Public relations are important to the Tibetans, for McLeodganj is more than just temples and the Dalai Lama's residence. It is home to a flourishing number of enterprises, political, religious and commercial, all of which are designed to demonstrate the seriousness and competence of the government in exile. Everywhere we go we are handed well-produced information sheets by well-dressed, knowledgeable and patient young men, who do a thoroughly professional job of marketing the mysteries of Tibet.
Michael Palin – Himalaya
Breakfast in the Fungus Paradise didn't look very inviting to most people so at we walked down the hill towards McLeod Ganj to have breakfast there.
Special Muesli at Gakyi restaurant.
We passed the spot where we had left the taxi bus yesterday (somehow it had managed to get back) and after some searching we found the tiny Gakyi restaurant, famous in McLeod Ganj for its wonderful muesli (advertised on the door as ‘Museli’). So without hesitation we all ordered a bowl of this 'special muesli' and special it was; a huge bowl full of fresh fruits and nuts, topped off with a thick layer of curd. Just what the hungry traveller needs on a sunny morning like this.
McLeod Ganj (a.k.a. Upper Dharamsala) is basically two streets running parallel past an enclosed chörten in the middle of town before splitting sideways down the hill. When one follows the right street, Temple Road, one quickly arrives at the Tsuglagkhang Complex. This series of buildings more resembles a military compound or school complex than a religious location. First of all, there's the photang, the official residence and office of the Dalai Lama, closed and well guarded.
Tsuglagkhang Temple, McLeod Ganj.
Then there are two temples, the Tsuglagkhang itself and the Kalachakra temple, plus a series of buildings forming the Namgyal Gompa where many monks live and study. It's a rather strange experience to walk into these temples finding the same statues as one would see in Ladakh and Tibet in important monasteries but the external look and feel being nothing like those gompas.
The Tsuglagkhang is the exiles' equivalent to the Jokhang temple we had visited in Lhasa two years ago. And as a matter of fact there were even people prostrating in front of it, just like in Lhasa. Inside there were statues of Guru Rinpoche, Avalokiteshvara and Sakyamuni Buddha. The KalachakraTemple contained beautiful murals of the Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) mandala.
Preparing puff pastry.
To get to these temples we actually had to walk through a metal detector. The Dalai Lama's safety is serious business! Once inside everybody seemed as friendly as in Ladakh. Lots of people were involved in baking pile after pile of baked puff pastries and someone was kind enough to offer Judith one of these snacks, which she shared with us. The monks had just left their classroom and we had a chat with a few of them before their abbot kindly asked us to leave so they could continue their characteristic stamping and clapping way of discussing Buddhist philosophy.
The last building we visited at the complex was the TibetMuseum, a two story exhibition about the occupation and suppression of Tibet by the Chinese.
Interesting and for some of my fellow travellers quite shocking but having been a supporter of the International Campaign for Tibet (www.ict.org) for several years there were very few new facts and footage for me.
After all of this we decided to have a nice cup of coffee at the Lonely Planet recommended Moonpeak Espresso coffee shop around . The coffee was nice enough to order another round and the chocolate brownie Judith and I shared was good enough to keep us stuffed until late in the afternoon.
McLeod Ganj lives and breathes a Tibetan atmosphere, which isn't all that strange considering the presence of the government in exile and the many monks and refugees. So, after the Julley of the first few weeks and Namaste of the last couple of days we were back greeting people with Tashi Delek.
Sakyamuni Buddha at Tsuglagkhang Temple, McLeod Ganj.
There are some more things to see and experience in McLeod Ganj but since I'd be back here in December Judith and I decided to first head for the organization she would be volunteering for, volunteertibet.org. Arriving at their small office Lobsang, the organization's coordinator explained several things about the possibilities of homestays and guesthouses but since it had begun raining quite heavily a possible 'landlord' for Judith wasn't able or willing to come by. So, in the end she ended up making a reservation for the first couple of days at the Ladies Venture guesthouse.
Having arranged these necessities for her return to McLeod Ganj when the rest of the group would head for Delhi on Friday, we ended up at the McLlo restaurant for a beer and some grilled sandwiches while the rain continued to pour down outside. A blanket of mist also started to descent of the town. After the group had stocked up on food for tomorrow's breakfast we decided to get back to the hotel. After all, the weather was not showing any signs of clearing up.
In the evening the group ended up at McLlo again.
Avalokiteshvara at Tsuglagkhang Temple, McLeod Ganj.
In a country like this it is sometimes wiser not to change a winning choice, especially if you're spending another day on the bus the next day. A tomato soup and a pizza went down well, although the time consuming pattern of eating out with a 10+ piece group every day is slowly starting to get to me. These are the moments you start longing back for those micro-waved dinners in front of the TV.
Back at the Fungus Palace Internet proved to be available again (the whole of Dharamsala had been offline the whole afternoon). After uploading some journal entries I went back to our room, unpacking my sleeping back and looking for something reasonably dry to put over my pillow, quickly dozing off, probably dreaming of rain or Turkish steambaths.