The second part of our Dhauldhar journey was spent in Palampur, with repeated trips to Mcleodganj and surrounding areas. (Continued from here)
We left Khajjiar in the morning after a heavy breakfast, and many a cups of hot, steaming tea. Enroute to Palampur, we crossed Jot – the highest hill town in the region (at approx 2700 m). I keep thinking of that place and dreaming of a quiet fortnight of being snowed in and doing nothing but read and write. (I am determined to take the next winter break after snowfalls begin, and stay locked in for a week in a small loft).Once we started descending from Jot, the air got slightly warmer. The heavy breakfast and the coziness soon lulled me into a refreshing nap.
By the time I got up, we were close to Dharamsala. These areas were far more populated than those we had come from. We soon reached Palampur, and struggled a bit with the directions to Country Cottage, where we were planning to stay.The access to the cottage was through the army cantonment, which was another 2-3 km outside of the town.
Palampur is a small town, better known for its tea estates. The charm is the British type plantations, and we had gone there mainly to live on a tea estate in relative quiet (Partly also because we could not find anything available in Mcleod, thanks to the govt session).Country Cottage itself is in the middle of a huge plantation, also surrounded by orchards and forests. The place is owned and run by a family, who are the loveliest hosts that I have come across. From the cottage, there is a pretty view of the Dhauldhars.
After a little bit of snacking and tea, we went out for a walk. Just a few meters from cottages, we came upon the forests and stream, leading to the village of Chandpur. People there seemed to be having a leisurely time, enjoying the last few rays of the sun. It is traditionally a village of Gaddi’s, the local name for shepherd, but now also houses a lot of tea-estate workers. You can walk up further into the hills, or go down to the river. We merely sat down beneath a tree for a few moments and walked back. Next morning, we set out for another walk to catch the sunrise, and when it rose over the Dhauldhars, it was beautiful. We had climbed quite a way up on winding hill roads by then.
Later in the day, we hired a car to take us to McLodganj. On the way, we took a couple of detours – one to go to the artist village of Andretta. It is famous for Sardar Shobha Singh’s gallery who used to live and work there. The Gallery is actually just a small room with a few paintaings – the protraits were very good, but otherwise passable. There is also a pottery institute, which is quite well known and people come for extended periods there to learn pottery. A nice place.
We took another detour to Norbulingka Institute, and that is a lovely place. Located close to Dharamsala, it has been set up to preserve Tibetan arts. With a quiet and beautiful Buddhist temple, a doll museum where vivid dolls depict the rites and culture of Tibet and different art schools, it is almost like being in Tibet. There is a cozy canteen near the entrance which serves delectable Tibetian cuisine and lovely cakes. I could spend hours and hours there were it not for the taxi.
We then climbed up to Mcleod. It is a steep climb, but the town that greets you is totally adorable. Even as you enter, you feel that you can find a corner and lie down to enjoy the sun and no one will bother you. We did something very similar – found an outdoor cafe which just overlooks the valley and lazily sipped coffee. Ofcourse, since we had only the day, we did get up and walk around, enjoying the colorful markets and the Tibetan chants that fill the air. It is like a small Tibet – many peple wearing the flag or sporting the demand for Saving Tibet, and the maroon of monks’ dresses splashed everywhere. There are small shops in every corner, and even smaller eateries here and there. At the head of the town is the Namgyal Monastery, the place where Dalai Lama has set up quarters ever since his exile.
The next day, we spent picnicing around Palampur. Our hosts packed us a few sandwiches, we picked up some water and books and then set out. At the top of hills there is a tribal temple called Jakhni Mata. That was roughly our destination, if only to know when to start descending back. The place is quite at a climb, and is at the end of a cliff, lookng down into a deep valley outlined by another hill from the Dhauldhars. We had planned to set up our picnic on the temple, but when we reached there, another nosy family was already up there – they asked too many questions and fed up, we walked back, to take shelter under a tree. It was a glorious afternoon, and we enjoyed the sandwiches and reading in the bushes for sometime.
Next day was time to go – we had to catch the bus to Delhi for Dharamsala, so we decided to spend the whole day in Mcleodganj. There we went to Jimmy’s Italian Cafe for a sumptuous lunch on the terrace, enjoying the sun and the mountains. Even the indoor cafe is very pretty, lined with movie posters (remember Big Chill in Delhi?). It has a small library, and also a stage where a live band plays in the evening. Out on the street, there was a huge furover – Dalai Lama was returning to his home from somewhere and the whole town was out in the streets to catch a glimpse. It was like watching F1 – a huge crowd, long wait, and the event is over in a jiffy – space of 5 seconds.
So it was that our Himachal trip went this year – quiet and soulful. Am I going again next year? Of course, though this time I will try to go before October so I can access Pangi & Spiti. And then again in January – to spend a few days in a snowed in small town. Dreams Dreams.