Two sisters set out on a ‘spiritual’ holiday albeit without a plan.
Flight in to Delhi. Rendezvous with a friend who took us around a wonderful tour of the Delhi University followed by a delicious Roti-shoti, paneer & Dal Makhni lunch. All 3 of us, newbies to the capital, clearly underestimated its traffic and what followed was driving around the city, jumping in and out of the metro and eventually missing the ‘luxury’ air-conditioned bus to Dharamsala. At the end, after further haggling and ‘jugaad’, we got onto a sub-standard ‘deluxe’ bus filled in abundance with smiling Buddhist monks in their maroon robes – and post a tense last couple of hours, we couldn’t have asked for a more spiritual start!
After 12 hours of a bumpy sleepless night, we finally reached the pleasantly cold hill-station. Unable to reach our home-stay owner and with little clue as to its address, the trudge uphill began and after yet another hour, moving away from the increasingly commercialised town-centre, we spotted our yellow-red bungalow perched atop a hill.
‘Flourishing Flora‘ is run by the Sarin’s – a Punjabi/Maharashtrian couple – and their sons. We got a room facing a lovely view of the hills and surrounded by trees (along with a whole lot of insects for company) and more importantly, devoured delicious food cooked by Aunt Sarin. Who’d think an otherwise boring ‘Upma‘ could be so ‘out-of-the-world’? But then, I digress yet again.
And so, here we were – at the adopted land of His Holiness The Dalai lama. A little town crowded and unkempt, yet vibrant with people across nationalities roaming around the streets. Visited the Namgyal Monastery and tried to take a sneak-peak inside the huge gates of bungalow where ‘he’ resides, but was promptly shooed away by the guards. Came out dejected with the weather also looking downcast. And then 2 extraordinary events followed: we devoured the most amazing banofee-pie and happening in parallel, were sudden hailstorms. Yes, hailstorms galore that lasted a whole ten minutes!
Our Dharamsala stay included a couple of other monasteries – The Karmapa monastery, away from the city – peaceful and soothing with cute li’l monks in their prayer robes. And the Norbuling Monastery – much bigger, beautiful with a seemingly Zen-inspired architecture & calm all around.
Not to forget the 18 kms-long trek to and from Triund Hill. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, but more than worth the effort. So we huffed and puffed and forced ourselves to walk that extra mile, but that moment when we got the first glimpse of white mountains amidst the greens and browns – all exhaustion was momentarily forgotten! Until we had to return downhill, which was by no means easier.
Lastly, there was Dalhousie.
Lesson learnt: Sometimes, travel NEEDS planning beforehand. What to visit and what NOT to visit. With little research plus trying to avoid another night in the bus, we decided to spend the last couple of days in Dalhousie. A town where nothing seems to have changed since India got its independence. A place where everything seemed to be ‘under-repair’. Including Khajjiar, oh-so-badly maintained despite a large pole with a flag claiming it to be the “Switzerland” of India. Shameful because there was no need for comparison in the first place, and deeply disappointing because the difference couldn’t have been more stark.
All said, there is a so much more to Himachal than Dharamsala & Dalhousie. And one day, we shall be back.
Om mani padme hum. May more people travel, understand one another and may peace prevail on earth!