Ludhiana to Dharamshala is just under 200km. It is not an NH and the roads remind one of the old days of single-lane high ways. Unfortunately for me, it was not a such a great drive with lots of small industries dotting the sides and taking away the splendour of the old Punjab I knew, which was full of lush fields. The climb into the Himalayas sees the road become busier, with small towns, villages and pilgrim places. Though it was quite early in the morning one could make out India is more prosperous than ever with vehicles clogging the road at short intervals.
There is a small coffee place with a bit of breathing space where the first sight of snow peaked mountains greet us, otherwise it is an uninteresting stressful drive. We stayed in a small village about 11km away from Dharamshala with my good friend Abha Bhaiya who runs an NGO Jagori. He has a beautiful place with excellent facilities, lovely spacious rooms, terrific food and a view of the snow capped mountains to die for that is open for select travellers when there is place.
“The climb into the Himalayas sees the road become busier, with small towns, villages and pilgrim places”
Every morning started with a long walk, breakfast and then out to explore Buddhist monasteries. My new project in still photography is Buddhist monasteries and it is this that brought me to Dharamshala. This is also the seat of the Dalai Lama and the capital of the Tibetan government in exile. Compared to the monasteries I have been working on in Ladakh these are very new. The place was established only after the Dalai Lama was given sanctuary by PM Nehru in the early 1950s. These monasteries with their schools, nunneries and handicraft centres, are strewn all over in a 60km radius. There are of course several Tibetan restaurants and shops selling curios and stuff too. Dharamshala stretches up from an altitude of 1500m to 2500m.
Towards the top, it merges with McLeodganj. At the top is where the Dalai Lama lives when he is not travelling. I must admit that the main monastery is nothing to talk about and a bit of a disappointment, after seeing the others and especially the ones in Ladakh. During our stay we visited and photographed Namgyal, Sherabling, Gyuto Tantrik monastery, Dip Tse Chkling and the Dolma Ling monasteries. It rained just one day and the temperatures dropped to near zero. That very day we braved the weather and visited the famous Cricket Stadium of Dharamshala, considered the highest in the world. It is an absolute must visit place, even for those who eschew the sport.
“Dharamshala stretches up from an altitude of 1500m to 2500m. Towards the top, it merges with McLeodganj. At the top is where the Dalai Lama lives when he is not travelling”
We left Dharamshala after nine days and made for Amritsar. As the plains approach the beautiful Punjabi landscape opens up with lush mustard fields and orange groves. In the city, we headed for the Golden Temple that I have been visiting since the late 1960s. It is by far the one of the cleanest pilgrimages in India. The most glaring change was the number of devotees, who are too busy taking selfies! Amritsar is the Punjabi food capital. Don’t ever leave without trying their sarson ka saag, makki di roti, lassi and tandoori chicken. Our next stop, Bikaner in Rajasthan is a town of extreme contrasts. The old city is neglected, congested and filthy while the palace areas are swanky and clean. The palace is very well maintained and worth a visit.
“Don’t ever leave without trying their sarson ka saag, makki di roti, lassi and tandoori chicken.”
Our trip back to Ahmedabad saw us travel through the bizarre Om Banna shrine. And on this 4,000km trip I was surprised to see no bikers at all. Save one, who turned out to be from distant Karnataka. Where have all the touring junta gone? Or are they only to be found in the Himalayas?