McLeod Ganj: A Different Kind of India
McLeod Ganj could very well be a completely different country with no relation to India whatsoever. Nestled high in the Himalayas and isolated from the greater part of the rest of India, McLeod Ganj was developed as a safe haven for Tibetan refugees escaping the ongoing horrors of Tibet. It’s also famously known to be the home of His Holiness The Dalai Lama (unfortunately he wasn’t there when we went).
We had been traveling throughout India for several weeks but as soon as we arrived in the small enclave of McLeod Ganj we noticed several major differences from the other cities we visited. Read my introduction to India to get an idea of what it’s like traveling in this
crazy beautiful country.
The first thing we noticed was how much cleaner it was – no litter in the streets and no cows/dung to be seen anywhere. This region of India is mostly inhabited by Buddhists not Hindus (who believe the cow to be sacred) which explained the lack of cow sightings. But there were plenty of monkeys busying themselves around town which was a definite bonus in my book!
Also, it was much more quiet (dare I say peaceful) due to the minimal amount of
traffic honking due to the fact the streets are mostly pedestrian.
Second of all, unlike many Indians we met, most Tibetans spoke very good English (we learned that schooling is mandatory which explains why). They also spoke a variety of the Tibetan language as well as Hindi.
As for the food, it was mostly native Tibetan which is completely different from Indian food (don’t get me wrong – Indian food is delicious but my taste buds were more than happy to welcome new foods). Make sure to try the momos – fried or steamed dumplings stuffed with chicken or vegetables – a typical Tibetan snack prepared by many of the street vendors.
Another notable difference was that there weren’t any starving, waif-like or maimed stray dogs roaming the streets. On the contrary, Tibetans took care and fed the homeless, happy-go-lucky dogs. I had never seen such fat and furry dogs in India as of yet (I’m referring to street dogs). There was even an old Tibetan woman who generously fed and lovingly petted the dogs each and every night. It was so heart-warming to witness this scene in a country where dogs are often mistreated and neglected.
Lastly, Tibetans, although extremely friendly and welcoming, weren’t concerned in the least bit with foreigners but in a good way. What I mean is that we were spared the usual intense staring and endless requests to be photographed we experienced while traveling around the rest of India. Needless to say, it was a welcome respite from all the attention we had been getting during our travels.
This region being primarily Tibetan Buddhist meant that many shops sold traditional handmade items. Thangka paintings are a popular souvenir to take home. I didn’t buy any though because I wasn’t sure how to incorporate one in my current home design. But if you’re keen on getting one, you’ll have many to choose from.
In the center of town standing out among the low-rise array of buildings sits a small Buddhist temple where visitors are welcome. The temple was under renovation and was freshly painted when we visited making all the colors even more so vibrant.The traditional Buddhist architecture and wildly colorful walls and ceilings adorned with minutely detailed paintings differ greatly from the style of Hindu temples. As is customary in Buddhist temples, several dragon sculptures – a symbol of enlightenment – guard each corner of the temple with their gaze overlooking the horizon. Lining the facade of the temple are a row of traditional prayer wheels (which are an integral part of Tibetan Buddhism) patiently waiting to be spun.
McLeod Ganj was so very different that we didn’t even feel like we were in India anymore. When it was time to leave, we actually voiced that we were “going back to India”. We gladly stayed in this quaint little town for a few deserving days of relaxation to recharge and refuel for the last leg of our journey in hectic Mother India!
Have you been to McLeod Ganj? Did you have the same impression I had?