March 26, 2018

Places to Visit in McLeodganj


Nestled amidst the snow capped Dauladhar range in Kangra, McLeodganj and its twin town Dharamshala have been spiritual abodes for years and also home to the Dalai Lama. However, in the last couple of decades, McLeodganj has grown into a popular backpacker destination with travellers and adventure enthusiasts rubbing shoulders with the red robbed monks in the alleyways of this hill station. There is an eclectic vibe of cultures, cuisines, shops, cafes and music across the town as the place offers myriad things to every kind of visitor. Also referred as Little Lhasa, McLeodganj was a British outpost in mid 19th century when they shifted from Kangra. However, a devastating earthquake in early 20th century made the British shift and it was after the Dalai Lama made this his home that McLeodganj began to flourish again with a huge Tibetan contingent. Further, it has now become a sort of hippie town with visitors and travellers from all walks of life heading to this hill station. 

Here is a list of must visit places while in McLeodganj.

Temple Complex (Tsug Lha Khang):

Probably the most popular place to visit in McLeodganj, the temple complex is the heart of the town with Dalai Lama’s residence and Buddhist temples. The main shrine has a gilded Buddha statue with statues of Padmasambhava and Avalokiteshwara next to it. It also houses numerous Kagyurs and Tangyurs which are teachings of Buddha and interpretations of the teachings respectively. The other temple known as Kalachakra is quite a colourful one with gorgeous mural art adorning its interiors. The complex is home to a huge contingent of Buddhist monks and if you are lucky you could catch them during a session of discussion on their learning which is an interesting watch. The complex also houses a Tibetan war memorial and a Tibetan museum which has displays of Tibetan history, photographs and numerous stories of their hardship during the invasion by China.





St. John in the Wilderness

Located amidst the tall deodhar trees is the Church of St. John in the wilderness which was built in 1852 CE. The stone church is known for its beautiful stained glass windows and is one of the oldest structures in McLeodganj. The church has a gothic character to it and is one of the oldest cathedrals in North India. The premise also has a cemetery which has graves of Englishmen including that of former British Viceroy, Lord Elgin.




Bhagsunag Waterfalls

A short distance away from the centre of McLeodganj, Bhagsunag has a popular Shiva temple. Further ahead of the temple is the waterfall that goes by the same name. It is a nice short hike away to the falls from the temple. Though the falls isn’t a big one, the surroundings are beautiful and the views are lovely. There are a few tea shop en-route and near the falls.


Dal Lake

Engulfed by cedar trees, the oval shaped Dal lake is a sacred one and there is a fair that is held here every year. The lake offers boating facilities and has a Shiva shrine nearby. This small lake is 2 Kms from McLeodganj and it is a lovely walk all the way.



Alleyways

The alleys of McLeodganj are an absolute delight to stroll through. Lined with numerous shops selling myriad items, cafes offering a wide range of cuisines and a vibrant ambience, the heart of this hill station lies in its alleyways.  From hippies to Buddhist monks, they are all spotted on these narrow streets that are ideal for a languorous walk in the evenings.




Dharamkot

Dharamkot is an alternative base to Mcleodganj and is a couple of kilometers further up from the centre. With beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, the place is ideal if you would like to stay away from the crowds of McLeodganj. The place also has its own cafes and guest houses apart from a meditation centre. Dharamkot is popular with trekkers as this is the base for the trek to Triund and further ahead to snowline.

Triund

The trek to Triund is the most popular adventure activity in McLeodganj and it is a lovely hike all the way with gorgeous views of the mountains and valleys.  Engulfing mist, mountain dogs and fellow trekkers are what you encounter on this trek along with numerous tea stalls. Though the trek can be completed in a day, one can also camp atop the summit as there are a few tent providers. The trek further ahead to snowline is also quite a favourite with trekkers.


Norbulingka Institute

Located in Dharamshala, which is 9 Kms away from McLeodganj, the institute presents the rich Tibetan culture through its workshops where many craftsmen work on their skills. The institute also has a temple which has a Buddha statue along with Buddhist scripts and paintings on display. A major attraction at the institute is the Losel Doll museum, which displays the cultural, religious and theatrical costumes of Tibet through a huge collection of dolls.







Gyuto Monastery

The monastery is near Norbulingka institute and is also referred as Karmapa monastery as Karmapa, the third in line after Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama resides here. The main shrine houses a large statue of Buddha. The monastery follows Kagyu sect of Buddhism and practices Tantric studies.




