Monthly Archives: June 2013

Dharamshala/Mcleodganj – The Little Lhasa

Known to the world as the holy abode of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dharamshala is synonymous with the Tibetan Government Dalai Lama Residencein exile and is perched on the higher slopes of Kangra valley in the back drop of the snow-capped majestic Dhauladhar mountain ranges.  The city is dominated by the Tibetan populace while still retaining the British fervor and English lifestyles. Divided into two Mcleodganjdistinct sections known as lower and upper (Mcleodganj) Dharamshala,  this colourful city is surrounded by thick woods of oak and coniferous trees and the snow line, which offers  a splendid ambience.

Heads or Tails!! 

I don’t remember whether it was heads or tails, but the choice was obvious : Dharamshala. I had 2 choices with the second being Dalhousie. Having started my journey from Jalandhar to Pathankot on 29th April morning, I found myself looking at 2 buses (One to Dalhousie and the other to Dharamshala) at Pathankot bus stand. Due to lack of time, I had to decide between these, and what is better than the good old tossing the coin? So, there Dhauladhar mountain rangesI was, sitting in a local Himachal Government bus, gazing out through the picturesque landscape swishing past me. After a 3 hour journey from Pathankot, I reached Dharamshala, the lower part of it. The bus stand looked nothing like a tourist stand I expected. I made  a split second decision to go to Mcleodganj (Upper Dharamshala) which was 10 km uphill. I had to race a bus uphill, and even though I nearly ran out of breath, I caught it. After reaching Mcleodganj, I took a double bedroom in a quiet part of the town for Rs.300 (I bargained and bought it down from 500). The mercury levels were at pretty comfortable readings with the cool breeze rejuvenating me.

It was evening, and I decided to take a stroll in the streets. It looked like Naddi VillageI reached another country as most of the people were Tibetan refugees and spiritual seekers from all around the world flocked to this abode of Buddhism. After getting a map from the tourist office, I went to the Dalai Lama Temple, adjoining the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Too bad, the Dalai Lama was in Dalhousie that day. I played football with 2 Tibetan kids in the temple compound, and I must confess, they were much better than me in the game. After strolling around the market, bustling with International tourists and having thanthuk with tofu and egg for dinner, I decide to call it a day.

The next morning, I went to the Tibet Museum that described the life and freedom struggle of the peace-loving Tibetan people. My next destination was the Bhagsunag temple devoted to Lord Shiva. About 1km walk from the temple led me to the Bhagsunag waterfalls. It was a pretty good one, though there wasn’t much water in it. That’s where I met, Bhagsunag WaterfallsAlexei, a Russian youth who didn’t know English. After a refreshing walk back, I hired an auto to take me to Naddi Village. The village offered splendid view of the snow-capped Dhauladhar mountains, but half the view was censored by the clouds. After a tea, I set out to Dal Lake, but was disappointed to find the lake practically dry. The pine trees around the lake was a consolation and I walked around this small lake before heading down to the church of St.John in the Wilderness. St. John of the Wilderness ChurchBuilt in 1852, this small church with its beautiful stained glass windows, is one of the oldest cathedrals in North India.

A bus took me from Mcleodganj to Dharamshala. Though the part of same town, there is an altitude difference of nearly 1000m between the upper and lower Dharamshala. After consulting the tourist office in Dharamshala, I walked through the Kotwali Bazaar and went to the War Memorial. Situated amidst a pine forest, it is a reminiscence of the great sacrifices of soldiers from Himachal. I then walked to Dharamshala Cricket Stadium, often called the most beautiful stadium in the world. I think, I’d agree with that. With the snow clad mountains in backdrop, and lush green fields, this field could still be worth view, even if your team doesn’t play the match well. One thing I liked about Dharamshala is that, the buses are so cheap, just Rs.2 for 2 kms. The Kangra Art museum is a good place for art lovers. I must confess, I’m not a big fan of art, but this museum was pretty good.

By evening, I found myself back in Mcleodganj and I had an interesting conversation with Robert, a German masseur. An evening walk Dharamshala Cricket stadiumin the cool breeze soothed my body, that was feeling tired after a long day. The rays of the setting Sun illuminated the snow-line in a golden hue. I bought a trekking backpack and had a tasty dinner with Chicken soutsemen. After settling all my room bills, I feel asleep in the cozy bed.

Are you out of your mind? Going trekking alone?

Trekking! That was my plan for the next day. After taking an auto to Dharamkot, I started walking through the pine forest to the Galu

Forest trail to Naddi

Temple. After an hour and a half, I reached the Galu temple. Located high aboveForest trail to Galu temple Mcleodganj, this trek offered me breathtaking views of the town and the solo walk through the forest was a memorable experience. I met a few people in near Galu temple, who said, I could either go to Triund or Naddi Village. Since Triund was longer and had higher probability of getting lost, I decided to settle with Naddi. It was a proper rocky forest trail with dried leaves all around me. To my side, I could see the mountains guiding me. It was very calm, peaceful and quiet except for the rustling of the leaves and the chirping of birds. The trail was quite narrow and I saw a lot of birds that I had never seen before. But unfortunately, they weren’t very interested in modelling. After one of the best 1.5 hrs in my life, I found myself standing on a rock overlooking the Naddi Village. Priceless!!

From Naddi I walked for another kilometer and reached the Dal Lake again. There I met Roberto, a Swiss Engineer. Naddi & Dhauladhar mountain rangesWe had a good conversation while I rested near the Lake. I took an auto back to Mcleodganj. After having Alberto Chicken Mushroom Pasta at an Italian restaurant, I caught my 6 pm volvo to New Delhi.

