“If there is heaven on earth,
This is it, this is it, this is it.”
While I consider myself to be a complete beach bum,but it was different this time.I just felt like the hills were calling me.
I was trying to make my travel plans for a long weekend that was coming up. Actually in true honesty, it wasn’t a long weekend.I just decided to make it one. I felt that after all the hard work that I do;) I can afford to take one day off work and combine it with my weekend.
So with the ‘when‘ part taken care of, it was now time to decide the ‘where‘ and the ‘how‘. I started searching the net for easily accessible hill stations around Delhi and the first few words that popped up were Manali, Shimla, Dharamsala. Of the three I was not very keen on the first two and thus started researching on Dharamsala.
In my research, I was pleased to find that if one wants to avoid the crowd and rush; then there was an option of staying in a town called McLeod Ganj. This place is around 10 km away from Dharamsala and while it happened to be a popular tourist spot, it had plentiful options of hostels/hotels which were 4-5 kms of trek away from the main town area.Sounds Perfect..
So now to take care of the final part and that was ‘How’ to reach my vacay spot. I had all travel options open i.e. flights, train, bus and car.But in the end, what appealed to me the most was a ROAD TRIPPPP….So on the D-day I found myself leaving earlier from office to start the journey and this time for my travel plans, my husband had decided to join me(after all a road trip alone wouldn’t have been that much fun if I had to drive all the way myself 😉 ).
The route we decided to take was-
Day 1: Delhi- Sonepat-Panipat-Karnal-Kurukshetra-Ambala-Chandigarh.
Day 2: Chandigarh-Nangal-Ropar-Kangra-Dharamsala-McLeod Ganj.Overall, from Delhi till McLeod Ganj, we had a total distance of 500 km’s to cover i.e. around 10 hrs by road. We had thus broken the journey, and on Day 1 did half and day 2 the remaining half.Roads all throughout are pretty good and it was quite a smooth drive, except for some small patches here and therer. There are a lot of dhabas, hotels, resorts etc in the way and the fun of stopping to have a hot cup of tea with snacks on highway is just too much fun.
In Chandigarh we looked for a place to stay after we reached, and it was very easy to get a room.There were zillion options on the highway itself, and we decided to go with a hotel which had a tie up with OYO. The room tariff was pretty reasonable for a brand new hotel that it was, and we had a good night’s sleep to recover from the 5 hours on road.Next morning, we woke up fresh and were on the road by 8 am. Considering that we had to cover 250 km’s to reach our final destination, we started as early as we could manage(and yes, 8 was the earliest that we could do).We did get delayed in the traffic while getting out of Chandigarh, but caught up speed as soon as we were in the outskirts. I was specially keen to reach Dharamsala as soon as possible so that we could have at least half a day extra to explore the city.But what I was unaware of was that my husband had secret plans of his own.His aim to get there as early as possible was so that he could buy tickets for the 3 PM cricket match between Australia and New Zealand. The reason he didn’t want to tell this to me in advance was because he knew I would crib about not wanting to waste any time sitting in a stadium watching a match.

Anyways, he finally told me his plans during our breakfast halt at a small roadside dhaba, where I was busy hogging on the hot, sizzling aloo paranthas…I out-rightly refused. NO WAYSSSS…NEVER…NOPE…NOT HAPPENING..

All through the remaining journey, he tried convincing, he tried ordering, begging, pleading etc etc. In the end we finally came to a conclusion.This was the deal- We would first go and have food at a very nice Tibetan restaurant, where I would get to choose what we eat; and then we will go and watch the second innings of the match. This way we were both happy, as I got to eat my choice of food, and spend only half the time watching the match, and he got to get the feel of watching a live match and be there for the final and the best moments of the match.

Finally at around 2.30 pm we reached Dharamsala, and this is when I searched my reliable net for the best place to eat himalayan food. The first thing that popped up was “The Tibet Kitchen”, and the same was around 20 minutes away from our current destination.
Since it was my choice of place, my husband had no choice but to agree going further 20 min’s in search of the best food in town.What we didn’t realise was that this restaurant was in McLeod Ganj and the route to it was the narrowest, curviest, riskiest road we have ever come across. At a point we literally decided to stop, turn and head back to Dharamsala; but then we realised that there was no space to actually make a turn.So with no option left, we called out prayers to all the gods possible and kept going on. This route was around 4 km’s long and these 20 minutes were the scariest moments of our lives.

