I believe that every person has a soul-city. A town or a particular place where they feel centred. It may not even be some place they've ever been before. But when you come across such a place, you know in your heart that this is it. The one place that has magical powers to restore your inner compass and to balance your mind and soul.
In my case, that place is Mcleodganj. How does a city girl – I grew up in bustling Delhi – find serenity in what many consider a rather touristy town? The answer eludes me, but on the question of serenity, there is no doubt.
Travelling When the Crowds are Thin
Mcleodganj has pulled me back time and again, for varying reasons, never letting me down. But if I had to pick a season when I love it best, it would undoubtedly be the monsoons. Many people avoid traveling to the hills during the rains – which, in itself, is motivation enough for me to do so. The thinning crowds are welcome and you only have locals for company. Close your eyes and imagine mornings in the verandah, sipping steaming cups of tea, watching the rain patter down. The cool breeze gently caresses your hair, the lush green trees are a treat for jaded eyes and the twitter of birds are the only other sound. Who said heaven doesn’t exist?
Hope and a Tibetan Doctor
My most recent visit to Mcleodganj was to meet a Tibetan doctor, Yeshi Dhonden, whom I had read a lot about. People come from across the world to meet him, with the belief that he can cure cancer better than western medicine. This humble 90-year-old monk’s achievements are plenty – foremost of which is the fact that he was the Dalai Lama’s personal physician for 20 years.
Yet, when you step into his dingy little clinic, off a back alley from the market street, you realise that he needs no introduction; the crowds tell their own story.
You need to take a token for an appointment a few days hence and even then, you wait in line with at least 100 other patients, in various stages of the disease, but all with one thing in common – an unwavering belief that he can cure them. I met people who had been told by oncologists that they had days to live, yet here they were years later, only because they decided to follow Dr Dhonden. Like many things in Mcleodganj, it is inexplicable, this conviction of belief. But where would we all be without hope?
A Food Trail, Off the Trail
Another reason Mcleodganj holds such a special place in my heart is its food. It is easy to slip into the tourist trail and stick to what’s tried and tested; but if you scratch the surface, spend some time chatting with local Tibetans and try to find out where they eat with their families, you will find gems that many do not know about.
After some hits and misses, therefore, I finally have a (growing) list of joints that any self-confessed foodie will love.
For some of us, Tibetan food begins and ends at momos. And this is perhaps one of the best places to get authentic ones – not the rubbery kind found at kiosks littered across our cities. My favourite mutton momos are at the Chonor House, one of the nicest stay options in town. If you wish to try the vegetarian version, follow the lane that runs under the market square and find Namgyal Restaurant in Om Hotel. The spinach cheese momos here don’t feature in the menu but will etch a place in your memory forever.
A cup of coffee to wash that down? There are many coffeeshops in town – some even featuring kitschy book shelves to keep you busy. But my pick is the hand beaten cappuccino at Woeser Bakery, under Black Magic on Jogiwara Road. The lady who owns it is intensely passionate about baking and her carrot cake is proof enough. The bakery is a cosy little corner to sit and chat or to put up your feet and rest after a long hike.
Tibetan food goes beyond momos though, and what better place to try it than Mcleodganj? Locals swear by Kailash – one of my favourite discoveries – located on the second floor in the market square opposite the prayer wheels. It is usually packed with locals and long-stay foreigners, meeting friends for beer and a plate of Tibetan sausages (gyuma) on the side. If you’re looking for something a little more filling, the shaptak comes highly recommended. It is served with tingmo, a steamed Tibetan bread to soak up the juices.
If all that had you drooling, you’ll be pleased to know that I saved the best for last.
A Korean restaurant (you heard that right) hidden in the folds of the town and rarely talked about, Seven Hills of Dokkaebi is the place to head to when you crave something exotic. It took us half an hour and a couple of wrong turns to find it, but when we did, it was worth it. The best way to find it is to look for the popular Japanese restaurant LungTa and locate the by-lane on the left after you cross it. The restaurant has board games like Jenga for you to pass your time as you wait for your order. The Bibimbap and Pork Bulgogi, in particular, are sumptuous.
So, until you find your own soul-town, in true Tibetan generosity, I offer you the chance to go experience mine. Regardless of whether you’re only passing through or plan to stay for a few days, this little town is sure to cast a spell on you.
It isn’t a place where time stands still – but rather loses its significance altogether. Nobody is in a hurry, clocks don’t tick furiously. Instead, like the misty clouds that float by, there is a sense of calm, a collective knowhow of tranquillity that transcends daily schedules. A place to renew, recharge and relook within. A place I call my own.
Also Read: 7 Unusual Weekend Getaways Near Delhi/NCR
(Harnoor Channi-Tiwary is a marketing specialist who wandered into the world of writing and never left. She has been writing about food and travel for more than a decade. Harnoor steered the editorial direction for NDTV Food as Content Head until recently, prior to which she worked with Marryam H Reshii on the Times Food Guide and authored an e-book, amongst other notable works. She blogs at TheThoughtExpress, tweets at @HCdines and now lives in Singapore with her husband and six-year-old daughter, whose first word reportedly was ‘yummy’ and not mummy.)
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