Illiterati: The welcoming McLeod cafe


Some cafes deserve a story of their own.

By now I’m habituated of spending my new year’s eves in commute, returning from my travels over the year-end holidays. The end-year 2017 was no different. If only…

My sharp ever-on-the-lookout-for-cafes gaze had spotted its object of affection while on the way from Dharmshala to McLeodganj, and my brain had made a mental note of this discovery. So, that 31st day of December, when my group of 4 found itself with some time on its hands before taking the bus back to Delhi at the fag end of the trip, I knew where I wanted to spend it. The opinion among the group, however, was divided: One of us wanted to visit the cricket ground in Dharmshala to indulge in some photography, another wanted to just visit ‘some cafe’, while the third was undecided. The group split, the two of us started afoot towards our destination – that cafe. There are two roads that run between Dharamshala and McLeodganj, and I wasn’t even sure if we were on the right one – the one where this cafe was located. Nor did I know the name of the cafe. But my characteristic adamance – if I want to do something I do it – wouldn’t let me return to Delhi without giving ‘finding this place’ a shot.

And so we walked. As it turned out, the other two also decided to join us after a while. Cafe calling, after all.

The road we walked took us to that cafe.

My adamance took us to Cafe Illiterati.

Where they serve the best chocolate pastry I’ve had. And I’ve had quite a few so far through my life.

Cafe Illiterati is a snug, cosy, warm, friendly, inviting, and cheerful European-style cafe. With a sweet aroma of freshly brewed coffee and baked cake, bright incandescent lighting, light music in the background, and to go with the name – walls lined with row upon rows of bookshelves occupied by, well, books of all sorts, this place is heaven for the tired traveller who likes his coffee and loves his books. And so we were.

While all its walls are covered with bookshelves, the one facing the entrance to the cafe has huge French windows leading out to a balcony. These windows are the gateway to the splendid views of the mountain range in the distance, which were covered with snow at the time of our visit. The balcony is spacious, has a few chairs set out for the view, and offers a good locale for the photographers to set out their tripod cams.

But the main action is indoors.

Frequented by stylish young folks from around the globe and monks alike, the place has a relaxed feel to it. While the ambience and the aroma give it a very cafe-y feel, the presence and sight of the book-laden walls lend to it an air of, well, literati. Being a coffee-and-book-lover myself, this was a pitstop straight from heaven before taking the bus back home.

And so, that cold December evening, we took in the views of the snow-covered Himalayas from the balcony as much as we soaked in the cosy warmth indoors. We placed our orders, snatched up a book each and took our places. And waited in anticipation for that of which the sweet aromatic precursor wafted through the air. I don’t remember much, however, apart from that piece of decadent chocolate cake. Melt-in-your-mouth soft and spongy, this scrumptious treat stood at a mere 100 bucks. If Illiterati was the find of the trip, this chocolate cake was the Kohinoor of the discovery.

Our dinner done, we didn’t want to leave this place yet. Our bus was scheduled to depart from Dharamshala at 10 PM. We pondered over our options: I suggested extending our stay and counting down the minutes to midnight at this cafe, but some of the rest of us couldn’t afford such a luxury of time. With some imploration, however, I managed to convince them of the benefits of choosing a warm, comfortable and pleasant cafe over a bus to welcome-in the new year.

…if only.

If only Illiterati were open till midnight.

Illiterati operates, for some strange reason, only till 9-9:30 PM. Nicely in time for us to catch our return bus. Only that, we didn’t want that any more! Having convinced everyone of extending our stay by a day, the short hours of operation proved a dampener, and we ended up ‘celebrating’ the arrival of the new year in our bus. Wasn’t the first time for me, and would prove to not be the last either.

Some cafes deserve a post of their own, and Illiterati was one such gem. I usually don’t repeat places (Pondicherry is an exception), but if I visit Mcleodgaj again, it’d be just for Illiterati.