When I was prepping for my first ever (almost) solo trip to Himachal earlier this year, a friend of mine – let’s call him K – told me that he wants to know “every single detail” about the trip. I laughed it off, because I knew there was no way I was going to blog about this or send updates to him or anyone else on Whatsapp. My agenda for the trip, partly, was to switch off completely. But I did post on Instagram almost every day.
I ended up writing these insanely long emails to him, documenting my trip and telling him about all that happened; all that I saw, felt, experienced. I must have sent him 3-4 emails over two weeks. I revisit those emails every once in a while, and I realised that I wouldn’t have wanted to document that trip in any other way. Those who know me well enough know how much I love receiving and sending letters and emails – the longer and more detailed, the better. Writing these emails helped me in ways that K may never understand, neither would those of you reading it. But that’s not what this is about. This is about the Macleodganj that I saw and experienced and shared with K. You won’t find listicles, best places to eat, best things to shop or anything. Just… what Macleoganj is to me.
So here goes, my Macleodganj trip, in the form of Letters to K. I have edited out certain details to make it suitable for publishing, so there may be gaps that may not make sense. Just bear with me, ya?
Note: Please do know that these are personal emails, and personal thoughts, and I’m putting myself in a vulnerable spot by putting it out here. If you really want to criticize, be gentle, ok? 🙂 Also, I’m writing about the places as and when I’m exploring them, so inaccuracies might be there.
Monday, April 10, 2017
*insanely long email. Feel free to skip over*
As I am writing this, “Aapki aankhon mein kuch, mehake hue se khwaab hai” is playing on my phone. Would you believe it if I told you that I have not listened to a single song all day long? I doubt whether I hummed anything either. That is so very unlike me. I went an entire day without listening to music!
I can’t even say it’s because I was busy. Because I wasn’t. I had a quiet, unhurried day. Reached Macleodganj sometime in the early hours. The first glimpse I caught of the Himalayas (the Dhauladhar range, to be precise), and the biggest smile lit up my sleep-deprived face. It kept popping up every now and then from behind the buildings, around this bend and that corner. As the bus meandered through the narrow streets, the funny feeling in my tummy kept growing. Part excitement, part nervousness. Took a cab from the bus stop to my B&B, all the while shivering in my thin jacket, teeth chattering as I am speaking to the driver.
The B&B folks were kind enough to check me in early, and I slept for a while, but not before walking along the verandah and taking in the full glory of the mountains awash in a faint golden glow.
When I woke up and stepped out for breakfast, imagine my delight at finding out that the school next door is a kindergarten! It was the cutest sight to see those adorable buttons walking down the steps, their maroon sweaters only a little darker than their apple-cheeks. I had half a mind to scoop them into my arms, but didn’t want to be up against any protective Tibetan mothers. After a breakfast of hot aloo parantha and surprisingly good coffee, I logged into work and worked for a few hours till my laptop ran out of charge (the power went around 10:00 am).
So I decided to step out. With my trusty backpack and camera for company, I set off. My B&B is on Jogiwara Road, which is a narrow road with shops, hotels, cafes, guest houses, etc. on either side. The idea was to go to Tsuglagkhang Complex, but before that, lunch. Jogiwara Road goes downhill, so I decided to walk down the road for a bit, before heading back up for lunch. Oh boy! By the time I walked back up, I was in a state! I’m pretty sure my calf muscles will be cursing me tomorrow.
Lunch was at Peace Café, a quiet little place where everyone speaks in low volumes and the interiors are dimly lit. I ordered for Pocha, a Tibetan salted butter tea and thenthuk, which is like a cousin of thukpa. The Pocha was okayish, I’m not sure if I like it yet. Maybe a smaller cup would’ve been better. The thenthuk was delicious, loaded with veggies and tofu. While thukpa has regular noodles, thenthuk has flat square chewy noodles. It was so good, spicy and hot. A Tibetan monk shared the table with me, but I was on my guard, especially when he asked “Are you alone here?”. I guess that underlying feeling of fear is always going to be there. By the way, lunch was just 120 bucks. 🙂
I walked to Temple Road after lunch, which is where the complex is. All along the road, there are shops and stalls on either side selling Tibetan goods like silver jewellery, shawls, singing bowls, Buddha figurines, etc. So much temptation! But what I noticed is that none of the hawkers call out to you asking you to buy stuff.
