‘Are you sure you’re going to make it up the hill? Shouldn’t we maybe wait for the cow to move out the way. Oh oh watch the dog, and listen man we don’t mind if you drop us here, we’ll walk, SHIT don’t hit the monk, careful, the monk, there’s a fucking monk, stop stop…’
We held very tightly on to our seats and each other while the driver ignored us. This is what he does, of course. Fly along narrow roads, around hairpin bends and up steep mountain passes while trucks, cars, busses, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, herds of goats and a million people come straight at him.
He grinned when we got to the top, removed his Raybans, said ‘Here girls, Chonor House’, and helped us with our bags. We both stood still, a little shellshocked. Not so much from the mad wild drive because well that’s just India, but from the absolute magic that is Mcleod Ganj.
McLeod Ganj in the state of Himachel Pradesh, is a higgledy piggledy village where India meets Tibet. The Dalai Lama lives here and Chonor House where we stayed is directly opposite his Temple. Set at the top of a very steep hill, Chonor is a sanctuary, run by Tibetans, ridiculously quiet yet surrounded by teeny alleyways, hippie bars, rooftop restaurants, internet cafes, yoga studios, nuns, monks, the cutest little baby monks, food markets, barber shops, cake shops, flippin’ Kashmiri shops, bare skinned people, barefoot people and mostly, Buddhist people.
And a man named Mahindra.
We settled into the unbelievable Tree Flower Room, sipped lemon ginger mint tea on the balcony, looked out over the mountains, listened to the chanting, meditated for like a second then headed out into the streets.
My travel friend immediately found the beautiful Tibetan silver jewellery.
And I found Mahindra.
Not being able to resist a good massage I followed him into his studio. Within five minutes my clothes were off, I was on the floor, he was on top of me in that massage kind of way, singing bowls were singing, oil was dripping, he was rubbing, and oh my god it was amazing.
Which is exactly how Mcleod Ganj is. It’s like everything is open, just waiting for you to come in.
We spent four days here and could’ve spent four months. Time takes on a lazy magic. We’d be woken early by the chanting of the monks and wander across to Temple. Prayer flags and prayer wheels dot the path and lead you inside. It’s the most beautiful way to start a day, listen to chanting, chant too, meditate with monks, and nuns, sip sweet tea, pray a little, and then – eat, wander and explore.
The area is like a traveller hangout paradise. We walked a lot and our favourite day was walking from Mcleod to the little villages dotted amongst the mountains – Bhagzu and Dharamkot being the two we most fell in love with. The paths are steep so you walk, breathe, stop at a tea station, drink, walk a little more, find a hippie restaurant, laze against the cushions, eat the most delicious food, watch rooftop jugglers, do not smoke dope inside because the signs say please do not smoke dope inside, and just – fall in love.
All the time.
Including with the Dalai Lama. On our last day he happened to be in Temple. Just like that, we were ten feet away from the Dalai Lama. And honestly, genuinely, he looked at us – And he smiled. A gentle, loving magnificent smile that left us feeling peaceful.
Spiritual. Open. Delicious. Divine.
And totally content.
India has a weird way of doing that to you. McLeod Ganj in particular.
I’m going back next year. But for longer.
Book with Kate Carlyle, at firstname.lastname@example.org