McLeod Ganj

Here, the cold road leading from Srinigar climbs slowly out of Kashmir and falls into the heated humidity of a passing night in Jammu. Returning south this road has felt longer, twisting slowly, passing; twelve hours through lingering mountains and an early start. Another bus, left instinctively at a roadside dhaba on the edge of an unknown town, which led to a short cut through the flatlands of the Punjab, to a twisting climb returning into rising hills. And, here, 33 hours after the engine spluttered into life in Srinigar, we step onto a final bus in Dharamsala, to wind the last ten kilometers to the destination, Mcleod Ganj, as I sit watching the lower valleys collect themselves in a sequence of misted ridges leading to an uncertain horizon.

In youth we dreamed such places; formed their images from worn pages, brief glimpses upon film screened as occasional news items; the empire and the monk. And we expect? Images of an old monk’s smiling face, the cult of personality: echoes of Shangri la and the mythology of the inaccessible, the dreams of ages past drowning in the requisite romance of the road.

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The reality, bright temples perched above the ragged streets, the subsistence of  a bedraggled mountain town, perched upon a ledge between two cultures, two countries; a place of exile. Monks passing by, unseeing, unsmiling, too much seeking after karmic credit, too fixed a vision on another world, the next incarnation: Another viewpoint for sure and no less valid than mine, but I keep coming back to the Presbyterian here, “There’ll be cake in the next world.” Robes are accessorised by the latest, knocked off, fashions of the outdoor type, a latent practicality. Momos for sale, steamed or fried, amidst a sequence of similar stalls, selling handicrafts, symbols of heritage, icons of a distant place. Monks wandering with serious faces, a collation of ethnicities under saffron robes, few smiles. I think of a painting, I think, the vinegar drinkers. Continue reading “McLeod Ganj”