Thursday, September 03, 2009

McLeod Ganj

I am sitting in the room of the hotel in front of the big window as the rain continues to pour down as it has done almost non-stop since something in the middle of the night. The windows are open and fresh, chilly mountain air pours in while the thunder booms and echoes all around. The view from where I am sitting is nothing but trees and cloudy skies. It all feels light years away from Delhi.

After Amritsar, Ulco decided he wanted to see some mountains and so we headed to McLeod Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama. There were no trains and only one bus available from Amritsar to Dharamsala, which is just a few kilometers from McLeod Ganj. The journey was just over six hours on a bus that we were told was direct and would be making no stops, but in reality we stopped to pick up and drop off people all the time and one stop had us sitting at a station for about thirty minutes while peddlers flooded the bus with everything from coconuts to mango juice to plastic table clothes in a variety of colors and floral patterns. Our trip took just under seven hours and after getting the bus from Dharamsala to McLeod Ganj, we checked into the “only deluxe hotel” in the area.

I was here in April, when the Himalayas were covered in snow and the village of McLeod Ganj was quite busy, the streets quite crowded and noisy.  I wasn’t all that impressed and preferred the quiet calm of the village Naddi, where we stayed last time, an hour or so walk from McLeod Ganj through some beautiful scenery. This time, however, the streets are quiet. The place feels relaxed and almost deserted. The plan was to stay for one night and then head out, but we are staying for three. We pass the days having various teas in tiny cafes, taking walks and just enjoying the serenity of it all. The air is definitely chilly, today probably about 15 degrees (59 Fahrenheit) , a far cry from the high 30s and low to mid 40s (above 104 Fahrenheit) of that have been in Delhi the past few months.

Yesterday morning we walked to Bhagsu, just two or so kilometers away, to a waterfall Manuel and I had visited in April. Then it was barely more than a trickle, hardly worth the effort. Now, it is absolutely gushing and the path we walked over and the area we sat in then are now under the numbingly cold water. We took a path up to the top of the falls and just sat there taking in the view and the peace and the sound of the water while mountain goats watched us with suspicious eyes.

We made our way back down and headed into town, stopping along the river here and there for a drink or just to take in the view and nature. It was only cut short by the looming threat of the ever darkening clouds and the distant claps of thunder. We made it to Tsuglagkhang, the residence of the Dalai Lama, before it started to rain for a few minutes, then it took a break, long enough for us to walk back to the hotel and then it came pouring down.

In between the rain we do little walks. I took Ulco to Naddi, which offers much more expansive views of the Himalayas, but other than that, it is all about relaxing. I am reading “Freedom in Exile”, the autobiography of the Dalai Lama. It is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it. It is not a book about Buddhism, although his story and Buddhism are so intertwined that his story cannot be told without some inclusion. It is full of history and intrigue. I am now at the part where the Chinese Government has decided to take control of Tibet.

With McLeod Ganj being the head of the Tibetan Government in exile, the place is filled with refugees and obviously there are political messages everywhere about the state of affairs in Tibet. The first night here, Ulco and I met a twenty-four year old refugee at a restaurant who moved here when he was nine, separated from his family to live with an Uncle. He has seen them a few times since then, but cannot return to his country or he will be put in jail or worse. He dreams of going to the US or Canada to work in the mines. His entire life uncertain and so far from what I can imagine.

This was the perfect place to come after the Golden Temple and the entire trip has been completely relaxing, with the heavy rains even forcing us to slow down and just unwind. Tomorrow evening we head to Delhi, but until then there are books to read and cups of tea to drink. 

1 comment:

  1. Grrrr! Having trouble posting a comment (I am not as technically savvy as you) Aaaanyhoo, now that I have read the story behind your photos, they are even bettah! Hope you and Ulco enjoy your travels and I look forward to reading more...