Departing at 6.30 our bus was due to arrive at 6 the following morning. Hellish 12 hour bus journeys are nothing new, although it has been a few years now since I had the pleasure. The bus was by no means luxury but actually pretty comfortable for the most part, if only it wasn’t for the bumpy, windy, roads which made it pretty tricky to get anything close to sleep.
We stopped off on the way at Punjab food place where among the plastic chairs I ordered saag sarson with naan and then panicked that i would be giving myself dyssentry by using my hands to eat. (so far so good).
Mcleod Ganj, above Dharamsala in the Himachal Pradesh region of India is home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. As a result, it is a destination for many Tibetan refugees as India has allowed them to create a settlement here as well as other places in the north of the country such as Sikkim. This brave approach from the Indian government is in stark contrast to the reaction of western countries and the UN who have been noticeably impotent in the face of the occupation and genocide that has been occurring in Tibet over the last 50 years.
One of the reasons I have come to Mcleod Ganj is to volunteer for LHA, an organisation which helps the Tibetan Community in various ways, from teaching languages to massage, cooking and accomodation. I’m actually going to be writing for The Tibetan Post for the couple of weeks I am here, providing news content for their English language website.
Collected from the bus by the ultimate dude Rabsel from the LHA organisation who had been helping us get settled, we were quickly set up in accomodation and my place has the most amazing view of the valley(when it’s clear up here at least)
We walked up the hill to the Common Ground Café which is a little hub for Tibetan activism and also does rather good food including some great Chinese noodle dishes. On this occasion I had a fried rice dish while we chilled and waited for Rabsel. He met us and took us down to the LHA offices where we were introduced to the team there and had the chance to see where they hold the English lessons and check out the small library room that is available to students and volunteers.
After that we wandered over and up to Bhagsu which is another small village just across the valley from Mcleod where there is a large Israeli contingent and apparently a slew of fabulous desserts including Bhagsu Cake (which has been described as several slightly different layers of butter but I shall report in detail in due course).
There is a temple which has an outdoor swimming pool within its grounds, seemingly with water flowing almost straight down from the waterfall above. This wasn’t particularly appealing in any way, not least due to the groups of Indian men in their underpants, so we decided to walk up and see the waterfall itself.
At first, we couldn’t understand why, given the extreme monsoon rains that have fallen in the region, the waterfall was so relatively dry, but it soon became clear that there were numerous pipes leading from the source which were tapping in to and draining the flow. Nonetheless, it was a nice spot, despite more Indian men bathing in pants, and once we had got up past their favoured spot to the shiva café at the top it was much more peaceful.
This was where we met Mr Anish Vig, Store Manager for Tag Heuer in Chandigarh. This was the first, and, I am sure will not be the last time I was told how unusual it is for me to not be married at the age of 32. (although I also keep getting told I don’t look 32 either so I guess that’s a good thing.) Anish was here on the 1st Anniversary of his marriage, but not with his wife. Instead, he was spending time away with a childhood friend who also seemed to be avoiding his better half.
That evening we went into Carpe Diem, which I have since discovered to be the standard after hours hang out. (I mean, I say after hours, but everything including this place is pretty much shut by 11)
I had this rather nice Veg Thali and although presentation was probably better than flavor it was fine.
The real joy of the place is the communal seating area on Japanese-style cushions, which also turns out to be a traditional Tibetan style of sitting