Lost up North

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#TibetIsThisYou #NineteendaysAtTwoKHigh #MyBikiniKindaLife

Welcome to AlmostTibet

Welcome to AlmostTibet

I’d lie if I didn’t dream of one day making it to Tibet. May be I used to be from there. I don’t know why I have been fascinated by this little country up above. I have been planning my journey to experience it but I think I won’t. Nepal – Tibet border was too expensive for a frugal tripper. $1500USD for a week. NO WAY! Beijing-Lhasa train connection, only allowed to Chinese passport holders. All foreigners are required to join a tour. Who needs to go to Lhasa when I’m in Tibet! I mean, India with Tibetans.

With all due respect to historians and et al, I would like to point out that for me, Tibet is not a Chinese territory. It is country invaded by the latter for more than fifty years now. With its own culture, people, and bloody history. And by far, the Tibetans are the most calm and peaceful people I have ever met. Even after the Chinese brutality that led to the Tibetans leaving their own country, fleeing to seek refuge from their neighbors, the serenity of their culture is such a gift to Northern India. There I was, excited and scared inside the bus enjoying the picturesque sight of the Indian Himalayan Ranges greeting me with a cold snowy chills slowly letting go of gravity. Off to Dharamsala, the center of the Tibetan government in exile with an elevation of 1400 meters above sea level. No plans, not hostel, not so much information in the middle of a misty night under the mercy of faith. The bus dropped us (mostly tourists) in the main station. Far from my expected stop. No worries, we, the tourists had the same goal and destination, to experience Tibet and meet His Holiness, the 16th Dalai Lama. So can you imagine my excitement, when I heard one group talking about their unexpected encounter with HH while walking along the streets of Dharamsala.

Mcleod Ganj

The upper Dharamsala, with an elevation of 2000meters and houses most of the cheap accommodation and the Dalai Lama Temple. And this was my/our home for the next 19 days. We did not have pre booked place to stay, so we ended hiking along Tipa Road in search of a cheap and clean accommodation with our backpacks! We were so lucky to find the only available room in a monastic guesthouse run by Tibetan monks. For 300 rupees we had our clean beds with toilet and fan. Not to mention our lovely neighbors! Best accommodation ever! According to their manager and the tenants, the place was usually packed with students (monks) and pilgrims.

The neighborhood at Mcleod Ganj

The neighborhood at Mcleod Ganj

We decided to stick to Mcleod Ganj while exploring the nearby villages. After arrival, we hurriedly walked to the Dalai Lama house along the temple road. We were so lucky that we arrived five minutes after the Dalai Lama had finished his talk. Hai! It felt so bad. But hey, it’s not the end, VK met a monk who introduced us to the secretary of the Dalai Lama. He was kind enough to inform us that HH was having a three day retreat and will not be participating in any event. But maybe after three days, we can meet him but we need to send a formal request. Also our housemates told us that His Holiness usually visits the Tibetan Village nearby during his free time. We might just end up bumping into him. And that gave me hope.

Mcleod Ganj Main Square Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

Mcleod Ganj Main Square
Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

So what to do? hahaha walk walk walk! Surprisingly, the energy was different. The daily walks I had were peaceful. I mean, not so much touts only the honking cars of the local tourists. Goodness, was I in India? We enjoyed the Tibetan experience eating in local restaurants and talking to these wonderful Tibetans. History would portray these people that they have been in so much pain, crossing Tibet to India. But never did I see any anger in all of them. We made friends with the guys from the computer shop, Shangri-la Restaurant, Coffee shops, sellers and shop owners. They were so accommodating and always smiling.

One of our fave breakfast place

One of our fave breakfast place and one of my fave breakfast buddy (next to myself and familia)

Our early days in Mcleod were physically hard. VK got terribly sick and we suspected it was either altitude sickness or mosquito related disease (he was meditating outdoor before arriving in Dharamsala). He had to stay indoor and was closely monitored. And everyone in the guesthouse was helping us. They even cooked for him. Never asked for any additional fee. It was just pure kindness and my heart melted. Also the people in the street when we were asking for directions and forex rates. No hard selling. Not so India lol!.

