Journey to McLeod Ganj (Dharamsala)

Our journey from Kasol takes us out of the Parvati Valley, back on to the national highway by Mandi and from there on to Dharamshala about 100km west. Dharamshala is the town where the Tibetan government and many of their citizens live in exile since the invasion from China around 1950. Having been in Tibet and Ladakh I would like to see what it’s like.

After all the rain we’ve been having the dam before Mandi is in full flood – quite a spectacular sight. The journey is long but luckily the road is mostly good and we manage to maintain a reasonable speed and cover good distance. At some point in the mid afternoon it starts to rain lightly and we get more and more soaked as we wind our way through the mountain roads. We stop off at a small road-side tea shop and attempt to give our layers a chance to dry somewhat, as we replenish our energy. The drying part isn’t much of a success.

When we move on it gets very foggy, which slows us down but it’s a beautiful scene. One stretch of road has been seriously damaged by rain and for several kilometres we find ourselves negotiating mud ruts, rock and stone where the road surface has been washed away. Eventually we’re riding along a soft green plateau on our left, surrounded on all sides by beautiful mountain peaks; the tall ones ahead on the right are where we’re going and they are magnificent: jagged grey rock with a splash of snow in places. The road becomes even and the surface is good tarmac, long curves weaving by several small villages – a dream to ride on! I open up the throttle and let the machine growl us along into the now yellowing horizon of the sunset. We need to make distance as it will be dark soon and driving in the dark here is like walking at the end of a shooting range praying not to get hit.

The inevitable happens: the sun goes down, we’re unable to see anything resembling a hotel along the way and we’re so close to Dharamsala we can practically smell it. A sign informs us we have 8km to go. It takes us an hour and it’s a nightmare journey! It’s dark, our bike is so back-heavy that the headlight beam falls well higher than it should and though I stop off under a light on the roadside I find there’s no way to adjust it. The headlights of oncoming traffic cause everything around us (including the road) to fade into pitch black and we have to proceed at snail’s pace.

Apparently in Dharamsala, we still see nothing around us that looks like a place to stay so we decide to continue on the few kilometres up to McLeod Ganj, the main Tibetan area. The roads are good but strangely the bike stalls a few times when not revving high, and the horn isn’t performing as loudly as before which is a bit worrying – probably something to do with the wet? We finally get there and spend an hour or two finding accommodation, most of which is either expensive or not in particularly well maintained. We decide on a simple room in the Green Hotel at 700INR per night.

By now it’s 22:00, we’re tired, fed up and hungry, so we go out to find something to eat. We walk into a nice looking, open sided restaurant with lovely Tibetan decor. It’s called Himalaya Bar and Restaurant. There are a good 15 people inside and an open buffet. Looking out for a table we realize something unusual is going on so we ask if this is a private function. The guy says to us that actually the restaurant is new and will only open in two days; this is a pre-opening celebration and they had the buddhist monks around earlier to say prayers and such. However they welcome us in, seat us at a table and give us food from the buffet and whiskey to drink, all without any charge. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! Well we end up having interesting conversation with Tenzing, one of the owners, and promise to come back for the opening in two days. What a great bunch of guys.

The next couple of days we spend looking around looking around the town. One day we visit the Buddhist temple at the Dalai Lama’s residence, end up eating a great PIZZA at a nearby restaurant/library and in the evening end up drinking a few drinks with a significantly drunken couple of guys that have driven up from Punjab for a good weekend out and to visit some waterfall. It’s a good laugh.

The following morning we plan to take a trip to an adjoining village starting with B but the Endield refuses to start – looks like a battery fault. A rolling-start down a steep hill fails to work and I end up spending a few hours troubleshooting in front of somebody’s little convenience shop to shelter me and the bike from the rain. Eventually a couple of Indian guys help out and manage to produce a wire from somewhere and we jump-start using the battery of one of their bikes, which allows me to ride the gruelling mile of steep bad road down to an enfield mechanic called Raj. Within a half hour he has established the fault (a shorted contact on the alternator which in turn fails to charge the battery) and with a few tools and a bit of solder the problem is repaired for a very modest fee indeed. I love this guy!

When we eventually reach the village we view a temple site with a swimming pool fed from a mountain spring with many Indians swimming in it, and about 20 minutes walk uphill there is a beautiful mountain waterfall splashing into a rock pool – again with many Indians swimming in it. It’s very rainy on and off so we have to pull into small “cafes” under the rocky overhangs and wait, which results in numerous photo shoots with the abundant Indian holiday makers there and lots of good laughs. (Incidentally it’s the first and only occasion I am asked to pose together for a photograph by a girl). We also discover a nice shanti little affair called the Shiva Cafe, which lies about 15 minutes up a steep rocky path in the most serene surroundings.


We stop there for a Honey-Lemon-Ginger tea and guess who rocks up? The two guys from the previous night, once again in a very happy mood and armed with a decent bottle of Indian whisky. As I’m on the bike and it’s getting dark we cannot join them and we manage to get back downhill before sunset – and I hope they slept up there because decending that path in the dark would have been an attempt at suicide.

On the Sunday before we leave we visit the Tibetan restaurant again as promised (Ebru enters first and I have to pick asomething up from the room). When I arrive I’m turned away by a waiter stating that the restaurant doesn’t open until tomorrow. I am sure it’s Sunday and this is really confusing; Ebru is nowhere to be seen and I explain that the chef and owner invited us to for today.. Eventually I get inside and find her sitting at a table and only two other tables occupied, one by three westerners and the other by a local crowd including the owner, a monk and someone familiar from the first night. The chef Shyam is happy to see us and cooks us up a lovely meal of chilli chicken. I have brought them a string of Tibetan prayer-flags as a good-luck gift, which I hand over to Shyam and the owner and there is applause and appreciation and the flags get strung above the entrance. I am sure they will serve their purpose.

After dinner when all have left we have a nice conversation with Shyam and tells us much about his interesting past and India. Also it turns out that the opening has been delayed til tomorrow because some guests of honour could not attend, however he specifically kept the place open as he had expected us to show up – apparently the waiter had mistaken the three other western guests for us and led them to a table – LOL – so lucky for them they also enjoyed a meal there that night.

Thanks Shyam and Co.!! You’ve been very kind to us and we hope that your restaurant will be a great success!! When we return I look forward to tasting the barbecue – in fact I might even lend you a hand at the grill! 🙂