Our favourite place so far. You could easily get lost here. There is a different atmosphere that is relaxed and tempts you to waste your whole visa there. Mcleoud Ganj is a magical place full of possibilities and a buzzing, happy atmosphere. It is now home to thousands of Tibetan refugees who have fled their home life in Tibet to join the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan government in exile in this town.
The presence of the Tibetans is a nice change and not only brings a gentle atmosphere but also a great new menu of food dishes to try! Along the streets were many cafes or side stalls tempting you with momos of every size and variety. Deep fried potato momos, chocolate momos, steamed tofu momos and more!
Mcleoud Ganj has a real community feel to it that we had not yet noticed in other parts of India. Due to their common problem of the relocation and ill treatment of their people everyone is united together to help in anyway they can. Everyday or night you can find many different charitable fundraising events whether it be a music night, pizza and movie night or cooking classes; everyone pitches in their little bit. We went along to the pizza and movie night (of course Daniel was drawn to this option) and we were treated to an eye opening documentary on the situation in Tibet. Before we arrived at this town we were very fuzzy on the situation, China tries very hard to keep it all under wraps. We were so blown away that we bought the documentary from them to show people back home.
Not only are there fundraisers but there is also a big education program where anyone visiting the town can help. All over town in various cafes, little hidden shops or rooms hold English conversation classes where you are encouraged to join and talk with the Tibetans on certain topics and help them not only to improve their speech but also their written English. People with other languages such as Spanish, French, etc are also encouraged to help as well.This was a great way to have a one on one interaction with the locals outside of a business situation. No one was forced to attend, yet the classroom was packed with many backpackers wanting to help these lovely people. Eager Tibetans all wanted to learn and each had their special exercise books where they had written out their own English dictionaries.
Due to the presence of many Tibetans there is a big Buddhist community. We visited the main temple which had amazing views and interesting rituals.
The town itself, is towered by the white peaked Himalayan mountains. Even though it is only small, is unable to grow much bigger due to the restricted terrain of the mountains, meaning it will always have that small old town feel. In the streets you don't have to worry about the constant flow of traffic trying to fit into tiny spaces and your free to browse freely among the little shops scattered down the alley ways. There is a load of Chinese copy trekking gear and lots of cool Tibetan made jewellery, clothing, hats, instruments and nicknack's.
Mcleoud Ganj strives to be eco-friendly, banning plastic bags, providing a cheap place where you can re-use your water bottle and fill it up with their special filtered water, most restaurants use a recycling service. Even the "no littering" signs remind you that this town is very different to the rest of India.
Unfortunately some Indian's take advantage of the situation and pose as beggars trying to get you to give them "no money, no money, just food." When you go to purchase them some food from a stall they then direct you to a small shop where they ask you to buy 10kg bags of rice and 5kg bags of milk powder. Supposedly after you fork out over $30AUD they then go back to the same store and sell the produce back to the shop keeper for half the price. The poster shown above was put up to help educate tourists to stop this cycle. It wasn't till after Hannah read the notice that she realised the same trick had been played on her in Mumbai where a beggar girl and asked her for rice and milk adding up to over $20AUD! Cheeky. We also saw the said "beggar menaces" later that evening on a local bus where they all had mobile phones fancier than ours at home. The trick must have worked!
Nearby we tested our trekking abilities doing a one day trek up Mount Triund. This mountain at the peak was 3000 meters above sea level and the highest we have ever walked. We started out at sunrise. Dan, wearing his new Chinese copy goose down jacket, was very soon to shed it due to the lovely warmth provided by the sun. We started at a very slow pace taking the opportunity to take beautiful snaps anywhere we could. We walked at a steady pace for around four hours. The tracks on our way up were amazing at some points they were just rocks grouped together no more than half a meter wide. On the way up we enjoyed the views of the ever shrinking Mcleoud Ganj and working donkeys carrying rocks down from the mountain.
