Holi Festival, Dharamshala, India

Happy Holi!

May you have a colourful year!!!

Holi is an ancient Hindi religious festival also known as the festival of colours or the festival of sharing love. Holi signifies the end of winter & the beginning of spring, the victory of good over evil, time to forgive, forget & mend broken relationships & a time of merriment. It is celebrated in India & Nepal & in the past few years has also become a popular theme for various events in western countries. Holi is a fun, mischievious, festival where participants cover each other with an array of coloured powder & have water fights. Everyone is fair game to douse good naturely with vibrant coloured powder & music & dancing is plenty! Some intoxicating drinks are consumed, including the popular bhang lassi which is a cannabis based lassi. The festival has little focus on religion & is all about enjoyment & having fun!

My friends & I went down to the more populated Dharamshala to celebrate Holi as Mcleod Ganj has a predominantly Buddhist culture who don’t particularly recognise this Hindi festival. Dharamshala still isn’t exactly the Holi hotspot but was the preference my friend & I had when it came to deciding where to celebrate Holi. The festival is considerably intimate compared to the shy India way. People throw & rub coloured powder on each other to symbolise Lord Krishna putting coloured powder on his beloved Radha to make her more like him. I didn’t want to go to a busy area to celebrate with crowds of people pushing & groping. As a solo female traveller I endeavour to respect my safety boundaries.

We made our way to get a taxi down the mountain & before we even got in the taxi we were covered in colour thanks to a group of Indian men in great party spirit. It was hilarious as they only got the girls in the group & the guys were void of colour. I wonder if they will remain colour free all day….

As we walked the streets in Dharamshala people in the street, on scooters & in cars called out ‘Happy Holi’ & decorated us in colour! What a fun festival! A car stopped to ask for a picture with us because they hadn’t seen foreigners ‘play’ Holi before. This was one of many requests for pictures. People would run up to you shouting ‘selfie’ & continue to take pictures until you said it was enough. I dread to think how many Facebook profiles my coloured face is currently gracing!

 

 

By the time we got to the action in a nearby village we were already completely covered in colour – before we even bought any ourselves! There were quaint stalls of friendly, multi coloured, people selling a wide range of coloured powder in various sized bags. We all purchased a selection & got to work colouring India & wishing everyone a happy holi. We had a great time dancing with the locals & covering each others faces. A young drummer appeared who played to the amusement of the men & boys who danced wildly & vigorously to the beat. It was a great party atmosphere & the locals shared their (extremely strong) drinks with us. As newbies to this festival we failed miserably imbibing as the powder fell from our faces into the drinks then settling on our teeth when we drank. Schoolboy error! I was inappropriately groped once, but according to my friends that was lower than their encounters of harassment – unacceptable Indian men!

When we had enough & were starving we took a taxi back to the quieter McLeod Ganj & went to an Italian restaurant. We were the only people covered in powder. We were absolutely saturated in the stuff. My friend tried to rub hers off in the bathroom & came out with a dirty brown face. I opted to sit in the layers of powder & wait to get washed after.

As much fun as it throwing powder around, I was so elated to have a shower! My face alone had layers of colour & my clothes were covered in it. My bra seemed to be carrying most of it. Apparently that was where people must have been aiming for. I felt so good after showering although I still have patches of pink & purple in my hair. Our bathroom is a wonderful rainbow of colours & there is a powder trail into our room.

The locals seemed really impressed we got involved in Holi & especially to our degree of involvement. Layers people! We had layers of colours in our hair, on our face, all over our bodies & on our bags. We’re not quite sure if it’s going to come off our belongings.

Two weeks later I will still have this colour in my hair & people will point fondly at it asking ‘Holi?’.

 

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Visiting the Dalai Lamas Temple

I visited the Dalai Lama’s Temple several times during my stay in McLeod Ganj. Some days it was extremely busy with various events on & the odd time it was more serene & I could slowly walk around & absorb my surroundings. I wasn’t fortunate enough to attend an audience with his holiness the Dalai Lama although he was at this residence when I visited.

