Weekend Road Trip to Dharamshala and Mcleodganj

Aashish Walia

New Member
The trip to Dharamshala was long due. My wife was pushing me to plan a road trip to Mcleodganj and Dharamshala both. Hence, I had to take a couple of days off i.e. 14th and 17th March to make it a long weekend so that we can plan the trip leisurely.

I decided to head to Panchkula on the 13th (as my in-laws reside there). Utilizing my work from home option there, we decided to start the journey the next day. In the evening, we decided to head to Elante mall. I didn't realize that it was the Baisakhi festival. There was an event organized at the mall.


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We then decided to head to my favorite place for dinner, Chili's. I love the Mexican food they offer. But this time my wife told me to order Salad only to which I had to agree.

The trip started from Panchkula @ 6:30 am the next day. The route we chose to follow was from Chandigarh Madhya marg - Kurali Bypass -Rupnagar. Since it was early morning there was little traffic.


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The road to Kurali that starts a little after PGI is wonderful. Marked as part of the new Chandigarh, it is butter smooth. It has a toll of Rs. 60. It took me around half an hour to reach Kurali T-point.

After taking a right turn from there, a flyover indicates the way to Anandpur Sahib which is the correct way. Why did I mention this? Because I had missed the flyover multiple times in the past as well and had to take a long detour to come back to the flyover.

The roads in Punjab are a treat. I had no problem reaching Anandpur Sahib by 8:30. We then proceeded towards Nangal and crossed the Nangal dam. Although I wanted to stop, but couldn't as there was some traffic. Nangal is a small, clean town. After the NFL factory, New Nangal started which seems to be developed as a planned township. Just before entering Una town, there is a small toll. This is actually a welcoming post for HP. After crossing Una, the landscape started changing to a bit hilly.

We followed the signposts indicating Dharamshala. The drive reminded me of traveling to Renuka Ji, full of hairpin bends but with less vegetation. We crossed many small villages. Life seems slow there. We stopped at one such village for a break. A customary pic of the tasty Aaloo Parantha\\:D/


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I love the traditional houses in the hills, especially the slanted roofs.


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The hills seemed bare. These hills are part of the Dhauladhar range which is made of granite. It's very different from the hills of Shimla and Kasauli. We crossed a jungle road, I don't remember the name. There were many signposts indicating crossings for wildlife. It was a thrill driving through that area. Then as we entered Kangra, there is a sign indicating Kangra fort. We skipped the fort as we were behind schedule and wanted to reach Dharamshala on time. (We returned to the fort the next day though).

As we entered Dharamshala, I called up to ask for directions for our accommodation. I had booked through Airbnb(which I regretted later).

Dharamshala is a small town. We had to wait for the person who escorted us to the lodge.
 

Aashish Walia

New Member
A road trip to Mcleodganj is an experience in itself. Driving on the hairpin bends at such sharp turns test the mettle of a driver. I could see a lot of drivers struggling to climb with their SUVs and other cars. Most of the cars were fully loaded with passengers and their luggage. Hence, the uphill climb was a mess.

The only mode of transport which thrived was either Bikes or Gearless scooters. I would like to comment on the drivers from the plains. They drive horribly on their roads and they try to do the same in the hills. It really annoys the locals.

The locals have a strict law of lane driving on the hills. But thanks to erratic drivers from Delhi and Punjab, there is always a car struck here and there. I tested my theory and actually counted such cars and almost 90% of such cases involved cars with DL numbers and the rest were PB numbers.

We reached Mcleodganj at around 1 pm.

After a steep uphill walk, we finally reached our room. However, here also we were disappointed due to the condition of the room. I had booked via AirBnb with a hostname Spandan. I would request all the fellow travelers to avoid this person. He has multiple properties list under his name and he owns none of them.

He actually admitted that he is just an online aggregator. I had booked because of my previous experience with Airbnb when I was in Europe. However, in India, it is a whole new picture. We were charged around Rs. 4600 for 2 days. The room looked good in the posting but it was only a single picture.

When I reached the room I was disappointed. There was no Fridge. The room looked substandard and the locality was a letdown. It was more of a backpackers lodge. The lodge owner didn't know that in BnB booking breakfast is to be provided as well.

I yelled at the host Spandan but it was of no use. In India, the unspoken rule is, once the payment is done there won't be any refund. You can forget your money and try to accommodate yourself.

The only consolation was the view from the balcony. The peak of the mighty Dhauladhars was clearly visible.


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Aashish Walia

New Member
We decided to spend the rest of the day exploring Mcleodganj on foot. The lodge owner told us that we need to climb around 200-300 steps to reach the main road from where the market starts. None of this was mentioned on the AirBnB posting.

