Chillin' in McLeod Ganj
McLeod Ganj Travel Blog› entry 22 of 29 › view all entries
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.
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.
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 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.
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.