Jun 3, 2012

Cities- Dharmashala, Little Lhasa of India

Dharmashala, a hill station on the spur of mighty Dhauladhar Range is the district headquarters of Kangra. It is the temporary residence of His Holiness Dalai Lama and so gained international fame and is now popularly referred to as Little Lhasa of India.

I took a bus from Amritsar to Pathankot very early in the morning. Then took a bus to Dharmashala. It was an uneventful journey through the peaks and valleys. I made friends with few fellow backpackers. They were from Germany and Spain. Well, one among them was 65years old lady solo backpacker.

From Dharmashala I took another local shared transport up to McLeod Ganj. It looked like backpackers heaven. Budget hotels, eat-outs, bar-restaurants and the colorful market. I took a hotel after bargaining for a while for Rs.600. It had a good view of Dhauladhars. The internet access was excellent here.
After a brief lunch I started hunting for a shared tour to cover local sightseeing. Unfortunately there is no shared transport available. The tourists have to talk themselves with their hotel-mates and share the expenses. I spoke to few and unfortunately they all were taking it easy and wanted to spend time on the market streets! Well, I thought of exploring on foot. I visited the nearby monasteries, Lakes, temple and a waterfall. I hired a taxi for a day-long excursion next day to Kangra Valley and Masroor.

Dharmashala has a tibetan refugee settlement. Monks wandering around is a common sight. There are few monasteries here. Visit to the temporary exile, the Namgyal Monastery, of His Holiness Dalai Lama was good. Though there are tiny sign-boards of No Photography and No shoes allowed, people were seen taking pictures and the monks were feeling hurt. The museum displays info about the abuse on citizens of Tibet and their religion by the invaders. Does it take too much to respect another person's religious beliefs?
The war memorial for the heroes of Himachal Pradesh in the post-independence era is in a very peaceful place. The garden is good for long walks. The artificial ponds, lush lawn and numerous trees here make this place very attractive to peace-lovers.
The HPCA Stadium is an imposing structure when seen from McLeod Ganj. The pretty stadium has the reputation of being a cricket stadium at highest altitude in the world! Painted in bright colors the stadium makes a good contrast with the mist covered Dhauladhars.
The distance between attractions is not more, just 2 to 4 Km. The problem is the steep gradient. A walk to Dal Lake was funny. In the HPTDC brochure, the distance from McLeod Ganj to Dal Lake is 0.4Km but, in reality it is 4Km. I started walking ... after going about a Km I asked a taxi driver and he said it was 4Km. I thought he was bluffing to get me hire a taxi. I went ahead walking ... Then asked a few local pedestrians ... the girl said its another 10min. Even after 15min I couldn't find the lake. I asked again a monk ... he said another half-an-hour! Then after walking for few more minutes I was there at the sacred lake ... green ... on the way back I was asked by few tired tourists ... how far is the lake? I visited the HPTDC office and told them about the correction to the brochure. Hope they will correct it.
The tourist attraction list includes tea gardens ... but, if you have visited places like Munnar, Rajamalai ... nah! skip it! Don't let the travel agent fool you. Kunal Pathri Temple is a small rock temple surrounded by tea gardens.

Bhagsunag waterfalls is just 2Km walk from McLeod Ganj. It is a beautiful little waterfalls which is over-crowded. People were all around and screaming ... I perched on a high rock and watched people. Nothing was running in my mind ... just watching ...
A honeymoon couple (may be)... the man pulled the wife into the cold water and then he thought it would be nice to have a pic. So he looked around, asked another guy standing at the shore and he walked all the way, gave the camera, went back to the water to pose with his wife. After asking few people to move a bit, posing, they stood smiling, the photographer asked the man ... which is the click button? Now, the man walked all the way back and showed the click button and went back to pose again. All this time his wife was standing in the ice cold water very unhappy about the whole thing but still was trying hard to support her husband! Hope the picture came out well! Travel makes people tolerant and builds stronger relationships :)

Interesting event in Dharmashala was that ... few young activists joined by all foreign-backpackers had organized an event ... litter picking to clean Bhagsunag ... I got an invitation to join at my hotel ... well, I joined. I was anyway walking up to the waterfalls so picked some cookie wrappers on the way :) The tourists threw more plastic bottles and wrappers even after watching the volunteers picking the garbage. Incredible Indians!!

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