Tuesday, April 26, 2011

McLeod Ganj

Inertia defines software engineers - they grow like fungus on swivel chairs and do not budge until someone either lays them off or offers them higher pay on a different swivel chair. Asking them to do a bit of travelling normally gets you the goggle eyes and a querulous, "Do you know what our release schedule for this month is like?" Even so, you'd think that one of this tribe would have sense enough to do a bit of exploring when living in Delhi - especially given its proximity to the Himalayas. But not me. It was only in the last week of my one-and-a-half years here that I decided to head for the slopes. And that, too, because I happened to fortuitously get in touch with an old friend who was planning a trip to McLeod Ganj with her friends. I leeched on, naturally.

The cast of characters:- 

a) My friend, who, having lived a sheltered life in the hills of Rishikesh, has not yet learnt that most basic of all rules of city living: do not piss off a waiter until he has deposited the last of your orders on the table. It is fascinating, though, to see her find new ways of aggravating even the gentle Tibetan waiters meal after meal. The rest of us had to take extra care to not try anything from any dish ordered by her. 

b) A's friend from college, and now in HR. No sooner did I hear the words "HR" than I kept a wary eye on her for the remainder of the trip for any signs of horns or a tail, but she kept those well hidden under a sweet and patient demeanour. She did admit, though, in one of her less guarded moments that she models herself on Catbert. 

c) Another of A's college friends, and married to B. Is a guy, so will not get much mention here, except that the two apparently had a wedding very reminiscent of the ending of The Graduate. 

d) The sci-fi nerd. Spent much time boasting about her travels to everywhere I hadn't been to. Considers herself a treasury of all human knowledge and is very confident about everything she says - so much so, in fact, that winning a copy of Sourcery off her, when she stuck to her claim that it was Adrien Brody who starred in The Librarian trilogy, was as easy as stealing a single off Munaf Patel. 

e) I think I was the only normal one.

We hired one of those big car types that seats five people relatively comfortably and were off on Thursday night. The highway to Chandigarh is undergoing construction of some sort, and large sections of the highway beyond Chandigarh towards Dharamshala had apparently gone AWOL in the wee hours of Good Friday. And so it was that we reached the guest house only by noon. On the way, having forgotten to take Avomine, I spent some time doubled over by the road-side, taking in the crisp Himalayan air, and offering the asphalt my breakfast in return. Avomine now taken, the rest of the ride found me in a stupor, and I don't remember much of it; except that the snow caps of the mountains didn't seem to be the soft-looking snow I'd seen in photographs and from a distance, but more of a hard, shiny white - much like a Colgate ad - and suggesting a bit of translucence, too. Or maybe that was just the Avomine...

We had done extensive research on the restaurants to visit, prior to our trip, and none of our choices disappointed. We disagreed on pretty much everything except food. The only hint of trouble during mealtimes was when one of us would dip his or her spoon in the neighbour's plate, only to be warned off with a "mine, all mine" hiss. In between meals we did a bit of shopping and were occasionally treated to breathtaking vistas - like the side of a hill, on the far side of a valley, lit up by the lights of McLeod Ganj, on one particular lonely walk up to a restaurant.

We really did eat quite a lot - it was pretty much the only thing we did there - and we didn't stop eating till Sunday afternoon, which is when we turned the car Delhi-ward. The place is frequented by a lot of Westerners: now these chaps invented pollution, colonialism, the slave trade, and gave us a couple of World Wars, but on the plus side, they also gave us Zooey Deschanel, Dire Straits (I discovered an awesome live performance of Romeo & Juliet in C's iPod), and pastries. Plus, the fuckers know how to eat breakfast: no pohas or idlis for them. Many of you know me as one who lives life in moderation, practically monk-like, but I will have you know that on Sunday, I had a "Farmer's breakfast" for starters, followed up with a lemon cheese cake, a chocolate pancake, a cheese & onion quiche, a glass of  watermelon juice, a glass of orange juice, and a glass of fresh lime soda (sweet) - and all that just for breakfast. Only the thought of the drive back, and the memories of what had happened to me on the drive up, kept me from really getting into the spirit of things.

Anyway, that's how we spent our two days there. In between, we felt a little guilty that we were in the midst of the Lesser Himalayas and had not done any trekking; so we found a spot where there was a set of steps leading up into the mountains, beside a waterfall.  We climbed and climbed and climbed. And just when we thought our rib-cages would crack, the steps stopped and we found ourselves at the Shiva Cafe, complete with soft cushions, a spring with ice-cold water, and food and drink. We blinked our eyes a couple of times, not quite believing them, but it was no mirage. We asked the chaps who ran the place whether they served anything alcoholic, but that was pushing our luck - we had to settle for lemonade and Minute Maids. Still the mattresses were boon enough, and some of us read and the others dozed lightly in the warm afternoon sun. And that was the extent of our exploration of the Himalayas.

McLeod Ganj is also the seat of the Tibetan government in exile, and we therefore visited the Dalai Lama's monastery. We were told that we couldn't meet Mr Lama, as he is travelling, but were welcome to look around the monastery. Which we did. And that was the extent of the widening of our cultural horizons (if you discount the time we spent gawking at the photographs some cafe owners had put up of Richard Gere posing with them).

And before we knew it, it was time to head home. The ride home was fairly nondescript, except that us two guys were dumped in the seats farthest back, and by the time we stopped for dinner at a dhaba in Chandigarh to reacquaint ourselves with Indian food, our legs felt like they wouldn't ever again fully straighten up. And I was all the grouchier because a post I'd just published, through which I'd hoped to garner a few "you will roast in hell for all eternity"s, did not manage so much as a pbfffssst... But really, the food more than made up for all of it. Ever tried brain fry?

Let me now break from tradition and offer you some advice. If you are ever to hit that spot in your lives where you wish to quit your job and get a few months of vegetating in, without your wallet taking too much of a hit, consider a stay in the lonelier reaches of Dharamshala. You'd have to hike a bit to get there, but once you do, you'd get accommodation for around 150 bucks a day, which, as any city-dweller knows, is definitely a deal. You can stay there for months. Plus, as far as food is concerned, if you remember the meal I described a few paragraphs back, the bill came to about 850 bucks for that one - and this despite four other people hogging as much as I did, and the restaurant being very much in the town. Contrast this with the 6000 we paid for some starters and drinks in Delhi, just before we began the trip, and... what're you still doing here? Get packing! 

P.S. - Make sure you carry Moby Dick. And whenever you reach one of those bits where Melville goes on about how captivating the seas are and how the whole of the human race yearns for the seas, substitute "mountains" for "seas," and the book seems to work so much better all of a sudden.


himanshu.ahuja said...

very very helpfull

himanshu.ahuja said...

very very helpfull

aborrowedbackpack said...

Awesome! I am on a month's break and going to be spending my 30 days in and around McLeodganj :D

Rohan said...

It is a lovely place to spend a month in!