Monday, May 4, 2009
Chronicles of McLeod Ganj
Arriving at ChakkiBank train station at Patankhot at 5AM after a long 8-hour journey of travel on the floors of Indian Railways, as I didn't have a reservation ticket for my journey I was really tired traveller. I took Himacahl Pradesh local bus to reach McLeod Ganj, which is 90 kms and consumed nearly 3.5 hours to reach my destination due to the hairpin curves and the ghat sections of Kangra district. I arrived at McLeod Ganj by 9:40 AM.
McLeod is a sleepy, chilled out, cool and laid back town filled with Tibetan settlements coupled with Burgundy coloured robe Buddhist monks who swear by Dalai Lama, the local hilly people and filled with western tourists, who flock to learn yoga, trek and smoke up and attain nirvana.
McLeod is a blessing for a traveller from Delhi given the harsh weather conditions in Delhi. I found a place to stay at Green Hotel on the Bagsu main road after a hard bargain and charming the Tibetan lady owner at the counter at cheap 150 rupees per night. After a cold shower and freshening up I decided to explore the town on foot, because I believe that talking to locals and walking around the place helps you understand the city and culture much better. After walking around I the town it was time for a brunch at a restaurant called Qigy, a small restaurant filled with western tourist, which offers one of the best European and Tibetan food at a cheap price. I had Tibetan fried rice with some egg garnished on it, very well prepared and stomach filling at 40rs per dish.
I visited Bagsunag mandir 2kms from McLeo. It is situated below a mountain with Bagsu falls above flowing in full form. The sweet water of Bagsu falls is really respite for the water starved McLeod. I walked 1km to the top hill to see the falls and spent time standing in the cold water and giving my foot some good treatment. Enroute the falls you find many cafes, all you need to do is stop by and ask "bai,kuch special milega" and there you get some good dope at decent price. It depends totally on your negotiating skills. I returned to my room by evening still not knowing what to do in the city.
I walked around the narrow lanes looking at the shopkeepers selling Tibetan wares, cooking momos, massage parlours, cooking classes, yoga centres, shops selling Buddhist beads, Indian shopkeepers trying to lure foreign travellers to make some purchase. It was 7:30PM at McLeod and time to retire after a hard day roaming around and exploring the place. I hit off to the famous and a very good restaurant named McCello Restaurant, which serves chilled beer on the rooftop with a good view of the hillock town, ambience, crowd and nice service. I returned to my room at 10 and slept early.
I really did not have any idea as what to do on second day. I visited the local Tibetan monastery, which I think is really nice. It gives you an insight to Buddhism and their religious teachings. I spent time looking at Burgundy monks reciting shlokas from old scriptures and their devotion to their religion. It got me thinking, as how religious people can be. You should never miss out this monastery if you are visiting McLeod.
DHAULADHAR MOUNTAIN TREK:
I never had any plan of trekking this mountain, but I had heard lot about it from one of my friend Hari. I went around the town asking if there is any village called Dhauladhar? I got only one reply NO there is no such place. Only later, when I bumped into a mountaineering guide Onkar I found out that Dhuladhar was a mountain range and not village. I bargained hard with Onkar and settled for 500 rupees charge to accompany me to Dhuladhar Mountain. The minimum going rate for a guide is 1800-2000 rupees per person. I got a good deal all thanks to my bargaining skills. We set off to Dhuladhar at 9AM with another trekker Navneet with a chai break at Dharamkot. The mountain range is 30 degree steep with full of boulders surrounded by dense forest and temperature drops every step you go further. We began to trek slowly so that we could acclimatise to the high altitude and feel normal throughout the trek. The trekking got tougher as we moved up the hills as path was filled with heavy boulders and the route being very narrow.
My fellow trekker Navneet was going through excruciating pain in his knees due to the steep mountains. I could see the pain and agony he was going through poor fellow but we had told our self that we would complete the trek. We stopped by a café enroute for 10 minutes and then we continued the trek. We reached the first base point called Tirund, which is 9kms from McLeod by 1:30PM. I was really tired but I still had 4.5Kms trek still ahead of me to reach Snowline or Dhualdar range.
I was badly in need of water and a Japanese tourist Ying offered me some, which gave some energy.
After a break off 45 minutes I set off to Snowline with Onkar as Navneet dropped out as he was suffering severe cramp. I trekked along the steep boulder filled path with temperature dropping every step ahead. I kept asking fellow trekkers how far is the café? They all said replied just nearby, but nearby seemed really far. I was getting exhausted with energy drained out of my body. In midst off all this I saw few shepherds who live in this region-grazing sheep. The sheep's reminded me of my village but these were a little different and huge compared to what we see in south. But it was nice interacting with them. After a long trek we finally reached the Snowline or the Dhauladhar range. It was a crazy feeling seeing snow for the first time in my life. I stood for a minute dumb and looked at the snow-capped peaks sitting pretty. I sat alone for sometime in peace and observed the mountains. I loved every moment of it and my mind couldn't think straight for a while.
We returned back with a German tourist Robin and his girlfriend, we discussed about Indian politics and time flew by. I reached McLeod by 8PM.
The entire consisted of 13.5 km one way so we had trekked 27 kilometers by the end of day. I felt fit great about it.
Me and Navneet went to Jimmy's Italian Kitchen for a beer and some Italian dishes late in the evening. We caught up with lot of sundry issues and discussed about our previous girlfriends. We bonded really well. It was a nice experience.
I went around McLeod shopping for my friends. I found some things really pretty but didn't have the cash to pick them up. But next time I plan to do something about it. Well, I reached Delhi by 5AM, I didn't have a reservation ticket but bribed the TTE with 50 rupees and got a berth and reached home.
I loved every moment of McLeod Ganj trip and wish to keep going back.