One of the highest items on my life list is to see the Himalayas. When I arrived to Dharamsala at 4:30 in the morning, the shaky uncomfortable 10 hour bus ride was quickly forgotten. I crammed into a cab with some new friends (there were 5 of us) and we made our way to McLeod Ganj. I remember the rickety old typically beat up Indian car chugging along the winding road, and I was practically pressing my face against the window as I caught my first glimpse of the Himalayas. The sky was perfectly clear and with nearly a full moon, the snow capped mountains glowed in the moonlight. I was in awe. That is, until we hit a pot hole that made me hit my head on the roof of the car.
My room wasn’t ready when I arrived to my destination, so I spent some time on the rooftop restaurant just gawking at the mountains. I hardly cared that my room wasn’t ready or that it was cold outside, I was just happy to have arrived and I was staring at an unknown Himalayan peak (later found out it was Dhauladhar). That morning I spent my time on the rooftop with a long breakfast, and the combination of digesting warm food and travel exhaustion might have caught up with me because I fell asleep at the table as I gazed at the mountains.
I finally got out for some exploration that afternoon and I knew I was already in love with the town as soon as I stepped out. Fresh produce stands and tibetan yak wool products lined the streets leading up to the “center” (the center is really just a very large intersection). I picked up some gloves from the cutest Tibetan woman I have ever seen. Her face was so warm and friendly, but she declined a portrait. I did manage to sneak a photo of her knitting the other day from afar but you can’t see her face. Just imagine the sweetest grandma you’ve ever seen.
Simon and I stumbled upon a place called “Mamma’s Kitchen”, where we indulged in some yummy Tibetan goodness. I proceeded to come back here every day for lunch for a week so you can be sure to look forward to a food blog entry about that place soon. McLeod Ganj is so lovely, there is something so incredible about being able to live at 6,800 feet surrounded by monks and Tibetan refugees. You can just feel your soul at peace here.
By the way the Dalai Lama lives here. When I first arrived I knew he was out and about traveling doing his thing, but one day during my English conversation class, a group of monks asked me if I had seen him yet. I told them no because I thought he was away but they informed me he had just returned a couple days prior. They encouraged me to try to see him and I told them I hardly doubt I’d be granted an audience, but it was worth a shot. As expected, my request was turned down. Unless you’re a newly arrived Tibetan refugee or monk, chances are you won’t see him except for at his teachings. His next one is at the end of the month but unfortunately I won’t be here. 🙁 But maybe someday I’ll get lucky.
I managed to make it out last weekend to Triund Hill, my first Himalayan trek. Such an amazing feeling to finally reach a goal that you have only dreamed of for so long. I can’t wait to experience so much more of the Himalayan mountains in the future. I don’t know when that will be, but it WILL happen. Someday.
McLeod Ganj has been my favorite place I’ve visited so far. Mountains, peace, and clean air. The funny thing is that the Tibetan committee here is so large that I forget that I’m in India. Everytime I see an Indian person I’m reminded, oh yeah I’m actually in India. I’ve met many other travelers through the volunteer program I’ve been involved with, and it’s nice staying relatively put for once and having friends to meet up with outside of “work”. While I really don’t want to leave this place, I am looking forward to returning “home” to Italy. I can’t wait to see the people that were a huge contributing factor to getting me out on this crazy journey and for always providing me with nothing but love, happiness, and good food (and wine!).