We stopped about half way up and had a little chai at the halfway up shop. Just as Dan had sat down and relaxed guess who accidentally knocked his jacket over the edge of a hill. That's right Han did, and as it was packed up much the same as a sleeping bag it rolled down the hill for a good two hundred metres. So down the hill Dan climbed.
|Our friendly companions|
Upon reaching the top we realised that the past 5 hours had been well worth it. A spectacular view of the grey and white west Himalayan range made it hard to believe that we were actually there and not standing in front of a movie back drop, it was surreal to say the least.
|Hannah feeling "on top of the world"|
The top of Triund was actually really nice and comfortable. We had lunch here in a lovely flat green grassed area with some friends we made on the way up. The food was a little more expensive as they have to carry supplies up here and all the plastic waste was kept by the owner and is taken down the mountain for recycling daily.
We learned that you can also camp over night at the top of the mountain and hire a sleeping bag and tent from the shop at the top for 200 rupees. We would have loved to do this but our visas were looming over us so time was meagre. The walk down thankfully was a lot easier, apart from getting lost for half an hour.
Upon one of our walks one day we passed a strange man dressed in a long black coat and dreadlocks walking along muttering to himself. We then soon after passed a lady who worked at the local Tibetan school, she pulled us aside and expressed her worry for two Tibetan boys with whom the strange man had been trying to hold hands.
Dan ran after the man and boys just to make sure that all was well; Upon catching up with the strange man he attempted to stall him by talking to him and asking quite regular questions. The man did not seem coherent at all, apart from bouts of consciousness in which he would tell Dan that the people up the mountain had his wife, he was mostly humming a mantra to himself and doing yoga-esk movements. This is the ugly side to any backpacker centre. In countries where laws are a little more relaxed, drugs are more easily attainable. No I don't mean to make judgment but from my point of view and at the time he did not at all seem stable.
Leaving Hannah looking after the American teacher who had twisted her ankle, Dan followed the strange man was attempting to draw him away from the school. Unfortunately he would not listen so on Dan followed. The Lebanese wanderer ended up in an Indian family's compound, on their balcony, in front of an outdoor mirror watching himself do his yoga dance. The family seemed extremely worried and the man of the house had locked his family inside and was on the phone to the police. After trying to reason with this man of absent mind for 45 minutes, telling him that the police will come for him, he came down and started heading back for the town. By this point it was too late and the police arrived shortly after. They understood that Dan was not his accompanist but asked that he still help with getting him to the station.
Whilst this was happening Hannah was trying to calm the teacher down and as the Dan and the stranger had disappeared for over an hour they started to worry. They searched all over the town asking everyone they met if they had seen the two men. After Han had tried to explain to one man that Dan had white skin the man said "hospital, hospital" which as we later found out was because he misunderstood and thought Han was asking where she could get white skin from. Still this made the tension grow stronger at that point. Finally they found Dan heading down to the Police station.
We all arrived at the station and at first the police were very understanding and calm. After getting his passport off him they discovered that this man had over stayed his visa by five months and started questioning him. Unfortunately what happened next showed the full capability of the Indian police. The chief was getting very close to this man and so was the teacher, both shouting questions at him inches from his face.
In a bad reaction choice the man lightly slapped the teacher followed by chief of police both in the face. Without a second of hesitation one police man kicked him in the stomach, another struck him with a wooden staff and he was then dragged into holding quarters by his hair.At this point we were worried for the man. We politely asked for his passport details and let the police know we would return the next day to check up on him.
The next day we called the Man's embassy and let them know of the situation, we then returned to the police station where we learned that he would be held in the Dharamsala prison for five days until his embassy (which they had contacted) came to retrieve him. It was a very eye opening experience and I am glad nothing more went wrong. It was such a contrast to the calm and peaceful streets and makes you realise that certain things can still go very wrong in paradise.
Mcleoud Ganj is somewhere i could see myself living when i was to retire and i will definitely return to this magical place. The people, food, art and social and environmental awareness is what makes this town and it's amazingly clever people so great.