Cricket Craziness and Dreamy Dharamkot

Trip Start Jun 13, 2011
Trip End Jun 12, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hotel No-Name (near Guddu's)

Flag of India  , Himachal Pradesh,
Monday, May 21, 2012

We were more than ready to be leaving Srinagar behind as we set off for Mcleod Ganj at 5.30am on a dreary, rainy morning. We had no problems getting a shared jeep back to Jammu, and were surprised to find it was much cheaper than the one on the way there (500R). We were lucky to have a much better driver this time around, meaning we could actually enjoy the journey a bit more! It was stifling when we arrived back into Jammu at 4.30pm, and although it might’ve been more sensible and certainly would’ve been cheaper to stay there for the night and jump on a local bus the next morning, we were tired and harassed and decided just to bite the bullet and hire a private taxi to take us the remaining 5 hours to Mcleod Ganj (3,500R), something we hadn’t done at all on the trip so far.

It felt like a total splurge but was worth every penny, meaning we weren’t having to waste any more time getting where we wanted to go (time starts seeming more important as the year draws to a close), and being able to avoid the decrepit buses - the 2 of us just stretched out and relaxed, chatting the whole way there with our lovely driver Joginder. After the gorgeous drive through the Himachali country side, with it’s abundance of wild marijuana plants growing everywhere, and back up over the peaceful mountain roads, we were gutted to be caught up in a massive traffic jam on our approach to the town at 10pm - not quite the sleepy, peaceful place we’d had in mind! It was even worse when we got out to walk the final leg to our hotel - the streets were absolute carnage, filled with hundreds of drunk Indian revellers - we were devastated.

We were just thankful to be able to shut ourselves into the relative sanctuary of our room and stretch out our weary muscles! We’d booked into the Green Hotel mainly because it was the only one that we’d been able to contact and we wanted something organised with arriving so late. It was perfectly adequate for our needs: our room was decent with a balcony and it had a busy restaurant, but it was probably a bit overpriced at 800R and the service was distinctly impersonal. 

We awoke the following morning to set out to explore the town, but quickly discovered that the previous night’s madness was due to a massive cricket tournament being held near-by, and the whole place was overrun with Indian tourists for the whole weekend - great timing! But even with that, the feel of the place was very different to anywhere we’d been in India so far - the population is primarily Tibetan Buddhist, which definitely meant there was much less hassle - you could walk down the street without a single ‘My friend, my friend, let me show you something….’, and in fact when you did ask a for a price it was generally pretty realistic. We spent most of the day getting our bearings and trying to find out about various activities that we wanted to do while we were there, like cooking classes, massage, yoga etc. It was actually a lot more difficult than we expected, given that most of the places we checked were either closed or the staff were clueless. But although it wasn’t the most productive day, it was a pleasant place to wander around, as long as we kept away from the crowds.

That evening, we had a yummy and cheap dinner at the cute Four Seasons Café, but when we looked for somewhere to go for a drink the options again were pretty limited - either packed out places with blaring dance music (and no women!) or soulless hotel bars - not our idea of a good time! We ended up deciding just to get a few beers from the bottle shop to drink on our balcony when all hell broke loose - proper cricket riots erupted! Massive groups of guys were running around the streets throwing bottles and punches at each other - we even saw a poor western girl with her head split open racing past us. All we could do was hide in the nearest hotel until it subsided a bit, then dash back to the hotel to spend the night listening to the madness.

By the following day we were a bit sick of the chaos so we decided to head for the hills! We’d heard there were a couple of little villages near-by and a bit of fresh air seemed like a good idea! Unfortunately the beginning of our walk was dominated by yet more crowds of tourists and beeping traffic jams - apparently all the Indian tourists had the same idea. The village of Bhagsu was also overrun, but to be honest it looked like it wouldn’t be that nice anyway - all concrete buildings and no charm. Once we left there however the forest track to the next village was deserted and the beauty and peace almost came as a shock. We were even happier when we arrived at tiny Dharamkot - a truly idyllic village nestled in the hills, with a few little hang-out joints, lovely traditional buildings and a really mellow vibe.