Anyway, we climbed on and were sweating midway. Somehow we managed to reach the main road.

The scene had changed for good. There was good hustle and bustle. The crowd was a mix of Tibetans and foreign backpackers. One thing I like about such a crowd is that they try to respect local culture and don't create a scene. No jostling around to move ahead like the people do in Shimla. The locals are polite and ready to help. We moved through the bazaar to explore the market.

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The walls were flooded with posters for Yoga camps, message centers, tattoo parlors, etc. It was quite a colorful affair.

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The shops were lined up with antiques of dubious quality. However, the wares they were selling were unique. I haven't seen those anywhere. One Natraj statue caught my eye.


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We were quite hungry by the site of the local food but we decided to push forward to search for a decent place for a meal.

The oil in this pan is worth for a month's meal =P~


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There is a beautiful Buddhist temple called Kaal Chakra temple (if I remember correctly) in the main street.

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It had some intricate carvings on the grills.

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The photographer in me was grinning a lot.\\:D/
 
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Aashish Walia

New Member
As we had the entire afternoon, we decided to visit the famous Dalai Lama temple. It is at the end of the road, or the beginning if coming from Dharamshala. As we enter, there is a museum showing the history of Tibet. It really pains to see the destruction of culture for political motives. The museum is neatly maintained. There is a statue depicting Burning Tibet in front of the museum. It has all the names of people who have committed self-immolation for the Tibetan cause.

As we moved ahead, I could hear the humming of the chants by monks. It was really a divine experience. I tried to follow the sound but couldn't locate the room. It seemed to be in a restricted area. So we progressed and climbed the stairs to reach the main temple. Surprisingly everything seemed to be yellow. Yellow is known to be a soothing color. Maybe that's the reason. The environment was buzzing with tourists. We did the customary circumambulation and touched the prayer wheels. It is believed that every rotation is equivalent to one chant of the Buddhist mantra 'Om mani Padme Hum'.


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The temple offers an excellent view of the valley.


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A view of the Mcleodganj town market from the temple with Dhauladhars hidden in the shadow of the clouds.


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The residence of the Dalai Lama is also at the end of the temple complex. The residence is guarded by tight security. I tried to click this discreetly as I didn't want to be noticed.


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After the visit and feeling relaxed, we decided to check the nearby spots. I quickly checked on google and found a church known as St. John in the wilderness nearby. We decided to walk to it. We crossed the entire Bazar which was uphill. We were tired by the time we reached the main Chowk. The church is almost 1 km from the chowk. We decided to continue walking. The traffic was due to the Mcleod Ganj Bus stand and a big parking for the taxis. Once we crossed the bus stand, the road was empty and it was so quiet that all our tiredness simply vanished. But as customary for Delhi and Punjab drivers, many cars were parked at the side of the curb. Some looked abandoned. I noticed one which had a deep, profound message:lol:



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Aashish Walia

New Member
The road was surrounded by Deodar trees. I loved the surroundings. Walking at a leisurely pace, we reached the church. It is located a bit below the road level and oozed off the old colonial era. The church is located in Forsyth Gunj. It was like a treasure for me as I am interested in the old colonial-era buildings and monuments.


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The side view of the church.


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The church has a graveyard as well. I was surprised to find that one of the Governor-General of India wished to be buried here as he loved the place so much.


This is what I found on Wikipedia: Lord Elgin, who served as Governor-General of the Province of Canada, who oversaw the Creation of Responsible Government in Canada, and later, while in China, ordered the complete destruction of the Old Summer Palace. He became Governor - General ann Viceroy of India in 1861 during the British Raj, though he soon died at Dharamshala on 20 November 1863 is buried here.


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The light was fading fast. So I quickened my pace and took some pictures.


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Inside the church, there is a Belgian stained-glass window donated by the widow of Lord Elgin. Due to low light, the picture came a bit shaky. I forgot to change my lens to 45 mm f1.8.


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After visiting the graveyard, we decided to head back to Mcleod Ganj. Although my wife wanted to walk I decided to take a cab but there was none. All the cabs were full. We asked the vendor selling kulcha etc. He told us to wait until a shared cab or a bus comes. I was a bit worried. But suddenly out of nowhere a bus arrived and we were happy to hop in. Finally, a tiring day came to a peaceful end. For the next day, we had made plans on the sites to visit.
 

Aashish Walia

New Member
The next day, we woke up early and had an argument with the lodge owner. The booking was done as AirBnB which is supposed to be Bed and Breakfast. I called up the restaurant/dhaba below and found that the breakfast was not free.

