After the serenity of Amritsar, we headed further up North to what was another holy spot. Upper Dharamashala, now known as Mcleod Ganj, is the headquarters to the exiled Tibetan Government and the Dalai Lama. Unfortunately I was visiting at the same time as His Holiness was in America therefore wasn’t lucky enough to meet him. The tiny town of Mcleod Ganj is set in the side of a hill, right at the foothills of the Himalaya. Once again, we arrived in the dark (we had Sarah’s friend Danny escorting us, so it was safe) but we missed any scenery and felt quite displaced when we woke up in the morning. A quick peek out the bathroom window, and I had woken Katie and Caitlin with my squeals of excitement at the breathtaking mountains covered in ice and snow. The tiny tourist town was filled with Buddhist monks in red robes, mingling with tiny Tibetan students on their way to school and smiling and head bobbing at every yoga loving hippy who walked past. The freezing temperatures meant we slept with blankets every night and cuddled up to each other for heat. All the restaurants and cafes had a Tibetan theme, with momos, dumplings, noodles and spicy broth being the perfect antidote to the chill. Prayer flags wound around every tree, and buddhist symbols and mantras were displayed everywhere. Some of my favourite signs were anti drugs and drinking rhymes which were painted on rocks and tree trunks around Mcleod Gange. Aside from exploring the Buddhist temples, turning the prayer wheels and taking walks, Mcleod Gange was just a nice place to be. Sitting in tiny cafes, drinking good coffee and discussing spirituality (I feel my holiday has been split into three: initially rocks, then religion and finally shopping) Mcleod Gange provided peace and serenity, and allowed space to think. K, C and I would happily sit in coffee shops for hours, not neccessarily talking but just thinking and soaking up the atmosphere. It was an entirely different India to anything I have ever known but definitely a highlight of my trip, once again proving the contrast of this vast and sprawling country.
Our plans in Himachal Pradesh were not set in stone, as they revolved around booking buses as we went. A small overnight minibus, filled with us three and a lot of annoying Iranians, brought us to Manali. Manali was even colder and perhaps even more beautiful than Mcleod Gange, but unfortunately it was filled with tourists and the only Indians were ones wanting to exploit tourists. Famed for using yak wool to spin shawls using handlooms, it meant I splashed out on some traditional Kullu shawls. The cold did require extra layers and resulted in me purchasing a huge thick purple blanket and proceeding to walk around the streets in it. By this stage, C had fallen prey to a little bit of the travellers tummy bug and none of us were up for any extreme walking, so we hid in our hotel room, only venturing out for pizza at a little shack or to explore some Buddhist monasteries. The general backpacker crowd seemed to have extraordinarily dilated pupils and found everything a lot more hilarious than any of us, so after a quick two days we moved on to Shimla, a hill station of Himachal Pradesh.
A quick night in Shimla allowed us a view of another hill station. It had a similar feel to Ooty, the hill station near us which I visited with my parents, very colonial with lots of British architecture. The town was filled with squabbling monkeys and was a nice place to spend an afternoon. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit the 8500 feet statue of Hanuman Murti which towered over the town.