 

Stunning sunset from the Dalai Lama’s Temple

 

I adored the candle room & found it incredibly beautiful & peaceful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This sweet looking man wanted his picture taken spinning the prayer wheels

 

 

 

 

This room was incredibly vibrant

 

 

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Monks chatting while their laundry dries

The Tibetan Museum


The Tibetan museum in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala is incredibly evoking. I knew so little about the plight of the Tibetan people & found it heart breaking & unbearably unjust to learn about.

I don’t even think I have enough of an understanding of the situation to be able to explain it well…. But I will give you a little information, & some questions I’m reflecting upon.

Tibet is the highest region in the world with an average elevation 4900M above sea level. It is home to Mount Everest (8848M). It borders China, Burma, India, Bhutan & Nepal.

In 1950 40,000 Chinese invaded Tibet with claims to ‘liberate’ the land. In 1959 rumours spread that the Chinese would kidnap the Dalai Lama. His people protected him & he fled a week later to Dharamshala where he has resided since & set up the Tibetan government in exile.

Mao’s reign of Tibet led to famine & destruction as he enforced communism upon the Tibetans. Hundreds & thousands of Tibetans died & thousands of Buddhist monasteries & cultural sites were destroyed. Tibet is still in political unrest with people being killed for protesting the Chinese rule & even taking their lives in self-immolation protests. In 2012 80 Tibetans set fire to themselves to demonstrate the Tibetan’s fundamental rejection of Chinese rule. China responds to the the expression of Tibetan national pride & protests of Chinese rule with lethal violence & punitive sentences.

Tibet claims it is an independent country under occupation from the Chinese. The Chinese government believes Tibet to be part of China – thus they are doing no wrong.

From a legal standpoint, Tibet has to this day not lost its statehood. It is an independent state under illegal occupation.

– Michael van Walt, lawyer and visiting professor at Institute for Advanced Study

Is Tibet under illegal occupation by China? Is this an international issue? Is it international duty to intervene & resolve this? Is Tibet a part of China, making it a domestic issue? Even so, a domestic problem cannot continue at such an unjust degree.

Afterwards my friend & I were in a somber mood & digesting the information we had just absorbed. To be living in the centre for Tibetan refugees & being in such close proximity I feel especially empathetic towards them.

The story of the Tibetan people is shrouded in silence as China denies Tibetans (especially in Tibet) the basic right of freedom of speech. The people live in fear of the consequences of what they say & many don’t speak openly about their situation. I met a teenage Tibetan girl who had fled to McLeod Ganj as a child & she was guarded during our conversation. I was conscious not to ask anything particularly controversial & still she was afraid. We spoke about how she left Tibet & was lucky to be sponsored. She was bright & friendly & on her way to begin university in another city. It is such a gift to sponsor a child in need & I endeavour to do this when I have a regular income & find an honest charity to do this through.

Information has been taken from the Free Tibet website – it’s very interesting & worth a look.

*The  pictures in this article were of a 3D mural opposite the entrance to the Tibetan museum. Poignant.

What did you do in McLeod Ganj??

Hello to the queen – a popular dessert in India!

If anyone was ever to ask me what I did in McLeod Ganj the answer would be eat.

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A pot of chai & a Hello to the queen to share

I ate everything there. Days were focussed on what I would eat & where I would go next. I strategically planned in order to visit as many places as possible & ordered according to what would compliment my friend’s meal.

Gyoza

I ate cake, curries & gyoza. I had museli, samosas & soups, pizza, pasta & pancakes. You name it, I ate it!

Chilli sweet potato fries

McLeod Ganj caters extremely well to the foodie backpackers keen to try EVERYTHING.

Lord knows I did!

Chocolate brownie & ice cream

About McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, India

McLeod Ganj is a village in the suburbs of Dharamshala, perched on the southern outer Himalaya mountain range. It is most famously the home of the Dalai Lama who resides in his Temple based here. The Dalai Lama fled here to escape the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959. He established the Central Tibetan Administration here & has made McLeod Ganj his home ever since. As the base for the Dalai Lama & Tibetan government in exile, it is also the home of Tibetan Buddhism in India. This makes it an imperative destination to people interested in Buddhism.

