The Little Lhasa Awaits…

A breathtaking view of glistening, snow capped mountains; lots of color; a bustling Tibetan settlement; valleys and slopes covered with lush green coniferous trees—these are a few snapshots, which come to my mind when I think of a hill station called Mcleod Ganj. Nestled in the foothills of the Western Himalayas, Mcleod Ganj is the upper area of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. It’s the home of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan Government in Exile. Choc-a-bloc with cozy little shops and restaurants, this is an interesting place where you can spend your vacations shopping, sightseeing and trekking.

This weekend I had the perfect opportunity to break free from the busy life of the Capital and ‘run away’ to some-place which I haven’t quite explored in the past. I looked through some information on travel guides, internet, etc. and talked to a few fellow travelers as well. And it didn’t quite strike me till the last moment that I must visit Dharamsala. Bags packed, camera equipment packed, I left for the place on Friday night, not really knowing what to expect, but boy was I excited or what! Traveling has always excited me ever since I can remember. It is something, combined with photography which really transports me into a different world altogether – a world in which the view through the viewfinder is all that matters, a world where exploring and discovering new places and interacting with new cultures just makes my life worthwhile.

The vibrant little marketplace is bustling with tourists, rosy-cheeked Tibetan children and women in traditional ‘chuba’, and monks in maroon robes. This place has something for everyone—movie buffs, music and book lovers, travelers and shoppers. An assortment of colorful trinkets, most of which are handmade, vie for you attention—jewelry made of beads and turquoise, bright woollies like caps, ponchos and mufflers knitted by the Tibetan women, lamps, and paper products made by the children of the Tibetan Children’s Village—a school for Tibetan children in Mcleod Ganj . You can even buy one of those exquisite Thanka paintings, which are sacred, Buddhist paintings made with gold and gem stone paints, at one of the many handicraft shops.

If you love music, you can get CDs of Tibetan chants and monastery music composed by the monks and even guitars and flutes to create your own music. If you live for movies, catch the latest English blockbusters in the ‘home made cinema theaters.’ These might be small and dark and a world apart from multiplexes, but it’s a lot of fun. This is also a haven for booklovers because there are many small but well-stocked bookshops here. Book Worm is one that you may like to visit. You’ll even find shelves of books to browse through in many of the restaurants and hotels.

Speaking of restaurants, this is a place where you can treat your taste buds to an array of cuisines. From Tibetan and Chinese, to Korean, Israeli and Continental, you get it all. Don’t miss the non-vegetarian momos that you get in restaurants and the vegetarian ones, which you get in roadside stalls. For a delicious, hot meal and mellow ambience walk into Malabar, Friend’s Corner, Nick’s Place and Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen, while for coffee and breakfast there is Moonspeak Expresso and Lhamo’s Croissant. And for desserts do try one of the melt-in-the-mouth pastries at Pastry Den.

The best months to visit Mcleod Ganj is in the months of March– June and then again in October. So pack your bags/haversacks, book a train or flight to Delhi and then take one of the many overnight buses plying from there to Mcleod Ganj. There are lots of hotels that you can choose from according to your budget. You can book a room in Om and Green Hotel for Rs 200 per day; Rs 500 – 990 for Friends Corner, Kareri Lodge, Hotel Tibet and Pema Thang and Rs 1200 – 1800, and above, for The Club House, Chinar Lodge, Hotel Bhagsu, Surya Resorts and Him Queen Annexe.

Getting to Mc.Leod Ganj might take some time – 12 odd hours to be exact, but once you are there, you get a feeling that you are not really in India, but actually in Tibet. The vibrant market-place, the monks roaming the streets in their traditional attire, and everything else gives you a tremendous feeling. If you are taking a bus to Mc.Leod Ganj, then make sure you go to the Kashmere Gate ISBT and inquire about the buses from ticket counter number 40 (which is at the first floor of the ISBT). Else, you can buy normal standard bus tickets from Counter number 6 which is downstairs. However, since it is a 550kms. odd journey, I would seriously suggest you to get yourself atleast a semi-deluxe bus ticket if not the fully luxury Volvo buses (although these are THE most comfortable buses around to travel to such long distances).

The bus would take you all the way to Dharamsala, via Chandigarh, Una, Kangra and the likes. By the time Dharamsala is reached, the sun has just begun to come up the horizon giving a different view of the valley altogether. From Dharamsala, you can either take a sharesd auto, or book a taxi for you and your family altogether, which charges Rs.140/- odd. It’s about a ten minute drive from the bus stand of Dharamsala, and you are in Mc.Leod Ganj. You can either decide to stay there (I have already mentioned the hotels above), or you can trek further up to Dharamkot or Bhagsu and choose to stay there if you want to stay a little away from the usual hustle bustle of the Mc.Leod Ganj market-place. Irrespective of what place you choose to live in, I am pretty sure a good time awaits you in Mc.Leod Ganj.

A few more photographs of Mc.Leod Ganj

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