When in Dharamsala, eat, chant and live
If you are looking for solace and peace and want to be close to nature try Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. The gateway to Mcleodganj, the abode of the Dalai Lama, this hill station has truly an international appeal with foreigners brushing shoulders with the Buddhist monks who you find at every nook and corner of the place.
Mcleodganj, is a suburb of Dharamsala in Kangra district of Himanchal Pradesh .It is known as “Little Lhasa ” or “Dhasa” (a short form of Dharamsala used mainly by Tibetans) because of its large population of Tibetans.
It has an average elevation of 2,082 meters (6,831 feet). It is situated on the Dhauladhar range, whose highest peak, “Hanuman Ka Tibba”, at about 5,639 meters (18,500 feet), lies just behind it.
Driven by the story of its beauty, I landed in Dharamsala to soak in the culture and the sounds. Two flights connect this beautiful hill station with Delhi. Only the small ATRs make a deafening noise which can give you a headache. But still one would be advised to go by air as the journey from Delhi is long and arduous by road.
Dharamsala and Mcleodganj are twin towns. It is also home to thousands of Tibetan who fled their homeland in Tibet after the Chinese persecution took place. The Indian government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru showed enough magnanimity in allowing the fleeing Tibetans which included Buddhist lamas, women and children to settle down in Mcleodganj. It is also the headquarters of Dalai Lama’s government in exile. Due to the presence of his Holiness, the place attracts people from all over the world including Hollywood film stars and political figures.
The Mcleodganj market is full of food joints offering delicacies from all over the world. The Mcllo restaurant on the city centre, boasts of a picture of Pierce Brosnan, gorging on Italian food cooked at the restaurant. The manager tells us that many film stars descend on the restaurant during their visits. The Tibetan Kitchen just opposite it is famous for the Tibetan Momos and ginger tea laced with rinds of lemon. Youngsters, foreigners and Indian tourists all make the place look livelier and fun.
There is no bar to living life in this idyllic hill station reverberating to the Buddhist chants in scores of temple all along the town. An old granny bent with age walks into the cafe to have a cold coffee. It is this zest for life which underscores life here.
What has made this place truly international? I ask the taxi driver Anil, a youth in his twenties who runs a taxi service in Dharamsala. He says it is the presence of the Dalai Lama. Thousands of Buddhist from all over the world travel to Mcleodganj to seek his blessings or to enjoy the beauty of the place. You can therefore find, photographs of the Dalai Lama with quotes on different topics adorning the hotel walls, restaurants and shops around. Monks dressed in Buddhist attire freely roam the place giving it a different feel.
We move into a hotel Pema Than in downtown Mcleodganj, run by a group of young, sprightly but noisy Tibetan men and women. The weather here at this time is cold with temperatures dipping to as low as -3 degree Celsius. But once the sun is out the cold is muted and the whole town is bathed in its warmth. The big glass windows in our room provided us with enough warmth and a spectacular view of the place where the Dalai Lama lives when he is in town. “How would you know that he is in town,” I ask the Tibetan manning the help desk at the hotel. He tells me in his broken English that the town comes under a complete security cover when his Holiness is in town.
There is so much to see and experience in this wonderful twin town swept by the pure and chilly winds of the Dhauladhar Himalayan mountain ranges throwing a ring around it. It is a trekker’s paradise as it is for those professing the tenets of Buddhism.