This concludes my 6 day solo backpacker trip to Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.  My Tour MapHere is the map of the 2250 kms (1400 miles) I covered during this journey and my total expenditure was about Rs. 6k (abt $110).

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Amritsar – The Jewel of Punjab

Founded in late 16th century, the city of Amritsar or the “Holy Pool of Nectar”, is the synonym of the Sikh religion, with a glorious past and a magnificent present with a  history of secular culture and amalgamation of rich traditions. The Golden Temple or the  Harmandir Golden templeSahib is a pilgrimage that cleanses the soul of every pious Sikh and forms the iconic image of Amritsar. Adorned with a  effervescent monuments, sacred shrines, Amritsar radiates an air of elegance and enthusiasm with its lively and jovial residents.

This solo trip of mine to Amritsar started from Jalandhar on Golden temple28th April, where I arrived the previous day from Kanpur. Located at about 83 km from Jalandhar, Amritsar is well connected by roads. It took me close to 2 hours to reach Amritsar by local bus.  The roads are surrounded by beautiful sunflower fields that radiated a golden hue. As with any tourist visiting this great city, the first destination of mine was indeed the Golden Temple. Hardly 2 km from the Bus stand, I walked to the Temple and bought myself a head scarf on the way from one of the many vendors on the roadside. It is customary to cover the head before entering a Gurudwara.  The Golden Temple was a sight to behold. Situated in the middle of a huge pool (Amrit Sarovar), the gold plated walls of the temple glittered in the bright sunlight. The reflection of the temple in the ripples of the pale blue waters of the sacred pool is a lovely sight.  The temple was an imposing three-storey structure with a canopied gilded dome surrounded by golden turrets on all sides. Since it is religiously auspicious to take a bath in the sacred pool, I saw hundreds Golden Templeof Sikhs taking a dip in its holy waters. I circumnavigated the pool and clicked plenty of photos to keep as a souvenir. I did not enter the temple as the queue was really long and it would have taken me at least 2 hours to get in.The temple premises echoed with the chanting of hymns, prayers, and other devotional songs, which gave the place an ethereal ambiance.

After seeing the temple premises, I had lunch at the community hall near the shrine. The provide free food to everyone all through the day. No matter which religion you believe in or which place or caste you belong to, you are entitled free food at this kitchen. The hall was quite big and could accommodate about 1000 people at a time. And it fills in every 30 minutes. I had roti, dal and a sweet dish from this community kitchen Jallianwala baghand the most important thing I noticed was that people who serve it are not just doing their duty. They smile and serve like they are doing a service to their fellow brethren. I must say, I’m really impressed with the Sikh people.

I did visit the museum in the temple complex, which depicted the antiquity of Sikh religion. Sikh people are generally considered very brave and if you still doubt it, I’d recommend you to visit this museum. The paintings illustrated gruesome torture and butchery and I must confess, I found it shocking and disturbing.

My next destination was Jallianwala Bagh, a place that reminds every Indian of the atrocities of the British Empire. Located about 300 mts from Golden Temple, it was here that hundreds of unarmed Jallianwala Baghmen, women and children sacrificed their lives on April 13th 1919, to the ruthless British firing squad.  The massacre accentuated a political awakening in India and Amritsar became a nucleus of the surge against British despotism. It was a well maintained garden with a memorial in the center. As a patriotic Indian, I felt the rage building in me when I saw the Martyr’s Well and the bullet marks on the walls of the Garden. Well, there is nothing I could do about it, except pay my respects to the 1579 martyrs.

Now comes the best part of the visit, the Wagah Border. It is the International border between India and Pakistan and is located at about 30 km from Amritsar.Wagah Border I took a share auto till the border and had to stand in a queue under the scorching sun for about 2 hours to enter the viewing gallery. Thanks to a few friends I made in the auto, I was able to maneuver myself to the front of the queue. It was extremely crowed on the Indian side with at least 3000 people. The star attraction of the border is the Swarna Jayanthi gate where the vibrant and colorful  “Beating the Retreat” ceremony takes place. The pageantry and pomp, and the change of guard within a short expanse make an appealing spectacle, grabbed my attention. The ceremony started just before sunset with a blustering parade by the soldiers from both the side. As the sun went down, the iron gates at the border were opened and the two flags were lowered simultaneously with perfect coordination with an Indian soldier lowering the Pakistani flag and vice versa. The flags were folded and the Wagah Borderceremony ended with a retreat that involved a brusque handshake between soldiers from either side,  amidst the beatings of the drums and beguiles. The gates were closed again after this 30 minute ceremony. I could feel patriotism pumping into my veins as I saw this parade. Its kinda hilarious though, the way the soldiers march with their legs raised above their heads. The border is separated by electric fences and the landscape surrounding the border is beautiful. Wagah BorderYou could run to the border waving the Indian flag or even dance prior to the ceremony. I did get myself a small souvenir from the military shop at the border. Only cameras and water bottles were allowed into the border and so all luggage had to be kept in some lockers nearby. Lucky for me, I came empty handed. I took the same share auto back to Amritsar. 

I found myself just walking around the city at night. I really liked the city and the atmosphere there except the fact that it was a bit hot owing to summer. I caught a bus back to Jalandhar at around 8.30 pm.

This concludes my diary entry on Amritsar and Wagah Border.

My next destination: Dharamshala

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Categories: Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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