Navigator:

Mcleodganj is located 9 Kms from Dharamshala in the state of Himachal Pradesh. The closest airport is at Gaggal (22 Kms away) and the nearest rail head is at Chakki Bank (91 Kms away). There are frequent buses between Dharamshala and McLeodganj. There are buses plying from Delhi, Chandigarh, Manali and Shimla to McLeodganj.

March 21, 2018

Orange Hue!


Sunset view from Tashijong Khampagar monastery.
Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. October 2017.

March 14, 2018

Dancing Monks!


Buddhist monks practicing dance at Tashijong Khampagar monastery.
Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. October 2017.

March 13, 2018

6 Important Things to Note While Making a Travel Plan


In today’s world, travel has become a significant part of our lives and we have all become frequent travelers. From day trips to weekend drives to long weekend holidays to annual vacations, travel has taken over our lives and we eagerly look forward to our next one. While it is stimulating to plan travels, create itineraries, pack your bags and hit the road, we also need to take into consideration a few things we usually miss out in the midst of all the excitement. Here are a few pointers that would help make your travel a happier one.

Always keep the itinerary flexible: While creating itinerary is an important part of any travel, make sure to keep it flexible. A fixed itinerary with absolutely no flexibility could create problems in case of any unforeseen circumstances. A flexible itinerary would help to make sure that even if the original plan doesn’t work out, you have an alternative.

Travel insurance is a must: Even if the travel is within the country, make sure to get a travel insurance as it covers your medical expenses, luggage loss, accidents or any such unforeseen emergencies during the travel. There is also student travel insurance available for students who travel abroad for their higher studies.

Pack light: Most of the times we end up packing excessive luggage or clothes that are hardly used. Excessive luggage can be a concern at airport check-ins, cumbersome on treks and while travelling in public transport. With regard to clothes, it is very likely that you would require only half of what you have already packed.

Stash additional cash: There are ATMs present all across the world, plastic money is accepted at most places and e-wallets too have become popular these days. However, there might be situations when liquid cash would be the need of the hour. Make sure to carry additional cash and stash them away in your bag. Use it only in case of an emergency.

Carry copies of your photo IDs: Most hotels these days ask for your photo identification cards and carrying copies of the same (driving license/ passport/Aadhaar) would be helpful as you don’t have to leave the originals with them.

Keep medicines handy: While we generously carry biscuits, chocolates and juices during our travel, what we mostly miss out are the medicines. From band-aid to antiseptic lotions to pain balms to pills, you should make it a mandate to mark medicines in the list of things to carry.


P.S.: This post is in collaboration with Bharti AXA Insurance.

March 9, 2018

Triund: A Trek through Mist and Boulders


Mcleodganj has been a backpacker’s haven with travellers, hippies and adventure enthusiasts thronging this Buddhist hill town over the years. With red robed Buddhist monks making Mcleodganj their revered home, the charm of the place has further accentuated. Along with innumerable shops selling myriad collectibles and clothing, and some lovely cafes offering a wide range of cuisines, Mcleodganj has definitely made a mark for itself on the traveller’s map. A popular activity here which most visitors enjoy is the trek to Triund, which is a couple of hours from Dharamkot, Mcleodganj’s next door village.

I initially thought I got misled by the locals while finding the trek route from Dharamkot to Galu temple. I was the only one on the stretch and the route definitely didn’t seem like a trekking route. It seemed more like the trail the locals take to commute. I slowly realized that I was right and had taken the wrong route. However, the trail still led me to Galu temple after a while, albeit the tough climb. Galu café nearby is a marker on this trek and next to it is the forest entry where trekkers need to give their details before trekking further.

The sun was warming up and it was a tough hike all the way until the temple but from then on it was walk through the shades of stooping trees. The initial walk became a hike and then a trek as I trudged along the ridges chiseled on the slopes of the gigantic Dauladhar range. En-route, a few vantage points popped up offering magnificent views of the valley, intimidating mountains and also of Galu temple and Dharamkot village in the distance. The route had many trekkers who were headed up and quite a number of people who were headed back to the base after camping atop Triund the previous night. The trek also had horses carrying various items for the shops at the top. There were quite a few tiny shops that sold short eats and thirst quenchers on the way. I did stop at many of those for a tea and the most popular among them is Magic View Café, which proudly states that it is the oldest café on this trek and has been present since 1984. The café is the midpoint on the trek and offers panoramic views of the valley. There is also a small settlement nearby who are mostly shepherds.







