Exploring the land of the Dalai Lama: 3 days in Dharamsala (part 2)

<— Read part 1 here

View of the town nestled in the hills

The main anchors of the central square of McLeod Ganj are Mcllo Restaurant (totally avoidable – lousy food, so-so ambience) and the oldest shop in the city – Nowrojee and Son, which was founded in 1860. From there, streets radiate in about 5 different directions. We picked a street at random and set out in search of lunch. Of course, along the way we were distracted by a beautiful red and gold monastery and all the shops lining the street. But, before we could do any sight-seeing or shopping, our tummies were crying out for food. We eventually found our way to the Tourist Information office, got directions to Jogiwara Road (where a lot of the amazing eateries are located) and elected to eat at Carpe Diem (I loved the name! Seize the day [or whatever was left of it] was just what we intended to do next!)

McLeod Ganj

Once we had our fill of some excellent grub, we headed out to explore the town — but were distracted before we had taken 10 steps by this really amazing store called Jewels of Asia, and then again by a store selling thankas, and then by yet another store…so yes, as you can guess, we spent the rest of the day exploring the shops in tiny Dharamsala.

Buddha statue at the monastery

We reserved sight-seeing for the next day, and even then, all that we really saw was the main monastery. It was a bit disappointing, as it didn’t look anything like the pictures we saw online. But the statues at the temple were awe-inspiring. The central Buddha image towers over visitors, encrusted with colored stones, with the silence and sanctity that can only come from years of prayer, surrounded by paintings depicting the Buddha lifecycle, Wheel of Life, and various other mandalas. There are also some really beautiful statues of Tara and the Tibetan protector Goddess at the temple that are gorgeous. The Goddess looks serene and calm and yet stern, all at the same time; that, in my opinion, is artistry at its height.

Monks making a mandala

We ended up spending quite a bit of time at the monastery, ‘cause it started raining pretty heavily. While we were there, we saw two monks making a mandala with chalk colors. They were just starting out, but the precision and concentration with which they were making the mandala was like meditation in motion. I spent a lot of time hanging around there clicking pictures, and their concentration just didn’t waver, even when people came over asking them what they were doing — they answered their questions and went on with their task — totally zen. I really wish I could have stayed and watch them complete the mandala, or come again later to see the completed image, but alas! That was not meant to be.

Prayer bells

By the time the weather cleared it was lunch time, so we decided to head over to Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen for lunch (good Italian food, though a bit over-salted; to-die-for chocolate mousse!). Along the way we did some window shopping at the stalls (most of the goods on offer were over-priced and the owners were pretty rude!), though I did pick up a pair of yak bone earrings and some CDs.

Lunch over, we decided it was time to hit the stores! Where there are women, shopping can’t be far behind, eh? Normally, I would have wanted to go do more sight seeing, but since I had already decided that I would return to Dharamsala, this time for longer, I figured it would be OK to choose shopping over sightseeing, especially since this was our last full day in town.

Sign near the monastery

I won’t bore you with details, but by the end of the day, the husbands were hanging around at the main square while the three of us were off stuffing our bags with all our purchases!

Shopping done, feet tired, we decided to head back to the hotel. It was bye-bye McLeod Ganj! We were planning to spend the next day just relaxing at the hotel and exploring the institute.

Exploring the land of the Dalai Lama: 3 days in Dharamsala (part 1)

Norling Guest House, Norbulingka Institute

After a spate of particularly nasty fights with the darling husband, I got together with my girlfriends to plan a weekend away from the madness of marriage. And what better place to calm the spirits than the spiritual land of the Dalai Lama?

Thus began the frantic search for the perfect place to stay — one that wouldn’t burn a hole in our collective pockets, and yet would be calming and beautiful. And as usual, yours truly lived up to the challenge! The Norling Guest House at the Norbulinka Institute. Search for the guesthouse over, we started thinking logistics. That’s when my girlfriends — miss details and miss happening — realized I was dead serious about going for this holiday without the husband. And that’s when I guess their conspiracy theory started.

Miss H asked her husband to join us on the trip, and Miss D, our single, fancy-free friend, convinced me that I should also ask the husband to come along. “Who knows, by then your fight might be over and you might regret not calling him along,” she said.

The cafe at the guest house

So, bowing down to their conniving ways, I bit the bullet and asked the husband, secretly knowing he’d never agree to come. But, surprise, surprise! He agreed immediately! Miracles never cease, do they? So, a little peeved (oh ok, mighty peeved!), I accepted the fact that he would be tagging along with me, though what do you know, by the time the month passed and it was trip time, our fight was over, and all was well with the world!

Landscaped tranquility at the garden

When D-day finally arrived, the husband was muttering about all the stress involved in going for a holiday (imagine that!), Miss D came with tales of working until the last minute and Miss H came with all guns (read camera) blazing! But finally, after a month of planning and waiting, we were off to Dharamsala!

An overnight bus journey later, tired and slightly edgy, we reached the hotel…and were transported into tranquility. The guesthouse is set within a monastery and institute complex that was set up by the Dalai Lama to give Tibetans fleeing from persecution in Tibet a place to gather together to preserve their art, culture and traditions. The rooms are beautifully appointed with Tibetan-style furnishings, the grounds are beautifully landscaped and exude an aura of peace, with the song of birds and crickets in the background. Bliss. I could see myself just lazing around, soaking in the atmosphere there for a while…

But first, McLeod Ganj waited!
—> Read part two