McLeod Ganj where Himalayas play hide and seek and the maroon robed monks outnumber any other people. When Swathi and I toyed with the idea of going for a yoga retreat to escape the humdrum and monotony of daily routine, we didnt realize that apart from the body, how much this trip was also going to change our mind.
After going through a bunch of options that included both trekking and yoga as a package (who were we kidding?), we settled on a 5 day introductory yoga course at the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre in Dharamkot. The course gave us enough time to explore the place for the half day that we were not busy doing yoga.
Having booked our tickets way in advance, we had a lot of time to dream, plan and animatedly anticipate our holiday. We stocked up on yoga pants and comfy yet spunky sport wear, water bottles, napkins ,umbrellas (the weatherman promised plenty of rainfall) and a torch (a very good investment!). We promised ourselves that it was going to be a complete detox holiday, barring the few glasses of wine we gulped on the airport. But as we got comfortable in McleodGanj, the purity of the whole place rubbed off on us and we didn't once miss any intoxication.
My first memory is the drive from the airport in Gaggal , upwards to Mcleod Gunj. I noticed the sudden change in scenery as we drove up the ghat ; we were passing by chirpy streams and gloriously perched pine trees. The air got cooler and the sights got even more spectacular as we made our way towards the huge line up of cars that waited patiently for HH Dalai Lama to reach his destination. We made most of the wait by having a piping hot chana pav (the wada pavs not-so-humble cousin).
Having settled down in our quirky rooftop room at our homestay, we decided to check out the yoga center that was not too far away from where we were. Our map showed it to be only 700 meters away from the hotel. But there is something you should know about Mcleodgunj something I realized only that day. 700 meters can seem to be like 2 kilometers on this hilly terrain. For my out-of-work, sedentary body, it was the most overwhelming walk in a long time. It felt like I had already done an hour of yoga by the time we reached the center to enroll for the course! Unfortunately, unlike my solid faith that this condition would change after yoga, it remained the same throughout my week long stay here.
The Himalayan Iyengar Center was beautiful beyond our belief. Nestled on the foothills of a verdant hill, the center was brimming with lush flowering bushes, a carpet of young green grass and slabs of stones leading you to a big open hall that let in loads of sunshine. We were introduced to our fellow batch mates on the first day. There were about 24 people in the class, most of them foreigners. I was surprised to see the dedication people had towards the cause of yoga. In the birth place of yoga, here we were, just a handful of Indians amidst people who had travelled far and wide, learning the art from Israeli and French gurus.
So after my feet fiasco on the first day, we decided to take a rickshaw everywhere so that we could save our energy entirely for yoga only. After the first couple of days, all of us in the class became like a family. We would get together for lunches and before class to discuss about this breathtaking paradise that we shared for a short span of time.
Swathi and I managed to see both the sides of Mcleod Gunj- the utterly peaceful Dharamkot where birdsongs and the damp smell of wood will accompany you everywhere you go and the McLeod Market side that is replete with quaint cafes and street markets that are always buzzing with excitement. Often in the evening, we would go for a walk in the market and hear the melodious Buddhist chants of Om Mani Padme Om play on the speakers, as if cleansing the whole place with its reverberating sounds.
A week was enough for us to feel connected to the place, memorize routes and have our favorite hangouts. We would visit this cafe called Khana Nirvana again and again for its quaint bistro feel and delicious food.
There was so much that touched us about Mcleod Gunj; the smiling faces of the monks, the smell of incense in the air and the friendly Tibetan locals who were not only inviting but also sincere in their warmth. The whole place still bears the legacy of British times and this is evident in the charming bakeries and cafes that exist alongside humble Tibetan restaurants.
We met many interesting people in the city. Some who went out of their way to welcome us (like the guys at McleodGunj Homestay and Khana Nirvana), others who seemed chirpy but went that extra mile to test our patience (like a Himachali chap we met at class) and people from varied origins with whom we shared an extreme fondness for yoga and Mcleod Gunj. There was also this adorable dog at the homestay that I fell hopelessly in love with, and guess what, he had a few asanas of his own!In that period of five days, it didnt matter where you came from or what you did, we were all a part of the same transformation that was happening in the background- the realization that such pristine beauty on the outside could nudge you to become a better person yourself.
I truly count myself as lucky to have had the experience of calling Mcleoganj home for a week. Doing yoga against the backdrop of such stunning beauty got me closer to spiritual inspiration and made me realize the value of overall well-being.
That is the impact of travelling to the mountains : it calms you down and forces you stop and breathe. It makes you patient and takes you further on your quest for unconditional happiness.
Swathi came back with a better knee and a simple asana that cured her migraine, and I came back with a new perspective and a refreshed state of mind. Plan your trip to McleodGunj with your fantastic itinerary maker .
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