I hiked further and slowly the surroundings changed from the narrow trail paths lined with trees to large boulders, floating mist and interspersed forest stretches. It looked beautiful as the mist engulfed the trail often and the temperature dropped too. Mountain dogs popped up from nowhere and the gradient turned steep gradually. Clambering over rocks at certain places, the trail turned fascinating as the landscape was absolutely stunning all the way. Strewn with boulders, the mountains looked absolutely picturesque. The final stretch to the summit was quite steep and I took it slow to reach the top after two and a half hours from Galu temple.









Triund top was not clearly visible as the mist kept engulfing the place intermittently. However, when the mist cleared, the gorgeous views of the valleys and mountains opened up. I walked around for a while, enjoyed the views and had some hot tea with maggi as the mist continued the hide and seek game. The colourful tents and prayer flags against the green backdrop made a gorgeous frame. Many trekkers camp overnight atop Triund and there are many providers for the same.  I was recommended by many to visit snowline, which lies 5 kms ahead of Triund at 3350 meters. Lahesh caves and Indrahar pass are further ahead of snowline. However, the snowline looks beautiful during the winter months and with absolutely no snow, I decided to skip the trek further.






The return was much quicker with more beautiful views and tea stops in between. On the way back I made sure to take the right route this time from the temple and the path led me through numerous deodhar trees back to Dharamkot. The magnificent landscapes are definitely the highlight of this trek and with numerous trekkers, horses, dogs, views and mist for company, the trek to Triund is an ideal way to lose yourself amidst the nature while in Mcleodganj.

Travel Tips:
  • The summit is 7 Kms from Dharmakot and it usually takes anywhere between two to three hours one way.
  • The trek can be done alone and the route is clearly marked all the way.
  • If you intend to camp overnight, make sure to reach early to book the tent or book it in advance at Dharamkot or Mcleodganj.
  • Mcleodganj is the nearest major town which is 9 kms from Triund summit.

March 7, 2018

Paragliding over the Hills and Monasteries of Bir Billing


It was a bumpy drive up from Bir to Billing traversing through the pine and oak forests. The 14 Kms stretch took more than half an hour and as we ascended, the excitement grew within me. We had driven all the way to Billing to fly down to Bir. Though I had done paragliding earlier in Naukuchiatal, Bir Billing is one of the prominent spots for this adventure in India and that made it all the more exciting.

Inder from Himtantra, who has been paragliding for more than 10 years, was my pilot for the glide. He also conducts classes for basic, intermediate and advanced courses in paragliding. While Inder was busy getting the parachute and harness ready, I gazed at the numerous paragliders who were either up in the air or getting ready for their flight. They were in large numbers and the colourful parachutes made them seem like tiny birds up in the air. They glided for long balancing themselves in mid air before landing at Bir.







Inder called out and soon I was buckled onto him and was ready to take the instructions. ‘Do not run, just take a few steps’, was all that he told me as he tried to get the parachute up. He repeated the line again and I nodded. Before he could say that a third time, I remember taking two steps and in less than 5 seconds, I couldn't feel the ground beneath me. We too had joined the colourful birds up in the sky. Just relax and enjoy the experience said Inder, as we swayed over 9000 feet high to the tunes of the wind. It was a twenty minute ride with a lungful of fresh air and amazing view of the landscapes. The town of Bir and its monasteries seemed like a tiny speck as we glided over them. We smoothly landed on the open ground at Bir in less than half the time taken to drive up. Apart from paragliding, Himtantra also organizes camping, trekking and a few other adventure activities around Bir.









The town of Bir and the surrounding villages have Buddhist settlements and are known for its monasteries and Tibetan restaurants. While Palyul Cheotherling monastery is located in Bir, a short ride away is Palpung Sherabling monastery spread over a hill with its temples, chortens and institutions. Another popular monastery here is Tashijong Khampgar monastery which follows Kagyu sect of Buddhism.







Travel Tips:

  • You can get in touch with Inder from Himtantra at https://www.facebook.com/himtantra or call +91-7833089934.
  • The paragliding charges are INR 2500 per person.
  • Palpung Sherabling monastery is 10 Kms from Bir and Tashijong Khampagar monastery is 18 Kms from Bir.

Navigator:

Bir is located in Himachal Pradesh and is 72 Kms from Mcleodganj via Palampur. It is recommended to hire taxis or have your own vehicle to reach Bir and to travel to the monasteries. Though there are buses from Dharamshala to Bir, they aren’t frequent.

Food and Accommodation:

Bir has a few cafes and restaurants which serve both Indian and Tibetan fare. There are a few guest houses in Bir town and a couple of camping sites too.

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