Country life in Himachal Pradesh. Rich land, poor farmers. It's in the morning and the first streaks of light are in the sky as we drive along the narrow streets of Dharamsala and continue up the road that climbs through pine, oak and rhododendron woods to the less mellifluous sounding village of McLeodganj. ('Ganj' means market and McLeod, presumably, was a Scotsman.) To complicate matters, this place with a Hindu-Scots name is filled with Tibetans.
Michael Palin - Himalaya
After two days of relative relaxation we were in a new and more spacious bus by .
Landscape Himachal Pradesh.
The front of the bus showed the remarkable text 'oh god save me'. I wondered what this was telling us about today's ride to our next destination: Dharamsala (1219 m) and McLeod Ganj (1770 m), the hill stations in West Himachal Pradesh that have been the home of the 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile since he fled Tibet in 1959. Since then this former administrative centre of the Brits has become a centre for the study of Buddhism and Tibetan culture. Refugees from Tibet continue to arrive in Dharamsala and the TibetanChildrenVillage (where I myself am sponsoring a 12 year old Tibetan girl) is filled with children that have been brought here by their parents, often crossing the Himalayas by foot, after which mom and/or dad often had to return to their homeland.
Landscape Himachal Pradesh.
This was also the place Judith would stay in until the end of the year, volunteering with Tibetan refugees.
We take a short break at a dhaba at . I ordered a coke. I'm normally not a coke drinker but it might help quieten my still slightly revolting intestines. Then we were back in the bus and suddenly everything goes dark! We've actually entered a tunnel and were hurling downhill in a tube at death defying speed! Several minutes later we're back in the sunlight.
This journey wasn't nearly as exciting as our three day journey through the Himalaya. Sure, the bright green valleys and hills and roaring rivers were beautiful, but there was hardly any real change of scenery. This made the trip rather boring and when we stopped at a dhaba at one o' clock for lunch and it took them more than half an hour to prepare fried rice I was bored out of my skull and almost happy to get back on the bus an hour later.
Checking out the Tandoori oven.
I spent most of the afternoon on the bus dozing off and listening to music on the MP3 player.
At the end of the afternoon we pulled into Dharamsala but immediately started climbing the mountain towards McLeod Ganj, which is located more than 500 meter higher. The bus stopped at the Church of St. John in the Wilderness, an old but still operational Christian church remaining from the time that McLeod Ganj was a British hill station, surrounded by a churchyard where a lot of victims of the 1905 earthquake were buried. The bus had stopped because it wasn't able to navigate through the narrow streets of McLeod Ganj. We were picked up by mini busses and brought to the AnandPalace hotel. Another city another shite hotel. Once again our hotel was far beyond the town centre; we'd definitely need a taxi to and fro this place. What was worse, whereas we had a very most room with the bed sheets and cushion being drenched, some of our travel companions could actually grow mushrooms on their walls.
Church of St. John in the Wilderness, Dharamsala.
We decided to head into the city with the group and at half past 7 we took a couple of mini busses down to the Lonely Planet recommended McLlo, seemingly the best place in town. Atmosphere and food were okayish, certainly not the best I've had so far but I can imagine that for a place like McLeod Ganj they were indeed top of the notch.
Getting back to the hotel was a hoot. Kirsten, Paul, Judith and I got a taxi bus near McLlo but when we were driving uphill the bus completely broke down, to the extent that we actually got out to push it and were faster walking than sitting inside the bus. Completely ridiculous and hilarious at the same time. We continued uphill by foot and soon reached the hotel that had been the subject of many water-related jokes during the evening.
After having one final beer in the hotel restaurant we went back to our wet rooms and Judith and I decided that it would probably be more comfortable and healthy to sleep in our sleeping bags again. Anything that didn't feel damp would do.