20 October 2009

McLeod Ganj

When we were in Nepal we were really keen to head over the boarder into Tibet. However, due to the Chinese occupation, entry and travel with Tibet are tightly controlled and can only be done if you join an organised tour. This made it a little too expensive for our backpacker budget. McLeod Ganj in the Himchal Pradesh district of northern India is probably as Tibetan as you can get without actually going there.

Following the 1959 Chinese invasion a quarter of a million Tibetan refuges headed over the boarder and settled in India. McLeod Ganj is the centre of Tibetan culture in India as it was here that the Dalai Lama was granted asylum and is also where the Tibetan government now reside in exile.

It took us two days to get here from Amritsar and the journey here was a bit trying to say the least. The first leg on Friday, a train journey from Amritsar to Pathankot, wasn't too bad. The following day we took the narrow guage Kangra "toy train" which took us back up into the Himalaya and was supposed to take two and a half hours. It ended up taking over six. To make matters worse it was unreserved seating, which in India, means they can squash as many people into the carriages as possible. It was so busy that people were bursting out of the doors, hanging on the outside of the train and standing on the buffers wedged between the carriages.

It wasn't the most comfortable 6 hours we've spent.

When we eventually got off the train at Kangra it was dark and there was no transport around as it was Diwali. We eventually found a tuk-tuk which we used to drive us around to find a taxi. As per normal, the taxi driver turned out to be a bit of a lunatic and had us fearing for our lives for the 45 minute journey on the mountain roads. When we finally arrived in McLeod Ganj the Dewali celebriations were in full swing and we were greeted with the unusual sight of saffron clad monks throwing fireworks about!

Because of the spiritual link of the Dalai Lama McLeod Ganj attracts a lot of grubby looking hippies. This in turn attacts a lot of new age nonsense such as reiki, tarot card reading, palmistry, regression and resonance therapy (whatever the hell that is). In spite of all this daftness it's still a really nice place to spend a few days. The town has a certain wonky charm about it with lots of guesthouses, hotels and restaurants clinging to the sides of the mountains.

There's also some fantastic mountain scenery around the valley

The main sight at McLeod Ganj is the Tsuglagkhang temple complex where the Dalai Lama resides.

We didn't get to see the Dalai Lama as he was said to be a bit busy fighting for the freedom of Tibet from 50 years of enforced Chinese occupation. Some people seem to have an excuse for everything!

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