We relaxed with a couple of delicious honey, lemon, ginger teas at Guddu’s Palace - not a palace at all but in fact a lovely raised loungy café with great views over the surrounding fields. We instantly warmed to Guddu himself - you couldn’t meet a more genuine, fun and interesting guy! We got talking about how we were feeling down in McLeod, but explained we would probably stay a bit longer as there were a few courses and things we wanted to do. Within minutes, totally by chance, he ended up introducing us to two of his friends - a yoga instructor and a master masseuse (which I later put to the test!), both working within shouting distance, and explained if we wanted to learn how to cook anything he’d teach us! So with that, and along with the general beauty and atmosphere of the place, we made our plans to come back up to stay for the remainder of our time there.

That meant we had to try and fit the rest of the things we wanted to do in McLeod itself into what remained of that afternoon and the next morning, so once we were up there we could just kick back! So we buzzed around when we got back, doing the start of our going home gift shopping (which felt a bit weird), enjoying amazing coffee at Mandala Coffee House, and of course paying a visit to the Dalai Lama’s Residence. It’s set on a beautiful location with breathtaking valley views, and while the place radiates such a wonderful feeling of calm, it was relaxed and not at all ostentatious, which is unusual but refreshing for a place of such importance. We popped into Khana Nirvana to listen to their Sunday night Tibetan speaker which unfortunately wasn’t on, but enjoyed meeting some nice people and eating some great organic food there instead.

We were so excited to be heading up to Dharamkot the next day - it seemed to be exactly what we’d been looking for for ages! We started to worry that it wouldn’t bee a nice as we remembered, but after the short 60R tuktuk  ride up the hill it felt even better - like we’d come home! We hadn’t realised quite how busy it was though - almost everywhere was fully booked, but we managed to find a great room just over from Guddu’s for 250R a night - although we still don’t know the name of it! But although it was clearly peak season for them it was still blissfully quiet - just enough travellers around to add to the atmosphere if anything.

Once we were settled, I treated myself to a massage with Rangit - I wanted to test him out before booking a course with him. It’s been very difficult to find a half-decent massage, let alone someone to actually teach me anything - most of the ‘therapists’ I’ve spoken to don’t even seem to understand the basics. But I was blown away with the treatment he gave me - not only was he incredibly knowledgeable and highly skilled, but had a warm and caring personality - plus you could tell that he was passionate about it and enjoyed what he was doing. I instantly signed up for a couple of days classes with him, as well as another treatment for myself before we left and a massage for Barry the following day.

We had a couple of celebratory drinks that evening, but I think the fresh air and relaxed vibe was all a bit much for Barry as he ended up totally wasted! But that was absolutely fine as all he had to do for the next couple of days was chill out while I was off doing my yoga and massage, Yoti’s yoga classes were demanding but enjoyable, and I learnt so much from Rangit. We concentrated on ayurvedic massage (traditional Indian therapies) and psycosamatic treatment (a deep tissue technique which can also diagnose and treat deep-rooted psychological problems).  I’d been searching so long for something like that, and it was even better than I expected - I would definitely love to study some more with him!

Barry and I did manage to get one day just chilling out together, and we took a little walk into the forest and found a wonderfully secluded spot overlooking the valley. The weather was perfect - clear blue skies and not too hot - just like the best summer’s day back home. The evenings did cool off a little though, but it was nice to have to wrap up a bit after months of sweltering heat! That evening we helped keep ourselves warm by sharing a bottle of rum with Guddu and enjoying his brilliant chat!

There were too many places to eat for us to work our way round everything, but we spent a lot of our time at Guddu’s, who does make the best parathas in the world - we were both slightly addicted! We also had a brilliant (paneer) BBQ at Evergreen Café, great pizza at Trek and Travel and a nice breakfast at Moonlight - plus everywhere was mega cheap.

We weren’t heading off to our next destination until 6pm on our last day, so I indulged in another full body treatment with ‘Shirodara’, an ayurvedic relaxation treatment - I was so chilled out after I could hardly speak! Although we’d only been there for four nights, it felt a lot longer - in the best possible way! Both locals and tourists smiled and said ‘hello’ whenever we passed, and everyone was so honest and friendly - we didn’t have one bit of aggravation the whole time we were there, which was a welcome reprieve! We feel incredibly blessed to have found such a special place, and are in no doubt that we’ll make our way back there in years to come…

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