There is still a case to be made for a religion which can put a smile in your face and warmth in your heart in a cold winter morning. Having said that, I must confess I never thought celebrating one’s thirtieth birthday in a religious place could turn out to be such an adventure.
Around 500 kms north of Delhi, cradled inside the Kangra Valley, lies a Tibetan outpost that houses one of the most powerful religious leader of contemporary times. Mcleodganj, a small suburb of Dharamshala, has been the exile home of thousands of Tibetans alongside their spiritual guru, His Holiness Dalai Lama, since 1960. Filled with Buddhist monks and backpacking tourists, most of whom come down to volunteer on community projects, this hill station has evolved in the recent years as a key center for the study of Tibetan Buddhist culture.
What we covered:
- Tsuglagkhang Temple Complex
- St. John’s Church in the Wilderness
- Indique Terrace Bar cum Restaurant
A quaint little town surrounded by the beautiful Dhauladhar ranges, Mc Leodganj is a sight to behold, especially in early winter mornings when the air is still crisp and the town is yet to awake from its sleepy slumber. Our B&B was situated in Jogiwara Road and the landlady had kindly informed us that it is easily walk able from the bus depot in case we were in the mood, so we decided to skip the cab.
As we strolled down the empty cobbled streets, making a ruckus with our trolleys in hand, I realized that in spite of all the conscious efforts from our side, we have somehow still managed to become the stereotypical tourists that we so inherently despise. The noise from the trolleys were jarring the peaceful dawn and as we passed the Prayers Wheels in the main market, I thought, now would probably be a good time to ask forgiveness for all the chaos that we created.
As promised by the landlady, it was a perfect 10 mins walk down hill. The B&B we booked was small, but clean. Our room was comfortable enough for two people, with a balcony that overlooked the ice capped mountains, glowing with the first light of sun rays. We had a simple breakfast in the dining parlour adjoining the reception – Buttered scones and Orange Juice – and then headed towards the Tsuglagkhang complex through the Temple road. By the time we hit the road, the day had just begun. You could see the shop keepers cleaning their shelves to put up their wares on display, which mainly ranged from silver jewelries to beaded stones and Tibetan knickknacks, that can be bought off at a bargain.
The Tsuglagkhang complex doubles up both as a temple and a residence for the monks and includes the main Tibetan temple, the Namgyal Gompa and the Tibet Museum under its periphery. This complex is the main residence of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama but don’t expect a private audience as it is rarely given to tourist outside the Tibetan community. The entire complex perches atop a cliff that comes with a panoptic aerial view of the hillside town and the mighty Himalayan mountains; but what really caught my eyes was the name itself….eerily similar to another Urdu name – Tughlag Khan – made me wonder the history behind it. If you are lucky, you just might catch a glimpse of the monks debating in the Gompa during certain afternoons but we sadly missed it.
After the visit to the Complex and checking out the roadside stalls, our next stop was to satisfy the hunger pangs that has started a full-fledged attack on our intestines with a ravenous ferocity. Thus we headed towards a small cafe, situated in one of the busiest lane that went towards the Bhagsu Nag Waterfall and ordered the Chicken Thukpa with the Tibetan Bread. I am somewhat partial to steaming bowls of soupy noodles filled to the brim with veggies but to my disappointment didn’t like either. Lunch was officially a dampener. So to cheer up, we finished it up with coffee from the roadside bakery. Surprisingly, it tasted better than the one you get in the more commercialized coffee chains of big cities.
Next stop was St John’s Church in the Wilderness. Aptly described, the church is located in the wooded forest just beyond the bus stand. With a cemetery behind the church, the grounds were partially hidden from the main street above and had few visitors, if any – almost secluded, the kind of place I like the most. Luckily for us, we got to attend the 6 o’clock mass and caught a glimpse of the stained glass windows from the inside. After lingering around the church for a better part of two hours, dusk descended – rather swiftly for my liking – and we were obliged to turn back our feet towards the town center. As we reached the same bakery for another cup of coffee, we witnessed what seemed like a street performance of some sorts – mainly promotional activity under the tourism department. Pretty soon it got crowded so we got out of there and went to our rooms to catch a glimpse of the mountains under the setting sun, before darkness engulfed the last remaining glimmer of sunshine.
At night we decided to go out for dinner but by the time we hit the road, it was 9:30 pm and Mc Leodganj was officially closed for the day. The only place that was still open to shameless late nighters like us was Indique, a charming little terrace bar cum restaurant that was beautifully lit up with string lights, giving it a rustic and somewhat romantic touch. Perfect place to celebrate the day – and I chose to pair it up with wine. Yes, I confess, desserts for dinner is good enough for me, even if it is mere grapes. Just as I was sipping the last of my wine, N broke the news – we had forgotten to carry cash.
Now this is a crucial piece of information that you should remember, if ever you do venture out to this place. Most restaurants and shops in Mc Leodganj do not accept cards, so keep some cash in hand. We didn’t know this so N rushed to the nearby ATMs while I finished up the bottle. 15 mins later, N came back – and guess what? No cash. All the nearby ATM’s were out of order. I guess we were just out of luck, it was embarrassing to say the least. It was already 11:30 pm and we were the last customers left. There was only one option left – to talk to the owner. Luckily, the owner turned out to be a hospitable and charming young man who absolutely refused to let us through any more trouble for that night. So we walked back to our rooms, cheerful in the thought that we were not thrown out and resolved in our minds to pay him his dues first thing the next day.