India is vast and wild and often unforgiving to so many kinds of people who want to travel through it. I will be honest: I am afraid. Travel in India needs so many elements factored in, as well as the strange knowledge that anything can go wrong at any point and nobody will be answerable to you. So many ways that one can invite trouble while travelling have nothing to do with one’s behaviour, only one’s circumstances. Travelling as a young girl without family — check. Travelling with a boy — check. Everything can be dangerous, and yet we do it, doggedly, searching for paths where our particular selves can fit in, can find space, can find joy.
This mid-semester break, I decided to travel to McLoedganj, near Dharamsala, a strange intersection of all kinds of worlds. There was the Indian urbanscape that grows everywhere, the tourist-attraction restaurants and trinket shops and tour guides. There was the flourishing Tibetan culture, the fluttering prayer flags and smiling faces. There was the blue sky and mountains and hidden rocky pathways behind every corner. There was the complete mishmash of culture brought to that place by all the travellers: Punjabi men in their large cars, Bengali families, Israeli youth escaping conscription, old British men and women taking walking tours, and the occasional young Indian couple from Delhi.
What diversity does in a place like this is to make the place far more accessible, making sure that everybody finds a place for themselves in the larger ecosystem of a small town. Of course a place like McLoedganj has the advantage of being a temporary destination for most; yet it is a city that promises and provides you with inclusivity, with so many hidden pleasure pockets. One never feels out of place or unsafe; just like the white travellers or the Indian families, we too demanded as much space on the streets or in the sky.
Here are some of the gems we discovered:
- Common Ground Cafe: A gorgeous cafe on Mall Road, left from the main square, this place is filled with comfortable seating and gorgeous afternoon light. The coffee and food is fantastic, and the location is removed from the general tourist hubbub of the area: you get out to a view of the mountains soaked in clouds, and never want to leave.
- Tibet Kitchen: The first shop from the main square on Jogiwara Road, this place has fantastic Tibetan food and a cozy vibe.
- Moonpeak Espresso: A constant favourite, this is a small and warm place on Temple Road, where you will be tempted to sit for many hours and sip at various beverages while enjoying carrot and cream cheese cake or just watching strangers pass by on the street outside.
- Cafe Illiterati: A long walk down on Jogiwara road, this cafe should be visited as much for the great food and views as for the fantastic collection of books. Hard to leave even after a few hours.
- Dharamkot: This little village is a bit of a walk from the main square, but is so eclectic and endearing that it is worth a visit. A tiny winding mountain road dotted with Israeli cafes and traditional pahari households leads down to Bhagsu road after a long walk. You can find scenic rocks to sit on, white people playing intense trance music, or lost goats on the way
- Monastery: McLoedganj has a vibrant Tibetan culture, but along with the museum, the monastery, and the library, my favourite part of it is the whole meadows of prayer flags that you might find on the picturesque walk from the Monastery to the library. Taking a left from the end of Temple Road, you reach an unpaved path that eventually leads you back to Temple Road. On the way, you will find monkeys, rocks engraved with Tibetan prayers, rows of prayer wheels, fluffy mountain dogs, and more prayer flags than you have ever seen in your life. It’s an exhilarating experience.
About the Author:
Purvai Aranya is a 20 year old undergraduate at Ashoka University. She is studying English and Philosophy. When she isn’t writing or drawing on any available surface, you will find her worrying or talking to the moon. She wants to continue reading, exploring and learning as she grows older, She has recenty fallen in love with cities, and wants to fight fiercely to make space for herself in the world. She puts up poetry, pictures, and paraphernalia at http://purvaiaranya.blogspo