Then there was the manager of the guesthouse who always asked me which tv channel would I want to watch every time I hangout at the lobby. Or gave me the English newspaper. One morning I sat and spoke to him. He told me about his story. He crossed the Tibet-Nepal border through the Himalayas at an early age to escape Tibet. He hasn’t seen his family for more than 20 years now and he just learned the death of his mother through a phone call. Now he has his refugee card that would allow him to go back home but if he comes back, he needed to get a Chinese passport. My tears came rushing. Maybe hundreds of thousands have the same story as his. But never did I hear him curse China. The staff (some monks) even took our laundry when it rained. Lent us utensils and provided us inside information from the Dalai Lama’s schedule.

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At the Tibet Museum located inside the Dalai Lama Temple.

Some days were just too lazy to walk and stayed in the guesthouse doing yoga, reading and VK started sketching. Or meditating. Often though we would walk around, watch people and went to the temple for the hope of meeting the Dalai Lama. But for a week we were just not lucky. Anyhow, life must go on for us. So we decided to stroll beyond Mcleod and we never regret that decision

His Sketch while in Mcleod

His Sketch while in Mcleod

  • Dharamkot

A smaller village home to the more hippie culture located few kilometers north of MCleod Ganj. First, we took the long route following the Dharamkot Road sign. Uphill trek for an hour and ended up at the tea house near the Vipassana Center. We loved the forest. I mean, Ville loved it. We even found a spot for our meditation. And discovered the path to the infamous TRIUND TREK! As we decided to go back to Mcleod, we uncovered a shorter way! wohooo! But we had to be careful with the monkeys or them to us! If only I can share the best and worst of Dharamkot…no maybe not at this point.

Off to the forest of Dharamkot

Off to the forest of Dharamkot

The sunset view at our spot in the middle of the forest

The sunset view at our spot in the middle of the forest

So near yet so far...Himalayas

So near yet so far…Himalayas

  • Bhagsu

Another cold breezy waters of the Himalayas. The road to this village is on the opposite of Dharamkot. No one can get lost since most of the honking cars were going to this direction. Goodness, if not for the waterfall, won’t even dare to go. The traffic was bad and the noise was so unlimited that we had to go up farther awayl to find our own space. It was also an uphill long walk and a stressful one. But as I took the same path again and again, I have gotten used to the noise and the dust from the tourists. Funny though, most of the people I saw walking or walked with us were either monks or foreigners. Ha, yeah backpackers love walking. We also found our new friend, Indian young artist Sakshi!!! Sorry but I can’t share her story as of the moment. But, our meeting opened a new perspective of their culture.

bhagsu 2

On the way to the waterfall

DCIM111GOPRO

Dipping in Bhagsu

bhagsu 3

#bikiniKindaLife

We met her in Bhagsu Photo by: Sakshi

We met her in Bhagsu
Photo by: Sakshi

Okay the waterfalls scene was a bit awkward for me. I’ve been wearing bikini for a loooong time but this was the first time I felt scared from all those unlikely stares. I forgot, I’m still in India. It didn’t matter though because I just didn’t care at all. I felt safe and belonged. It was like re-living a former life familiar to me. I could walk, eat and shop by myself with a huge smile. Constantly going from one shop to another without buying anything, contented of just looking, admiring. Just like how my heartbeat to my almost Tibet life.

our secret spot in Bhagsu

our secret spot in Bhagsu

Notes:

  • nearest major train station is Amritstar in Punjab
  • there are tourist buses that leaves Delhi and Rishikesh every day costs 700-1200 rupees each
  • Kangra Valley is a nearby tourist attraction
  • take a tuktuk from the train station to the bus stand around 50-70 rupees for the trip
  • Mcleod Ganj can be reached from lower Dharamsala by shared jeep, taxi, tuktuk and local bus.fee depends on your choice and negotiation skills. For share taxi, we paid 200 for the one way trip, shared jeep and local 20 rupees per person.
  • food is cheap even eating in a restaurant. rice + veggies = 100 rupees shared for 2 people
  • overcrowded during Indian holidays and summer season.

watch out for my Dalai Lama experience and Triund Adventure

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