At the end of this road is the Tsuglagkhang (pronounced Chug-la-kang) complex, which is the official residence of HH Dalai Lama, whenever he is in town. The complex also has a Tibetan museum (which was closed today as it is on all Mondays), the Kalachakra temple, and the Namgyal monastery. The complex is a sprawling one, with plenty of trees dotting the courtyard. The Dalai Lama’s residence is easy to figure out, what with all the armed guards standing outside. He is currently in Arunachal Pradesh, from what his website tells me.
I went up the stairs which has the temple and monastery. The temple has three deities mainly – Avalokitesvara, Kalachakra and Green Tara, each more resplendent than the other. The Kalachakra especially stood out. It had a certain ferociousness to it. But what really got me curious were the offerings kept in front of each deity. Are you ready? There were packs of Ferrero Rocher, Dabur Honey, MacVities Digestive biscuit, Leh Berry juice, to name a few. How bizarre is that! I tried asking the two monks who were there, but they didn’t seem to know much English, so I couldn’t get anything more than “puja” out of them (at least I think that’s what they were saying). After the temple, I walked around to the monastery. En route, there are prayer wheels set around a four-walled structure such that you have to do a circumambulation. The prayer wheels are massive, but oh what joy it is to turn them…
The Namgyal gompa had a prayer ritual going on when I got there. I sat there for a while, listening to the hypnotic rhythmic chanting of monks (and rolling my eyes at all those idiots who come in, take half a look at the monks, click a selfie and walk out. Still rolling my eyes. Geez). After that, I went down and sat in the courtyard, watching the groups of tourists walk in and out, monks and nuns go about their business, ancient Tibetan ladies praying, and some kids playing. How often do we do that, just sit and observe what is happening around us?
I walked back towards Temple Road and stopped at a small café for some ginger lemon honey tea. This was one of the best moments of the day. The café was empty, except for the people who run it. It was so quiet and peaceful – just me, my tea, and a book on my tab. I sat there and read for a while, occasionally looking out to the busy road outside. It was the most at peace I have felt in a long time. The past few months have been a roller coaster; what I needed was some alone time in a café far way in Himachal Pradesh.
On the way back, I stopped at a small bakery, Tibetan Quality Bakery, that sold confectionary items. I bought a slice of banana cake, a coffee, and sat on the steps to have it while street-watching. Have I ever told you that people-watching is one of my favourite pastimes? You see so many mannerisms, shapes, sizes… it’s fascinating.
The fancy artwork at Tibetan Quality Bakery
Back to the B&B, and thankfully, the power was back. Rested for a short while, and around 8:30, went for dinner to a café next to my place (Lotus cafe, I think). Hot soup and yummy momos – sigh! I usually don’t like to eat alone. I can travel alone, live alone, sleep alone, but I can’t eat alone. But today, I ate all my meals alone, and I was quite ok. I was either reading or watching people. There was no one to ask me what I am doing with my life, where I am heading, what my “plan” is (how I dread that word!). Just non-intrusive people who will let you have your meal in peace. I do miss Millie, though. Her chatter and her “Shall we read a book?” “Shall we play a puzzle?”.
So that was my quiet, unhurried day. I did everything at my own pace, as and when I wished to. No “plan” to stick to, no list of “must-visit places” that had to be covered during the day, no hurrying through everything because we have so many other places to get to. This is my kind of travelling (and living too, come to think of it).
You’re already regretting telling me that you want to know every single detail, aren’t you? I wouldn’t blame you. I’ve written more than 1300 words!
(Maeri by Euphoria as I sign off)
Psst! Did you like reading this? I’m sceptical whether to post the rest of the emails or not. After all, who wants to read boring, long emails in these days of 140 characters.