor with shops selling religious books, t-shirts, souvenirs, but more than that an important notice caught my eye.
The 11th Panchen Lama, considered to be the second highest-ranking spiritual leader for Tibetans, was kidnapped by the Chinese government in 1995, and till date his whereabouts are unknown to everyone. This notice was an appeal to everyone to join this cause and push for the release of the Panchen Lama. The temple is simple in appearance from outside but it has some huge statues of various Buddhist deities. But first there was a dramatic event unfolding just before we took the steps leading to the temple.
We were wondering what group of young monks were engaged in such an animated fashion. Later on a friend said that they were debating. Its part of a monk’s training to gain more clarity, develop sharpness and expand their mind. The debate also involves several hand gestures and clapping.
As you can see in the picture below, there are two parties to the debate, a defender, who is sitting, and a questioner, who is standing. The defender puts forth an answer to the question asked, they then exchange roles and continue. It can get very animated as well to raise doubts in defender’s mind. They were debating about, Buddhist metaphysics, which we got to realize much later on our visit to Norbulingka institute.
We entered the first temple where photography wasn’t allowed, but we still took a couple of pictures, which have come blurred, but this place wasn’t as peaceful as the Kee monastery in Spiti. Probably because there were many more people here than Spiti. From there we moved to the next temple, adjacent to the earlier one, which has a life-size statue of Gautam Buddha. The idol of Padmasambhava, who is said to have transmitted Tantric Buddhism to Bhutan and Tibet in the 8th century. He appears in many Buddhist thangkas and paintings as well. And in this temple pictures were allowed to be taken. The deity in the picture below is Avalokiteshvara, is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. Bodhisattva means the enlightened being who refrains from entering a state of nirvana so he could help other human beings to become liberated. You can read more about it by clicking on the links above. It is wonderful to learn or to understand a different culture and religion, this Himachal trip certainly gave us a lot of insights into Buddhist rituals and customs. The temple also houses one of the largest collections of sacred Buddhist texts. Its called Kagyur, translations of the actual teachings of Buddha. These 100 volumes, translated from Sankrit, are the authentic teachings of the Buddha himself and contains the entire collection of sutras and tantras. Adjacent to that was another ocllection of texts called Tangyur, that contained works on Buddhist philosophy, grammer, logic, poetry, medicine, astrology and other sciences.
Thangkas are a regular feature in Buddhist temple and are used to convey information in a pictorial manner. If you want to purchase any of these, it would be very expensive. Its sad that such profound art is being sold for commercial value. These are invaluable and need to be preserved. In the next post we will also take you to Norbulingka institute where these pieces are created.
By dusk we were out of the temple, opposite it is the residence of the Dalai Lama, where entry was prohibited. Outside the temple are numerous shops selling Tibetan paintings, thangkas, singing bowls, trinkets with mantra inscribed on it, jewelery, clothes, bags, and much more.
The next post we go on a trek around Dharamkot and find two pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.:)
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