After a motion sickness inducing journey from Amritsar we arrived in Mcleod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamshala in the state of Himachal Pradesh. As our trip to India was originally unplanned we arrived at an ill time, right in the middle of the hottest season. With that in mind we decided to see as much of Rajasthan as we could quickly and then spend the rest of our time in the north. With Rajasthan explored it was now time to retreat into the Indian hills. Mcleod Ganj is home to the Tibetan government and many Tibetan refugees who left their homeland due to Chinese oppression. The Dalai Lama resides in Mcleod Ganj and it is therefore a place of learning, Buddhist faith and Tibetan culture.
We took a taxi from the bus station and drove through the lively town to our hotel down a hill. We checked in and found that we had been upgraded to a room a short walk from the hotel itself which was a bit strange. The next day we woke to a few things; amazing views across the hills, noise from a building site next door and worse of all that Craig found that he wasn't feeling well. Typically just as I'd started to finally be able to eat meals again Craig now had an upset stomach. We managed a walk up the very steep hill from our hotel to the town and got some medicine from a pharmacy as well as food that the pharmacist suggested, bananas and water mostly. One positive thing that we noticed straight away was the temperature, it was so much cooler yet still lovely and warm. It felt like a treat to not be red-faced and sweaty within minutes of leaving the hotel room. Craig rested for the rest of the day while I admired the views.
The following day Craig was feeling a little better after his banana, water and medicine diet so we ventured up the hill into town to have a little explore. The town was very busy, as a site of pilgrimage and a tourist hub there were a lot of people around. Tibetan monks in robes sat and drank coffee in a café window, dreadlocked backpackers haggled with market stall owners over bracelets and locals went about their day; picking up groceries, attending appointments and chatting while dawdling along. Though we were still in India it did feel like a completely different atmosphere, a little more familiar from our days backpacking in Southeast Asia several years ago. We went inside the Tibet Museum where we saw heartbreaking photographs of the Tibetan's struggle against oppression and read stories of refugees that had to make the extremely dangerous journey out of Tibet across the Himalayas in order to survive. Reading the tales of terror endured put into perspective how lucky we are to have not ever had to face such horror in our lives. I felt a surge of anger each time I read about what the Chinese government is doing to the Tibetan people and how their human rights are basically non existent, I really wish that the west could do more to help but what with the world being as it is i'm not sure there is much hope. I read a beautiful passage written by the current Dalai Lama about compassion and left a note in the visitors book. It had truly been a moving experience to see the photographs in the museum. We wandered to the Tsuglagkhang Temple which is the Dalai Lama Temple and noticed hundreds of colourful mats laid out with names of people on, presumably reserved to sleep on. Craig spun the prayer wheels and we looked into the beautifully decorated rooms of the temple from the doorway.
The next day we took the scenic route to walk into town which was longer yet just as steep! Luckily the views over the hills were beautiful which made up for the breathlessness. We had a delicious dinner of veggie burgers at a little café which appeared to be a bit of a tourists hangout. We had managed to go quite a long time without seeing many other tourists but it appeared that they were all here and not silly enough to be travelling in Rajasthan like us.
I was quite glad to leave the hotel the next day and head up the road a bit to the town of Bhagsu. Our room next to the building site had been noisy and it turned out that our upgrade wasn't an upgrade at all, it was simply because they had double booked and needed to put us elsewhere. Our manager had kept insisting that we had come to India at the wrong time of year and though he was a little over-the-top friendly, his constant criticism of our travel timing had got very irritating. Bhagsu was a short taxi ride away and felt quieter, smaller and cooler than Mcleod Ganj. It was also raining when we arrived, feeling the cool air and droplets of water on my skin was something that I had missed and really reminded me of England, I guess I was starting to really miss home after nine months away. Our room was brightly painted and had balloons in it, was it somebody's birthday? We walked up the slippery hill to a restaurant, running slightly to dodge the downpour and ate with a view of trees; lush greenery had also been missing from my life since being in India. We spent the next day in our room as it was much easier to relax in with no noise, we left to get meals and had a wonderful breakfast at a café a short walk away. They advertised hash browns on the menu, we were very excited. The hash browns arrived and were not at all what we were expecting. Instead came a dish with chunks of potato, green peppers and onions in a spiced sauce, though they weren't what we were imagining they were delicious.
We'd booked a night bus from Mcleod Ganj to Manali and so had an entire day to kill with no room to hide away in. We left our bags and went on a walk to see Bhagsu Falls, a popular waterfall and picnic spot. We didn't seem to be going in the right direction at first but after a bit of a scramble uphill and around the backs of buildings we needed up on the right track, one away from other tourists too. We wandered along the narrow trail with a steep drop on one side and pipelines running under our feet. We could see the main pathway which was full of walkers and felt glad that we had a little bit of peace where we were, with amazing views of the valley to boot. We climbed a steep path and came across the pretty stone building that serves as a café with the waterfall just behind. We ordered some drinks and sat on the terrace for a while before it started to spit spot. Craig suggested that we make a move as if the rain persisted it would make getting down the steep hill pretty challenging. We passed people on their way up and goats randomly milling about on the path before getting back to town and our hotel seconds before the heavens opened. The wind and rain was so strong that we had to retreat from the roof terrace where we were planning to sit and find a cosier spot in the communal reception area under a shelter.
After a long wait, a hot chocolate and a piece of banoffee pie it was time to leave Bhagsu, we caught a taxi back to Mcleod Ganj where our coach was waiting for us. Luckily blankets were provided for the overnight trip so at least it was warm if somewhat uncomfortable. We arrived in Manali extremely early, the sun had not quite risen and we had all been dropped off in a muddy field seemingly in the middle of nowhere. A 4x4 arrived and we grabbed two spots and were taken into town where we had reserved a room. Of course as it was so early there was no one to be seen but there was a tiny reception room with sofa's to rest on for a few hours until somebody arrived to check us in. A girl we had met on the coach walked with us and we had a nice chat, it had been a while since we met anyone to talk to. I was pretty glued to my phone all morning because it was the UK General Election results day and I was pretty keen to see the results. While the UK was sleeping and results were coming in we were in a perfect timezone to watch events unfold. We found a café devoted to Bob Dylan to eat breakfast at and then had a chilled out day catching up on lost sleep from the journey. In the evening we ate at Riverside Café, as the name suggested it was right by the beautiful fast flowing Beas river.
Our dinner at Riverside Café had been so lovely that we decided to go there for breakfast the next day. After breakfast we walked to Hidimba Devi Temple, a simple structure built in 1553 and surrounded on all sides by forest. We didn't stay long at the temple as it was so crowded with tourists, we found the small national park to walk through which was peaceful, a sweet dog decided to accompany us on our wander. It was lovely spending time in the company of trees and being somewhere a little out of the way. In the evening we ate dinner at a restaurant called Renaissance and it was delicious.
We had jumped from one town to the next in Himachal Pradesh, our time wasn't particularly exciting but it was memorable as the views were superb and we were finally able to enjoy being outdoors without the burden of the heavy heat. We hadn't finished with the state however, our travels would take us off the beaten track next, to the mountainside village of Tosh.
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Have you been to Himachal Pradesh? If so, what did you think? Maybe you're planning a trip? I've got tonnes of advice and tips I can share. Let me know in the comments below.
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