I was furious. I called up the so-called host and asked him about this. He then promised us that breakfast will be served. And after 15 minutes, we got a plate full of Aaloo Paranthas. My anger knew no bound.

I shouted at the poor guy and told him that even I could buy these paranthas from the market. It's really sad to see that people in India making a mockery out of the novel concept of BnB. And then we complain about why the service is so poor in India.

Anyway, we decided to climb the long stairs to reach the main market. There is one excellent coffee shop called Shambhala Cafe in the main market. We decided to have our breakfast there.

The cafe is so cozy and clean that we forgot about our morning debacle. I quickly ordered a Cafe Latte and my wife ordered Ice Tea. We also ordered Scrambled eggs, which came out like broken Omelet:-D, and Cheese Sandwich, which was so cheesy that the taste still

lingers in my mouth :tonqe:


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The coffee is the same although the Chocolate brownie was ordered afterward.



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And now the view from our table.


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After the delicious breakfast, we decided to head back. There is something which I had thought of and I wanted to check that. I had seen a board next to our lodge to rent a bike. Hence, I had decided to rent one and roam around on that as our car was of no use to climb up and down on such a steep slope.

I enquired and found that an Activa was available for Rs. 600. I was delighted. I immediately agreed and we got a shiny blue Access 125. Although it was low on fuel, we didn't need that to reach Dharamshala. It so steep downhill as we can do that in neutral. I decided to fuel up at Dharamshala.

I decided to pose for the record.:supz:

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Aashish Walia

New Member
My wife was eager to visit the Dharamshala Cricket stadium. I just turned my GPS on and we drove towards the stadium. I was feeling light as a bird. Once we reached the stadium we were happy to know that the entry was free. I quickly walked in as we had many places on our itinerary.

The stadium ground is really small but it very picturesque. The mountain range forms an ideal background.


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After posing for some pictures, we decided to move towards Bhagsu Naag temple. All along the way, I kept on clicking the beauty around


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It was a steep climb but the scooter climbed perfectly. The way to Bhagsu Naag is a short one from the market. One can easily walk also. I could see a lot of foreign tourists walking the entire course.

I somehow don't feel easy in the temples. There are loads of people and so much hustle-bustle that I feel tense. As per my observation, famous Hindu temples are always crowded. Although this is true for any famous religious place but Hindu temples seem to be a bit mismanaged in terms of cleanliness and other systems.

We, the devotees, should be responsible for the cleanliness. As we reached the parking, the only word to describe it was "Chaos". There was so much noise of horns, people shouting that I wanted to turn back but my wife insisted that we should move ahead.

At the same time, my leg started to pain. I could barely walk. Hence, we decided to have a quick lunch at a nearby dhaba.

It was near the entrance of the temple. So, the temple is dedicated to Shiva. The temple was maintained by Gurkha Battalion after a massive earthquake had destroyed the temple. My wife made a quick visit to the temple while I waited near the stairs resting my paining leg.

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There is a public swimming pool as well on the premises. People were enjoying the pool creating a mess.

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There is a water fountain as well. I am not aware of the source of water but the water looked clear and clean.


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We decided to move towards the famous Bhagsu Falls even though I was not sure that I would be able to walk all the way. There is a small alley leading to the trek path. We were greeted by a sleepy guard there.


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As expected, the trail was crowded. It was so crowded and sunny that I decided to bid my farewell to the falls from a distance and we decided to turn back. In the below pic, the falls can be seen as a small white trail. The trek path is on the left side.


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We came back to the overcrowded parking and maneuvered our way back to Mcleod Ganj market. We had another destination i.e. Dal Lake on our itinerary.
 

Aashish Walia

New Member
The next stop on the trip was a scenic lake called Dal Lake. It was not part of the original plan however as we asked around we came to know about this lake. So, we decided to visit it. It is on the road which leads to St. John in the wilderness church.

There is an army camp at the end of the road. I saw an army convoy passing through. For the first time in my life, I saw the guards actually pointing guns and surveying the area. It was quite intimidating.

We had to climb up the road which was of course a hairpin bend. A lot of big cars were struggling with the steep slope but since we were on Access 125 we sailed through.

The lake is located on flat ground surrounded by trees. It is certainly a man-made lake.


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We spent some time there and rested for a while. I checked on Google about other places nearby and one place popped up: Kangra fort. We had plenty of time so we decided to visit it as well. Kangra Fort is a good 35-40 km away from Mcleodganj. We had to retrace our steps back to the route to Chandigarh.

We spent some time at the fort and returned to our hotel in Mcleodganj.

There is not much to write about the last day of the trip. We checked out of the pathetic hotel and after that, it was just a long journey back home.
 
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