This is going to be my first ever attempt to write a travel diary. I haven’t tried anything like this before and don’t know how it’s going to come out. I think writing one single post for each day spent will be the right way to do it. Anyhow, here it goes :)
I wanted to go on a solo trip somewhere for a long time and 1st week of April seemed like a good opportunity. But I had no idea where to go until last week of March. All I knew that the place should be mountainous and not crowded. McLeodganj seemed to be a good enough place and after thinking about it for a bit I chose it as my destination. Getting there from Delhi takes approximately 12 hours by road. I took a Volvo bus which was full of tourists from all over the world. It wasn’t very comfortable journey but I managed to doze through most of it.
I woke up as the bus stopped at the town’s bus stand just before 6 am. As I opened my eyes, I was greeted by the sight of mountains covered with lush greenery and dozens of crows cawing loudly. Unlike their city cousins, these are a bit larger and completely black. Gathering my belongings, I got out of bus and stretched my limbs. First thing that hit me was the cool breeze. It was colder outside than the air conditioned bus ! That’s one of the reasons why I love mountains. <3
I called the hotel I had talked to earlier for a room. Someone picked up the phone and asked me to take taxi to some address. As it happened, the hotel I had asked for after checking on net was full and only available rooms were in another hotel, right in middle of the city. I didn’t like the dinky room and it’s not-worth-it price. The place was full of hotels and lodges and I started looking for another one on foot. After walking for a while down a steep slope, I came across one which I liked. The place had a great view of Dharmshala town in the valley below on one side and snow covered distant peaks on other. Found out that only empty rooms available were with a kitchen attached. Although I had no need for one, I just took it without much haggling and further search. After a hot shower and a short nap, I got ready and stepped out to explore the place.
Luckily this hotel was very near to my first destination, Dalai Lama’s temple Tsuglag Khang. I had to walk up (climb up is a more apt description) a rather steep road to get there. Although it was just a short walk of less than 500 meters, I realised that I needed much more stamina than I had just to walk around. For that, I needed to eat. Found a small eating joint and climbed up the stairs to be greeted by the sight of Tibetan monks having breakfast and watching some soap on a Tibetan channel. A Tibetan lady along with another young Tibetan girl were the only staff. I ordered a chocolate flavoured banana shake with some kind of fruit pie.
As soon as I finished, my phone started to ring. Friends and family calling to congratulate me on my birthday. The thing had slipped off my mind entirely. Seemed like my phone had been mostly non-operational during the night long journey. Keeping the phone glued to my ear I walked around the market a little which was just starting to open up. The place was full of posters and slogans asking for liberation of Tibet. One remarkable thing was number of people who had lost their lives while fighting for their cause. Pictures of one Tibetan activist, Jamyang Yeshi who had set fire to himself a few days back in Delhi were every where.
After a few minutes of walking around, I entered the gates of Tsuglag Khang temple, Namgyal monastery complex. The place is big, full of people and still peaceful. As I entered I saw some people, many of them foreigners engaged in Buddhist prayer rituals. Main prayers are performed in Tsuglakhang complex which has prayer wheels around it’s walls. This was the first time, I had the chance to see them for real and spin. Apart from Buddha, there was an idol of Padmasambhava who is credited with bringing Tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism into Tibet. Interesting thing is that he was born as a Hindu brahmin in what is known as Swat valley in Pakistan. All the idols are made of metal and very beautiful as you can se in the pictures. One exception was a Buddha idol made of wood encased in a glass case visible in the photo above. Right by side, there’s Kalchakra temple which is as impressive as Tsuglakhang. It’s walls are covered with intricately detailed and beautiful Tibetan murals. Lord Budhha is the presiding deity in both places, but both places have beautiful idols of other gods and ancient Tibetan leaders.. Try clicking on picture to take a better look. Unfortunately, photography inside this temple was prohibited.
After spending some time there, I came out and walked around the market which had finally opened up to business. After a walk of 15-20 minutes I reached the main town square, right next to the bus stand. Following signboards and asking a few people I took the path to church of St. John in the Wilderness. It’s about 30-35 minutes walk from the city and very picturesque. The road is flanked by dense growth of trees on both sides and walking on it is a pleasure. I’ve been living in ugly cities for so long, the place seemed like heaven. I stopped numerous times to enjoy the views or look at some bird. A fair amount of vehicles do travel on that road, but it’s almost negligible as compared to a city like Delhi.
After that walk, view of church from it’s gate was surreal and almost eerie. Path from 1st gate to church is flanked on both sides by old graves and beautiful big trees.
Sunshine reaches the ground only in patches and in this setting, the black church seems to have a presence of its own. It was closed at the time, so couldn’t get a view of inside. ( I saw it on another day). It isn’t an architectural marvel as some people say. It’s just an ordinary church made of black stone, but in very beautiful place and ambiance. I spent some time walking in between graves and trying to read the inscriptions on tomb stones. Most were in a state of disrepair due to passage of time and mostly illegible. Almost all were of colonial British officers and their family members .
Wandering around, I came across a small path which lead to slightly bigger graveyard, but with less trees right next to the road. A small brook flowed through it along ruins of a small man made path made of stones. Curious about where it goes, I walked down the path. But it disappeared completely after just a few meters. Undeterred I kept walking down the slope along the brook which was partially paved with stones. There was no semblance of any kind of path or trail, but I kept following that brook down. After struggling through a bunch of dense bushes, trees and slippery ground, I finally stopped at a point where water from the brook formed a waterfall 2 feet high. Not much, but better than nothing :D .
I rested there for a while listening to bird calls. Trying to locate the birds themselves was almost impossible for me and I gave up trying to locate them visually after a while. It was really quiet there except for those birds and gentle sound of that small waterfall. After some time, I got up and traced my steps back to the graveyard. Walked around the graves again, taking some pictures. By then it was almost 1:30 and I was starting to feel hungry. There was no shop or place to eat nearby (thankfully), so I decided to walk back to McLeodganj in order to get something for lunch.
I think it’s been a long post already and I have finished just half of my first day. In nutshell, I spent better part of my birthday wandering among old broken graves and trying to read the inscriptions. Interesting to some people, I suppose. The more interesting part hasn’t even begun yet :O
I think, I should be more brief in future. Will write about the rest later in next post.