We finally started breathing normally when we reached the top, and realised that we actually made it.
Suggestion to all planning to head to McLeod Ganj– There are actually two ways from Dharamsala up to McLeod Ganj. One is 4 km long(which we had taken) but with the sharpest curves possible, while the other was 10 km long but happened to be much smoother and easier to drive on.I would definitely suggest the latter one to ALL.
Once in the town, we went about asking for the Tibet Kitchen, and soon spotted the same. I ordered for yummy food which included- chicken momos, chicken thukpa, crispy spinach with chicken and golden fried baby corn. A total bliss indeed.
In fact we met two fellow travellers who had been in the town for over a month, and they suggested us some do’s and dont’s which was greatly helpful.

After spending an hour in the restaurant, we freshened up in the restaurant and headed back to Dharamsala to the HPCA stadium for the second half of the match.Going down the curvy route was not as bad as it was while coming up, and we had our nerves in control this time around.After asking around, we landed in the parking lot of the stadium and then walked for a good 15 minutes till the ticket booth and back.There were many other people like us who had decided at the last moment to see the match, and were seen hustling around the stadium for tickets.

Just before the second innings started and Australia started batting, we found ourselves seated and caught amidst all the excitement of the crowd. Well, I have to agree…it was in fact great fun to watch the live match.Not bad at all.This was totally worth the 2 hours spent.

After the match, we again headed back to McLeod Ganj, but this time took the longer route.It was way more comfortable and took just few minutes extra.

The place that I had booked for our stay was way up in the hills, and required us to park our car in Dharamkot(2 kms away from McLeod Ganj), and then further we had to walk around 30 minutes to reach the hotel.This hotel was called Jagatram Niwas and had great reviews on Tripadvisor. The reviews said that the view from the rooms were great, and was really peaceful and thus gave a true feel of being away from the hustle-bustle, the crowd and the noise.This was just what I had wanted and so had booked instantly and even made upfront payment for 2 night stay. It was already 6 PM, when we reached McLeod Ganj and now we had two options. One, to straight away head to the hotel to avoid trekking and finding our way in the darkness.Two, spend some time in a cafe in McLeod Ganj, enjoy the town a little and then head towards the hotel; but in darkness.

We chose option 2.I spoke with the manager of the boutique hotel, and told him we would be there by 9 PM and thus not to cancel our reservation, and then proceeded to a famous cafe called The Clay Oven for some evening tea and snacks. This is the best part about the holiday for me.The ‘eating‘ part.

The Clay Oven was a very warm, busy cafe and immediately the yum looking deserts on display caught my eye. I ordered a home-made carrot cake and a Hot peach tea. Considering that the temperatures were falling drastically and I needed all the warmth I could get.

We spent about an hour in the cafe, and then ventured out to look around the market area.There were great handicrafts on display and I must have stopped a zillion times to look at something fascinating that caught my eye.Finally at 8 pm, we got in the car, and headed towards Dharamkot, where we parked and then took directions from the hotel guy. We then proceeded to start walking in absolute darkness in a direction which we assumed was the right one.I am glad we had the flash-lights from our mobiles, else it would have been freakily scary.More so I was super scared of wild dogs jumping on us, in spite of being assured that there were no wild stray dogs around. The distance wasn’t much till the hotel, but with the backpack and luggage, it took us a good 40 minutes to reach Jagatram Niwas. But we were finally here :).

Bavinder who was the owner, showed us to our rooms and offered us dinner as well.We were already quite full and thus declined the meal politely.The view from the balcony of our room was amazing.Below could see the sparkling lights of McLeod Ganj and Dharamsala, and above us were the sparkling diamonds in the sky. I was so glad that we decided to trek it up here, because it was totally worth it.We sat out in the balcony for a while until it became way too cold to be out, and then went inside the rooms and got into the cozy beds and called it a night.

We were so tired that we slept for a good 8 hrs, before being woken up by loud thunderstorm.A peek outside our window and we realised that it was raining cats and dogs.Soon the rains turned into hailstorm, and we decided to have breakfast out in the balcony to enjoy the weather.
Though the weather and the view was amazing, yet I was hoping that it would soon become sunny,so that we could venture out.I was keen to go see the Bhagsu waterfalls which was a good 20 minute trek up in the hills.

I think god was being super kind to me, because by 11 am the sky was rubbed clean and the sun was out shining nice and bright.This is when we decided that while we loved our stay in this hotel, but since we had to leave early next morning, we wouldn’t want to take a chance of getting stuck in case it rained again and hence would be better to shift into a hotel in the main town in McLeod Ganj. This way, we could also get to enjoy the night life and be tension free of getting back to the hotel if it was getting late.

So with our bags packed, we headed back to Dharamkot, and after picking our car we were in McLeod Ganj at 12.30 PM.We were starving by now(hills make me very hungry), but we decided to first look for a hotel as we knew that at the last moment, during a weekend it would be tough to get a room in the central town. So the next one hour was spent going to different hotel receptions and asking for rooms and their tariffs. Finally, we found one hotel with a decent room and a suitable tariff and we immediately booked without further delay. Pheww…One major headache resolved.

