This is chapter 9 of the Graduate & Live 2016 Summer Tour of Asia, where three traveling freelancers take advantage of their freedom. In this installment, Ryan, Aom and Ashley travel to Dharamshala, the adopted home of the Dalai Lama and many other Tibetan refugees.
Traveling in India can be tricky. Because there's so much to see, it's hard to settle on a direction. Located in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala offers a nice break from India's congested, fume-filled cities.
Although I was sad to leave Srinagar, I knew that it was time to turn the page. Ryan, Aom and I started the next chapter with an 8-hour ride in a jeep shared with eight people. The twists and turns were so intense, I nearly vomited. Luckily, we had the whole middle row, but I felt bad for the three Indians who crammed in the back.
The road to Dharamsala is rough, but once you’re there, it’s a mountaintop oasis. I read online that Mcleod Ganj was the place to stay, but thankfully we ended up in a nearby village called Dharamkot. It's about 10 minutes north of the busy, bustling Mcleod Ganj square.
We didn’t book in advance, but in Dharamkot it isn’t a problem. Dozens of pastel-colored guesthouses peek out from the trees, and you're free to take your pick. Dharamkot is clean, less crowded and smells of incense. The fresh air and cool sunshowers create a comforting climate, and the people are incredibly friendly.
The village is filled with artists, meditators and the environmentally conscious. Everywhere I looked, I saw positive affirmations and expressions of love for the Earth.
Once again, I didn’t feel like I was in India. Dharamkot is a backpacker’s paradise, dedicated to a fusion of Eastern and Western tastes and philosophies. Each morning, we were woken up by locals playing The Police, The Strokes, Modest Mouse, Queen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers on repeat. At the same time, I saw fliers for yoga certification classes, Siddha Kundalini Healing workshops and sacred women’s circles.
A cafe called Space Out, run by a polish woman married to an Indian boy, reunited me with my vegan lifestyle. Even though we only stayed for two days, Space Out became our favorite spot. There was one catch, though.
As a freelancer in India, you’ll spend a lot of time looking for wifi. Space Out didn't want to alter the atmosphere, so they skipped out on the internet. Another great spot, called Om Cafe, came through. It was here that I first discovered my love for the momo (a delicious South Asian dumpling that is native to Tibet).
Though Dharamsala draws travelers from all over the world, there's a large group of people living there for a different reason. For 70 rupees, we were transported to the world of Tibet. McLeod Ganj is a haven for Tibetan refugees, who migrated to India in the 1960s when China began its occupation. There’s a number of Tibetan museums, study opportunities and volunteer programs to learn about their refugeeism and ways to make a positive impact.
Elderly women displayed Tibetan handicrafts for sale, and monks roamed the streets. It was fascinating to see them dressed in robes, eating in cafes and living normal lives. Even though they're spiritual practitioners, they're just like you and me.
Work had piled up, so I had to make some decisions. I wanted to tour the museum, see Dalai Lama speak, visit the meditation centers and explore the city. Because I was funding my travels as a freelancer, I had to keep up with my work. I spent my last day in Dharamsala drinking Ayurvedic tea, lounging on mismatched cushions and catching up on writing in Om Cafe.
The Tibetan culture, backpacking community and general openness drew me, and many other travelers, to the mountains of Dharamsala. I’m lucky not only to know this place exists, but to have experienced it, even for short time. I’ll return to swim in Bhagsunag Falls, volunteer at the Tibet World hostel, train to be a certified yogi and spend time soaking in the unique blend of Hinduism and new-age spirituality.
I'd like to stay, but Kolkata is calling. It's time to see Ryan's kids at Children International and learn what sponsorship is all about.