Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Magic of Mc Lo

McLeodganj, the name has fascinated me ever since I heard of it being a wild party place somewhere in the mountains of Himachal. Swarming with foreigners dancing all day and night...So, I decided to set out to find out what McLeodganj was really all about. Little did I know what was in store...
Mc Leodganj in Dharamsala , above the Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh, scores over other destinations for the simple reason that it allows you a variety in holidaying — you could lie on a hammock, close your eyes and surrender to birdsong or breathe easy the clean mountain air and read to your heart's content.
You could even join the hustle and bustle of the McLeodganj marketplace. The short drive from Pathankot to Mc Leodganj offered a picturesque views, with mountains and valleys and streams passing by. By the time I reached Mc Leodganj, the rain had turned into a drizzle. Mc Leodganj has one of the most stubborn rains in the country. Once it starts, it does not stop that easily. So it is a good idea to carry a pocket umbrella or a raincoat or maybe even both if you are going there around the month of June.
After a quick nap and a hot shower, I put on my exploring shoes and went out to explore McLeodganj. There were all kind of restaurants and bakeries serving German, Dutch, Tibetan, French, Arabic, and of course Indian food.
“It is the place if you want to see and experience the Tibetan culture and lifestyle. Infact many travellers have found the place so attractive that they either end up settling here or atleast elongate their stay for a couple of days more”, said Zhoigar at one of the handicrafts shop in the main bazaar.
It was really amazing to see so much of variety in a place. I thought of being so untouched. In fact this is because of the thousands of foreign tourists McLeodganj has been catering to since years, with the likes of Pierce Brosnan, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, amongst others. Some restaurants even flaunt this by putting up pictures of these celebrities.
I went to central McLeodganj and was amazed by the breathtaking natural beauty of the oak forests with trees that touched the sky and small streams that ran all over the place breaking the silence of the woods.
One could delve deep into Tibetan culture, spend hours listening to the chanting of monks at one of monasteries or take a knapsack and wander through the hills. That the ‘Namgyal Monastery’ is the hall-mark of Dhramashala isn’t an exaggeration. Tourists from around the world come to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The monastery is the ‘Dalai Lama’s’ home in exile and assists the Buddhist monks in their religious endeavours as well as public activities for Tibet’s welfare. A flight of stairs leads you to a large open space where monks are seen laughing, praying and playing.
Tourists are seen exploring the place, some of them just sitting in nooks doing nothing, others chatting with the Lamas. It seems as if the place is under the spell of some power that lends it energy and calmness at the same time.
Within the monastery, the Namgyal Café is a small eatery with windows laced with bright curtains, plastic flowers, a book shelf and a little reception which proudly exhibits currency notes from at least three hundred countries! You can sit here for hours reading a book and savouring the sumptuous Tibetan (vegetarian) food. Do not forget to eat the sumptuous carrot and banana cake, the specialty of this café.
In the southern part of Mc Leodganj is the private residence of the Dalai Lama. It is a modest cottage where the spiritual leader lives without in the least disturbing the serenity of the atmosphere. Tsuglagkhang is the two storeyed temple nearby the private residence of the Dalai Lama. The unique thing I found about the temple is that it has been built without cutting off any tree. The presiding deity of the temple is a nine feet gilded image of Buddha that rises from a lotus seat.
Today, the temple is the beginning and end destination for Buddhist coming to Mc Leodganj. Even standing quietly at any point in the temple was experience for there are magnificent views of the mountain.
Coming back from the Monastery I saw Namgyalma Stupa standing right in the centre of the Mc Leodganj. It was built as a mark of respect for Tibetan soldiers who lost their lives fighting for a free Tibet. The stupa is constructed in a similar fashion as the ones built during the reigns of Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century. The whole atmosphere is filled with peace and well being.

While strolling in the local bazaar I found it was full of all kinds of handicrafts, antiques, carpets, Arabic dresses, Tibetan literature, artificial jewellery and so on. There are loads of bakeries and the pastry shop near the taxi stand is the one to look out for if you happen to have a sweet tooth like mine.
What I enjoyed most was shopping for souvenirs at the McLeodganj marketplace. I picked up T-shirts inscribed with Tibetan symbols, prayer bells and even a bakku, the traditional costume of Tibetan women. You can even pick up Tibetan carpet, thangkas, ponchos, jackets, chubas, masks, votive objects, silver and stone jewellery and trinkets, lamps, statuettes, sleeping bags, fruit preserves, bottled produce, tahini and muesli. Apart from these, other items that can be purchased include Tibetan cheese, tea, prayer wheels and flags.
The shops in McLeod are custom-made to satiate hippy foreign tourists in quest of spirituality and peace. They all sell the same Indian clothes, jewellery, postcards, books, incense sticks, hash pipes and other such knick-knacks which surprisingly very few Indians buy. I had dinner at the same restaurant, and in fact the same table, where once James Bond had had his supper. It felt good! The drizzling was still on and the chilly air running through my hair was giving a sensational feeling.
While you’re in McLo, the best grub to have is, of course, Tibetan chef-d’oeuvre. The aroma wafting from Tibetan food joints run by the locals is enough to tell you that. Try their wide range of delicious, non-spicy dishes including thukpas (soups), noodle dishes (gyathuk, thin noodles; thenthuk, flat noodles), steamed or fried momos (dumplings) and shabakleb (pretty much like flat and round momos).

