View of the main square, McLeod Ganj.
A Hindi version of the Theme from Shaft was playing as I walked into the store. I was definitely someplace different. I ended up buying some Tibetan incense and a white T-shirt with a stylized black Ganesh on the front. Then I continued my shopping tour of the town, which you can basically cover on foot in 5 minutes. As usual, I was killing time between meals, since I live (and travel) for food.
Dharamsala is actually two towns: Upper and Lower. The Upper part is called McLeod Ganj; during the period of British colonization it was a hill station where the ruling elite came to chill out during the summer. Today, of course, it’s a destination for tourists, backpackers, and spiritual seekers from the world over, thanks largely to one person: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Dharamsala / McLeod Ganj are the headquarters of the Tibetan Government in Exile, and a place where Tibetan culture and and religion are preserved, free of the iron fist of the Chinese central government.
Rushing waters near Bagsu Falls
Small temple in McLeod Ganj
Since it rained for most of the week that I was here, I never got to do the 2-day hike up to the snow line and back. It was just as well, because I had some sort of upper respiratory and throat ailments during my stay, and anything harder than walking up the hill for an espresso was simply too taxing in my delicate condition.
My hotel was perfect, with a balcony overlooking green cedar-covered mountains, and where I could hear the rushing river below – when the construction noise and barking dogs weren’t blocking it out.
Many of the foreigners I saw here had completely blissed-out expressions; sometimes their spiritual aura was so sickly sweet that it made my teeth hurt. De rigueur attire for the hip spiritual seeker includes drawstring pants, long flowing garments, scarves, prayer beads, and loose-fitting yoga wear. After all, you can find anything here for what ails you: meditation, yoga, reiki, chakra alignment, massage, ashrams, retreat centers, medicine (Tibetan, Indian, and Western), psychotherapy, and last but not least, food. It comes in all varieties: Tibetan, Indian, Chinese, Continental, and Israeli, among others.
My hotel room for one week
My hotel balcony
Conversation: through the coffee house window
My favorite drink in McLeod Ganj: mango-strawberry shake
After my friend Phurbu went back to his school, in the valley below Dharamsala, I started planning the next leg of my adventure: to Manali, 11 hours away by bus, and deeper into the Himalaya of the Himachal Pradesh state of India.
On a Wednesday morning, I rose at 5 am, and walked downhill to the bus station in Dharamsala. The hill was steep and my backpack was heavy, but at least it wasn’t raining. The bus left at 7 am, and I was off on another Indian bus adventure up and down narrow mountain roads.
Auspicious sign for travel: a rainbow over Dharamsala just before my departure
Waiting area, Dharamsala bus station