We took a stroll on the winding roads of Mcleodganj. The little town truly comes alive after sunset and has quite an active nightlife. The streets are lined with numerous eateries, cafes and bars offering a wide variety of Indian and international cuisines, in order to cater to the large number of international tourists that visit Mcleodganj.
At night, as you walk along streets lit by flashy neon signs from these places, you can hear a wide variety of music emanating from their confines, from Bhangra pop and Bollywood to rock and hip hop. Surprisingly, you often come across boyband music from the '90s, so if you're in the mood to relive the days when you had a corny taste in music, you would definitely like it here.
We soaked in the various sights, sounds and smells of post sunset Mcleodganj, sampling momos at different stalls (you can never have enough!), and finally decided to rest our tired feet at our earlier hangout McLlo, as it was close to where we were putting up. We took a table on the terrace brightly lit up with disco lights, which offered a beautiful view of the the valley below twinkling with dots of light. It was freezing cold, but we still could not resist some crisp cold beer to sooth our parched throats.
Barely a word was spoken, which indicated how tired we were, having been up since 5 in the morning. So we decided to call it a day, dragging ourselves back to Kalsang and our room up the endless flight of steps. We woke up at sunrise to a beautiful view from our balcony and lovely weather. We had to cancel our Triund trek because one of my friends pulled a leg muscle, so we decided to spend the day exploring the town's Buddhist monastries.
As we stepped out at around 8 am, the town was stirring awake from sleep. Most of the eateries were shut and roadside shops were just about preparing to start their day. There was a faint chill in the air mingling with the gentle warmth of the still sparse sunlight. It was indeed a beautiful morning. We stepped into Snow Lion, the only place open at the time, to grab some coffee. By the time we stepped out, the sun was up and shining brightly and the streets were abuzz with people rushing to work.
At this point, momos for breakfast seemed like a great idea and just a few steps ahead, we came across a really sweet Tibetan lady running a momo stall. She was selling potato momos, something we hadn't eaten before, so we decided to try them out. They were wonderful! We must have polished off some three plates, despite having some local bread and milkshakes not even half and hour ago. My friends wanted to check out some shops offering local handicrafts, so I decided to take a solo stroll and click some pictures.
I can't stress enough how great a day it was to be taking a walk! I caught up with my friends after a while for lunch (mountains and cold weather make you perpetually hungry!) at the Moon Peak Cafe. It was different from other cafes in Mcleodganj that we'd seen, which usually have a minimalist traditional decor. Moon Peak Cafe, we read, was initially established as a photography studio where the owner also took photography classes for kids. Now a cafe, the space has a contemporary feel with stark white walls adorned with framed photographs and paintings, mostly modern and abstract.
Now, for me, and I can vouch for my friends too, interacting with locals forms a major part of the travel experience, which shouldn't be merely touch-and-go. In order to truly explore a place, one needs to look beyond its 'travel destination' veil, and no one can help you understand this better than the people who reside there, who actually live and breathe what the place has to offer rather than merely looking at it through the rose-tinted glasses (like the ones I lost :p) of tourism. Sadly, we found a dearth of such opportunities in Mcleodganj. And it really is sad because the place boasts such intrigue and beauty, you can't help but want to know about it!
From whatever little interaction (or attempts thereof) we had with the local Mcleodganj people, most of who are Tibetans, the only strong conclusion we could derive was that there is a certain animosity among them towards Indians. Usually locals in small towns are pretty enthusiastic about helping tourists, but here it seemed like they didn't want to talk to us at all. I'm sure we're all aware of the Tibetan-Chinese conflict that has plagued the country of Tibet and its people for many years now. Most Tibetan
s who live in Mcleodganj belong to refugee families who migrated to India to escape Chinese oppression. For us, all our vague notions were dispelled when we visited the Tibet museum, which unfurls a very poignant, highly detailed story of the troubled country and its people. Parts of it are downright disturbing, especially the innumerable cases of self-immolation by Tibetans as a form of protest. I tried to research on what bearings this might have on the general Tibetan sentiment towards India, but was unable to find anything except an interview of a person from a Tibetan youth organisation who said that all India cares about is pleasing China. Deeply moved by what we saw at the museum, we made our way to the Namgyal Monastry, the most revered sight at Mcleodganj, being the personal monastry of the 14th Dalai Lama. Photography is strictly prohibited at the Tibet Museum and Namgyal Monastry, fyi. The beauty and tranquility of the monastry stirred our minds out of the India-Tibet-China imbroglio. The main attraction here is the Buddha temple that houses a huge, magnificent golden statue of Buddha. The walls are adorned by beautiful paintings, which if I remember correctly, depict scenes from Buddha's life.
The best thing about Buddhist places of worship, unlike Hindu temples, is that there are no pundits hounding you to donate money, which is why the offerings you see here constitute things like biscuit packets, chocolates and juice cartons. Stepping out, you can see many people chanting and meditating. We grabbed a quick lunch and some beer and continued to roam around for a while, before heading to Dharamkot, a small town barely a few minutes' drive from Mcleodganj. The drive was short but absolutely stunning! A bit scary as the road is really narrow with one side opening out to a deep valley.
The surrounding area is dense with lush green deodar trees and as it was almost sunset, a slight chill hung about in the breeze. We took a short trek from the car parking and parked ourselves on a nice spot overlooking the valley. As usually happens on treks, we were accompanied by Janu, a scrawny little black dog, who later abandoned us and joined an army of other dogs which seemed to be in combat with an army of monkeys. Funny scene, don't ask. We descended after a while for our last night in lovely Mcleod and ended up joining our guesthouse owner and his friends for dinner. It was, to say the least, interesting to talk to them.
I guess we expected to find at least some answers to questions that had been lurking in our minds throughout our trip. We spoke about several inane things, mostly to our guesthouse owner and briefly to a guy who claimed he was in charge of the local beauty pageant 'Miss Tibet'. The phrase 'your government does nothing' was flung about at several occasions. But it sounded more like it was coming from herd mentality rather than a personal opinion. The next day, we decided to leave around noon and woke up early to make the most of our last few hours in the beautiful town.
We revisited our favourite momo joint one last time--the lady selling potato momos--and then headed to the Buddhist temple closest to our guesthouse. Towering over the other smaller establishments in the street, the structure was a melange of all the colours you can possibly imagine.