Chillin' in McLeod Ganj

McLeod Ganj Travel Blog

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On the streets of McLeod Ganj

From Amritsar I took the bus to Dharamsala, in the Himalayas.  It was only a six-hour ride, which by Indian standards is a cakewalk.  Time and distance have taken on a whole new meaning while I've been in India.  The bus and train are so inexpensive they're by far the more common ways to travel than by air.  When I ask Indians how far it is from point A to point B, the response is often something like "one night's journey" -- meaning an overnight bus or train, often taking a total of 24 hours.  So by that standard I was quite happy with the six-hour ride to Dharamsala.

McLeod Ganj, about 10 kilometers north of Dharamsala and the seat of the Tibetan government in exile, is where the action is, so I headed up the hill to the guest house where I'd made a reservation.

A Buddhist monk on a cell phone and a Sikh man with a turban. Gotta love McLeod Ganj.
  Many aspects of India are tests for my personality, and making a reservation in McLeod Ganj falls into this category.  I called a bunch of places a week earlier, and most said to call the day before my arrival to see if they had any vacancies, or even stop by upon arrival.  When you check in you don't have to say for how long you're going to stay, so the guest houses don't know usually until a given morning whether they'll have any rooms available that night.  That's soooo not my style; arriving in a new place alone, I need the reassurance of a guaranteed place to rest my head.  Thankfully I found one who took a reservation, but the rooms range from 300-800 rupees a night.
Lisa and Sajeer outside Moonpeak Espresso, one of our favorite breakfast spots
  When I asked if I could reserve a room on the lower end of the range, the guy said something like, "Yeah, don't worry, we'll find you something."  Not the most reassuring thing I've ever heard.

But much to my relief, upon arriving there was a room waiting for me, for 500 rupees/night, which is about $12.  It had hot water and a balcony with amazing views, so I was quite happy.  My friend Sandy told me that on a recent trip to China he coined the phrase "China cheap" -- where he found himself bargaining (hard) over the equivalent of a quarter, or not getting what he really wanted because it was an extra dollar.  I've definitely developed an Indian version of the same phenomenon, and found myself trying to make a better deal on the room.  Promising to stay for a week, I got the price down to 450 rupees a night -- woo hoo!

McLeod Ganj is unlike anywhere else I've been in India.

The view from my balcony
  Actually, it hardly feels like I'm in India.  The Dalai Lama lives here, and it's the seat of the Tibetan government in exile.  The population is heavily Tibetan, and while I do see some Indian tourists every day, the overwhelming majority of visitors are white -- mostly from Israel, and also Australia, Europe, and Canada.  I've met very few Americans.  Unfortunately the day I arrived I started to feel a cold coming on, and by the next day it had morphed into the flu.  It's so rare for me to get sick, and I suspect it came on because my body was finally relaxed after leaving Bhubaneswar and arriving at my first destination while traveling alone.  My first week here was sooo chill.  I read, wrote in my journal, ate Tibetan and Western food in many yummy and cheap restaurants, and spent time with Sajeer and Lisa, a couple (Indian and German) I met on the bus ride from Amritsar.
Again from the balcony. That's part of McLeod Ganj.
  I didn't come to India to hang out with Westerners, but I confess it's been nice to speak English freely, not be stared at because I'm white, and feel more comfortable wearing t-shirts (vs. the long kurtas I always wore in Bhubaneswar). 

I walked down to the main Tibetan temple and the museum attached to it.  I confess that before this trip I knew very little about the plight of Tibetans at the hands of the Chinese.  The museum had a very moving and well-done exhibit/explanation of events over the last 40 years.  McLeod Ganj is a strange mix of Tibetan culture and a hippie vibe.  There are tons of courses in things like yoga, meditation, tarot reading, massage, cooking, etc.  Many Westerners stay here for a month or two at a time, since it's so inexpensive and there's lots to do.

  I guess I can count myself among that group, since it looks like I'll be here for 3-4 weeks.

I signed up for a five-day silent meditation retreat at the Tushita Meditation Center in Dharamkot, a few kilometers north of McLeod Ganj.  Sajeer and Lisa, the couple I've been hanging out with a lot, met and introduced me to Anita, a woman from Texas also going up to Tushita.  We met literally a few hours before we stopped talking, but we felt an instant kinship and I knew I'd have a friend to spend time with after the retreat. 

The retreat was phenomenal.  I'm still trying to articulate what the experience meant for me.  If and when I can, I'll write about it.  And in case you're wondering, nope, I didn't talk the whole time!

After the retreat I went back down to McLeod Ganj and checked into the same guest house.

  That afternoon I got stuck at a restaurant for five hours during a terrible rainstorm with Anita, Sajeer, Lisa, Ellen, and Bala.  The thunder and lightning was so close and loud that it was a bit scary, but we actually had a lot of fun.  We drank lots of hot honey/ginger/lemon (it's in every restaurant here for about 50 cents and is sooo good!), talked, and had lunch and dinner. 

Anita and I are planning to travel together for a week starting this weekend, which means I have a week left in McLeod Ganj.  It's so easy to just sit in cafes all day and fritter away time, but I've decided to take advantage of all the courses and things there are to do here.  So I'm taking a five-day reiki course and a three-day Indian cooking course.  I'm loving it!  I could see hanging out here for longer, taking a Tibetan massage course, painting and music lessons, etc.

  But there's so much more of India I want to see.  So as of now the plan is to travel with Anita for a week, do a 10-day silent meditation course starting on July 1st, and then... and then, well, I'm not quite sure yet.  

 

amankishore2011 says:
grt write-up...am going der
Posted on: Jul 11, 2011
isis127 says:
I'd love to go here, sounds great!
Posted on: Feb 14, 2009
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On the streets of McLeod Ganj
On the streets of McLeod Ganj
A Buddhist monk on a cell phone an…
A Buddhist monk on a cell phone a…
Lisa and Sajeer outside Moonpeak E…
Lisa and Sajeer outside Moonpeak …
The view from my balcony
The view from my balcony
Again from the balcony.  Thats pa…
Again from the balcony. That's p…
Its hard to see them, but there a…
It's hard to see them, but there …
A Tibetan woman
A Tibetan woman
On the streets of McLeod Ganj
On the streets of McLeod Ganj
Sajeer and I had lunch at the cafe…
Sajeer and I had lunch at the caf…
Yum
Yum
These two guys playing chess ignor…
These two guys playing chess igno…
When the five-hour storm started, …
When the five-hour storm started,…
Raindrops on the camera lens
Raindrops on the camera lens
Anita and me
Anita and me
Anita, me, and Ellen
Anita, me, and Ellen
Eventually we made a run for it in…
Eventually we made a run for it i…
Anita, Lisa, and Sajeer at the Boo…
Anita, Lisa, and Sajeer at the Bo…
The view on the walk from McLeod G…
The view on the walk from McLeod …
Nisha, our Indian cooking course i…
Nisha, our Indian cooking course …
We got to eat amazing food three d…
We got to eat amazing food three …
Making samosas
Making samosas
Usha, my reiki instructor
Usha, my reiki instructor
Anita, Gabriela, Usha, and me
Anita, Gabriela, Usha, and me
McLeod Ganj
photo by: Stevie_Wes