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Why McLeod Ganj is not worth your time any more

Dolma Chowk in McLeod Ganj, India, in August 2015.

Dolma Chowk in McLeod Ganj, India, in August 2015.

By Somya Abrol

ON THE WEB, 5 April 2017

For most people working in India’s metro cities, it’s quite a life event to vacation in the hills. I’m not one of them.

And I’m not referring to Uttarakhand’s hills, where all you see is ‘supposed-to-be-in-love’ honeymooning couples and middle-class Indian families seeking a break from reality’s mundanity. I’m referring to Himachal Pradesh’s vast valleys and wispy air that comfort your metro-fed mind and make you re-believe in the balance of nature.

It’s evident why a traveller like me seeks solace in the hills — the kind of solace metro cities won’t risk providing. So, when the idea of revisiting Dharamshala, the current abode of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is floated after a 4-year-long gap, the heart couldn’t help but pull at its own strings.

Now, for the uninitiated, McLeod Ganj is a part of Dharamshala, and not the other way around. McLeod Ganj is also a place the 14th Dalai Lama calls his home, and his home is a sight to behold — has always been, as many times as I’ve visited.

This year, the main Buddhist Temple and the Namgyal Monastery adjoining the temple were the highlights of my vacation, because all things peripheral that made one feel at home in McLeo were corroded with frantic activity. The still in McLeod’s air has grudgingly been displaced by commercial chatter, and the undercurrent of monks’ hymns dulled by honking metal boxes.

The only saving grace, however, has remained the food. While some restaurants like Mc’llo remain a hub for Punjab’s rowdy tourists who visit the tiny hill station to see what those white-skinned people are doing in their country, some other cafes have remained true to their nature — to provide food that nourishes the soul, even as the commotion beyond the walls rips apart your romance with the city.

If you’re looking towards McLeod Ganj for some peace and rejuvenation, look away. Look at surrounding places like Dharamshala or Palampur or Triund instead, in the hope that commercial enthusiasm doesn’t get there before you do.

If you’re willing to risk it still, cafes in McLeod Ganj like The Snow Lion, Chocolate Log, and Tibet Kitchen still whip up a reassuring meal. And remember to load your pockets well before you visit, because the commercial influx sure does require more of that metro money.

I do wonder how long this phase would last for McLeod Ganj, because it’s never fair to keep one’s character so far drawn from one’s personality. Besides, for those who have newly discovered McLeod Ganj, there’s always Shimla to return to.

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