Now for food timeee…Back to reading online reviews, a place called Nick’s Italian Kitchen had good reviews. It was only when we were seated in the restaurant and had the menu in front of us that we realised that this was a vegetarian restaurant.But since the ambience was really warm and nice, we decided to go ahead and place an order of a pizza and a dish of ravioli.I was in a very cheerful mood and was thoroughly enjoying my stay till now, and was a little sad thinking that tomorrow we were to head back to Delhi.
Deciding to live in the moment, I relished the dishes and also decided to have a warm apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, before finally giving my stomach a break.

With having stuffed the stomach, now was time for some exercise to burn the calories.Had heard about Bhagsu falls from a lot of people who had been to McLeod Ganj before and thus we decided to trek up to see the falls. The added advantage was that if one climbed further up i.e. around 10 minutes further from the waterfall, one could visit the very famous ‘Shiva Cafe‘. This place has a reputation of being a hippies paradise, but apart from that there is great food, great ambience and a great view.
So this was decided. We would go up to the falls and then up further to Shiva Cafe.

While to go to Bhagsu, once can take their car till the Bhagsu parking lot; but we decided to walk from McLeod Ganj itself and keep the car parked safely in the hotel parking. In fact the distance was just 2 km, and the weather was perfect to enjoy the surroundings.There were many tourists like us who had taken the same option to walk, rather than take autos or taxis till the parking lot.
In fact, walking gives you the option of taking lots of pictures on the way(along with selfies) which would help create memories over the years.

Once in Bhagsu, one has to walk towards the temple area, from where there are steps which go up towards the fall.For a fairly fit person, the climb will not be too tough and we managed to reach the waterfall without ‘suffering’ too much. However, there were a lot of people who had expressions of pain and regret while climbing up the trail. Come on guys, buck up.I actually felt bad for few newly married brides who were climbing up the hill in their full dressy attire, with jewellery and that too walking in heels. What were you thinking girl???


Any-ways, once at the waterfall we stayed for just some clicks as it was super crowded; before heading up towards the cafe. This was a little strenuous stretch, but nothing I couldn’t manage. After having climbed Machu Pichu, I felt I could do any kind of a trek. Modest much ;).

Once at the Shiva cafe, I realised what all the fuss was about. I mean this was the true definition of the word- ‘chilled-out’. A small hut with few tables inside, a kitchen and music flowing.That was pretty much the cafe. But what was amazing about the place was the area around the hut. The waiters would give you mattresses and you could sit down anywhere you want as per your convenience and enjoy the music with the ambience. The waiters would serve food and drinks at your chosen place and one could just sit back and relax.

We chose a nice sunny spot in the sun, got our books out, ordered hookah and some food and just lounged around for hours and hours.Till the sun was set, and till the time it started getting cold; we did not budge.It was a fantabulous place, and was as good if not better than Evergreen Cafe of Kasol.

By 5.30 PM, we started our trek back to McLeod Ganj and were there by 6.15 pm.I desperately felt like freshening up, but decided to first stop for a cup of hot mint tea.Along with the tea I had a slice of vanilla cake and it was the tastiest cake I have ever had. It was there that we realised that today was the much awaited ICC T20 World Cup match between India and Pakistan, and we decided that we would watch the same in one of the famous pubs in McLeod Ganj called Mcllo. The match was to start at 7.30 pm and that gave us about 45 minutes to freshen up and be back.

So quickly we went to our hotel, which thankfully was just 7 min’s walk from the main town and were back in Mcllo at sharp 7.30 pm. The terrace area where the match was being aired on a large screen was jam packed, and we just about managed to find two empty chairs to sit.After that, it was all about shouting out slogans, cheering for India, booing Pakistan, eating, drinking and having a gala time.The energy in the air during a IndoPak match is crazy.The patriotism levels are the highest during these hours of the match.In fact there were a number of foreigners who had also come to the match and were cheering equally loud and hard.And the result obviously was that India WON. Yipeee…Best day ever.

It was freezing by the time we got out of the pub and decided to head straight to our warm hotel room.Unfortunately our amazing trip had come to an end and we would be heading back to Delhi tomorrow morning.Since we had to cover 10 hours of drive in a stretch, we decided to start early.

I am so glad that we came to this wonderful little hill station called McLeod Ganj. This is one place I definitely wouldn’t mind visiting again.

Thank you Mcleodganj for being so nice to us and giving us lifetime of memories.

Keep reading on for more updates on where I head next.

Till then,
Chao!
Adiós!
Hasta Luego!

 

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