In the morning it stopped raining and I took a small trek to the Bhagsu Naag Temple. It is two kilometers from Mc Lo. I had breakfast at the German Bakery, Bhagsu Naag a restaurant with soothing music and some amazing food. I decided to relish the set breakfast consisting of bread, eggs, hash brown potatoes and coffee. The breakfast was yummy beyond my imagination. I could not resist myself further and ordered an apple strudel with fresh cream. Lip-smacking…it is a must eat if you happen to be at German Bakery.
Bhagsu Naag Temple is dedicated to Lord Siva that was built in the 16th century, which has a fresh water spring. The water gets collected in a tank forming a swimming pool and a dip in it would have been really refreshing but I decided against it.
After paying obeisance at the temple I went towards the waterfall. It is a nice waterfall just past the village of Bhagsu. The walk up was fairly easy and very picturesque. I saw the valley covered with chir and oak trees. I sat on the small hilly road for hours. Magic it was! This was also the road that led to Shiva Café. “Shiva Café, you have to go to Shiva Café. And do what?”. Why, just lie around the whole day and sunbathe. That is exactly what one must do when you go to Bhagsu.
Heart was not contented but I had to come back after enjoying my day at the waterfall. Coming back I took a round of the Bhagsu town and found that besides being technology savvy, it offers art, music, cooking, meditation, and language classes. You could also relax at a spa or a massage center. Fun loving ones could get tattoos and body art done.
This little hill-station has become quite the international food plaza: German bakeries, Tibetan momo shops, Delhi chaat bhandars, idli-dosa, Continental steaks or fish and chips and, of course, banana pancakes and pizzas. In fact, the pizzas here are as good as any in Italy. You can drop in at the all-veg Nick’s Italian Kitchen for their pasta and bakes. Don’t miss the lemon curd cake, Mid-Eastern and Tibetan fare at the Snow Lion. There are also a variety of herb teas and health food including hummus and muesli.

On the way back itinerary is a must-see St John’s Church-in-the-Wilderness, one of the oldest cathedrals in North India that stands picturesque amongst the Deodars. Built in grey stone in 1852, it is located along the road from McLeodganj to Dharamsala. The church has stained glass windows showing John the Baptist with Jesus. Also, to be found is the cemetery of one of the viceroys of India, Lord Elgin, who died in an accident here. His cemetery has been declared of national importance under the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 (24 of 1958). The church was amongst the first structures constructed by the British in this area in 1853.
My last destination took me to the Dal Lake about 3 km away from Mc Leodganj. Dal Lake is a small mid altitude (1,837 m), lake near of a very beautiful village ‘Tota Rani’. The lake is surrounded by deodar trees and is considered as a sacred spot as there is small Shiva mandir (shrine) on its bank. There are different kinds of fish that live in this lake.
The car ride back home made me want to just stay for few more days. There was this sense of a relaxat and peace at McLeodganj. I carried within me a firm conviction of returning with a lot more time to explore the hidden.
How to get there: Dharamsala is 90 km from Pathankot, 252 km from Chandigarh and about 560 km from Delhi. The closest railway link to Delhi is Pathankot, however it can also be reached by road or air.
When to visit: The summer temperature ranges between 15°C and 30°C. The winter temperatures usually range between 8°C and 18°C. The ideal time to visit the hill station is April to October.
Historical Past:The town of Mc Leodganj (also known as Mc LO) was itself founded in 1860 and was meant to serve as the civil administrative point and cantonment of the British. At that point of time, Mc Leodganj was just a group of few country houses of British families. The name Mc Leodganj derives from the name of the British governor of the province, Sir Ian Mc Leod. Post India's independence, on the insistence of Nauzer Nowrozee, a prominent personality of Mc Leodganj, the exiled Dalai Lama came over and settled here. Thereafter, the place progressed leaps and bounds.

1 comment:

  1. no doubt Mc leodganj is a wonderful place and i believe every person should visit this destination atleast once.