I feel that a trip has been successful when I come back sounding strange, even to myself. When I know that in some sense I’ve lost a part of me and I remain unsettled, upon my return, with what I’ve seen or experienced.
We travel the most when we learn something new. And we learn when we come to a place full of stories and inspiration. What we find in such places is that it is the sadness that makes the sun-shine brighter, and it is the spirit of people that makes this world more beautiful. This applies to McLeod Ganj – a nondescript sleepy hamlet in the foothills of the Himalayas – in an absolute and unconditional sense.
The smell of butter tea in the peewee lanes of McLeod Ganj in the chilly mornings, the sound of Buddhist prayers in Namgyal Monastery and the many friendly faces that I frequently stumbled upon, often filled me with a sudden unanswerable sense – that I’ve been to this place before.
I decided to visit McLeod Ganj to experience Tibetan Buddhist culture, as this place is now home to its government in exile and the revered Dalai Lama with his several thousand Tibetan people. And no wonder the city lives up to its tag of small Tibet and the “Little Lhasa”. I found the Buddhists living in Mcleod Ganj more religiously inclined (though I’m not comparing), with almost everyone I spoke to have the highest sense of regard for Dalai Lama.
I’ve visited quite a few other Buddhist villages around India and in Bhutan but when I was in McLeod Ganj, it felt different altogether. It is like one of those inspiring places, where the exile and loss of its people are seen in the right light, doesn’t seem depressing at all.
“The great courage is still, to gaze as squarely at the light as at death”
Though it’s a different and perhaps a sad thing that the Buddhist leader – who once had a home in the serene mountains of Lhasa – and ruled far beyond the boundaries of entire Tibet, is now living in the confined spaces of McLeod Ganj, and has been doing so for more than half his age.
And, that’s not it. Almost every other person here had a gloomy past and a sad story to tell; but when you walk through its chill, sharp streets, all you see is a bunch of happy faces – with many walking with their prayer beads and chanting mantras as they go about their day.
And when your senses aren’t occupied by those happy faces, you find yourself smiling to the working amiable Tibetan women selling goods with a baby strapped to their backs. Their beautiful, smooth face, cheeks red from overexposure to the sun and a rosary, methodically moving in and out their sleeve as if each dark turquoise bead acts in an abacus for time and prayer.
As much as I loved McLeod Ganj for its people and its aura, the food here is also something that’s worth a mention. From pancakes to thupkas to momos, every café has its own variety of dishes with its signature Tibetan touch.
While there is a host of eatables to choose from – one thing that you, however, can’t afford to miss out on is the famous Tibetan butter tea – a stimulating sweet, salty mix.
I’ve been to this fascinating Hamlet both off and during the season – and I’ve found that this place has its own charm when it’s not all cramped with tourists. Because if you visit it during the peak season, you don’t get to feel its warmth or watch all the monks in their flaming robes walking along the narrow, confined roads around the main market. It was one of those whimsical places for me where, for no reason, I found myself being able to decipher, as if I was in a place, I feel, I know better than I should.
During my entire stay here, I found myself shuffling through the gratings of the conscious mind, and into a place that observes a different kind of logic – of friendliness and peace.
Also Read: How People In Bhutan Practice Happiness