This small area has a multicultural population of around 10,000 people inclusive of Indians, Tibetans, Nepalese & foreign expats. The vast range of nationalities it hosts make it one of those few places where you don’t feel out of place. As the centre of Buddhism in India there are many robed monks in the area. Their devotion gives an air of honour & respect to the village. It’s one place in India where I have felt least relatively safe.

Tourism is a big part of McLeod Ganj which caters well to the needs of backpackers & visitors. There are many courses on offer in Buddhism, yoga, meditation, cookery, massage & ayurvedic therapies. There are also opportunities to aid the Tibetan community via teaching english & offering your time to babysit children to allow the parents the opportunity to work. Considering it is India, it is incredibly well set up & easy to navigate. Some say it has become too commercial & has changed considerably in the past few years. As much as I enjoy to travel to experience different cultures & environments, I also appreciated the ease of McLeod Ganj. I believe it’s all about balance & there is a plethora of underdeveloped villages you can visit in India for an authentic experience.

There is plenty to do in the area: numerous stunning hikes, Bhagsu waterfall, Dal lake, Tsug La Kang (the Dalai Lama’s temple), Tibetan museum & Dip Tse Chok Ling Monastery to name a few. There is a selection of accommodation available ranging from staying in a monastery to 4 star hotels. Souvenir shops & stalls line the busy streets & there’s also a service available to pack up & send parcels back home. There are many, many restaurants in McLeod Ganj. I adore the food here! The restaurants & cafes are a mix of backpacker chic to fancy & cute Tibetan style. The selection of food was amazing, incomparable to villages the same size in my western homeland. You could have Indian, Tibetan, Nepalese, Italian & western – & that’s just one of the streets! Of course there was a German bakery or two!

 

McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, India

The view from our hotel balcony

When our coach finally chugged into the bus station I fled to get our luggage & avoid my stalker. The coach station was saturated with men incessantly enquiring ‘taxi?’ & standing in our way. So frustrating, especially sleep deprived after a long uncomfortable journey. My friend had a double room booked nearby so we hauled our backpacks on our crooked backs & trekked slowly in the direction of the hotel. The streets were beautifully calm apart from the odd car. No relentless soul grinding noise or bustle of people, cars or cattle. I felt honoured to have the streets to ourselves as we wondered along the winding roads admiring the cute buildings & spectacular views.

The hotel was not well marked at all. Even when we were inside the building we were still unsure we were in the correct place…. When we located the reception area we noticed the staff sleeping inside so we set our bags down & sat facing the incredible himalayas, basking in the view. The guy woke up shortly after & quickly checked us into our room. An amazing thing about India is that, if your room is ready, they will check you in immediately & allow you into your room. This is pure bliss when you travel at night & arrive super early, desperate for a lie down. In many other countries you have to wait until official check in time 1pm-3pm.

Our room was a basic double en suite with a balcony & view of the mountains. It cost us 150 rupees altogether per night, that’s £1.50! We had a chai, enjoyed the view again & went for a much needed nap washed in the relaxation that we could down our bags for a few days. We woke hungry, had a shower & felt fresh to explore our new surroundings. We wandered the streets & found a cute rooftop restaurant boasting a delicious menu & merrily wandered up the steps to find a table.

Craving curry we picked a lovely Indian restaurant offering a wide menu. It was above a primary school & we sat back satisfied in our surroundings, watching the cute children play. The food was lovely & the portions were massive. We vowed to come back because there were many things on the menu we were keen to try. It’s dangerous to be travelling with a fellow foodie. She’s an enabler! Content & with a full belly I felt truly happy & at ease in McLeod Ganj. My friend jerked towards me & whispered “don’t look behind you”. My body froze to the spot while my neck & head cautiously turned. Monkeys. Massive monkeys. About 20 of them climbing on the neighbouring school & bounding over buildings. I felt sickened after my moment of peace. McLeod Ganj was not going to be the safe haven I unrealistically hoped for.