The Himalayas of India:  Ladakh and Dharamsala, Summer 2008
Himachal Pradesh - Bharmour in the Chamba Valley, Return to McLeod Ganj
Page 12 of 16


22 July - I woke up to this gorgeous view of the valley outside the hotel window.  The Lonely Planet Guide mentioned that it took two or two and a half hours to walk up to the Brahmani Mata temple, so I decided to leave early.  A little after 8am, I walked up the road, hooking right at Chaurasi and continuing up past a heliport.

I continued through the picturesque Makotta village, where the people prepared for a wedding party later that evening.

Every step of the way, people said hello and pointed me in the right direction towards Brahmani Mata Temple.

The path was steep through the village, and continued at the same pitch throughout the walk.  I stopped frequently for photos or water.  The views everywhere, above, below, were inspiring, and I felt elated to be outside walking in this beauty.

When I saw the footpath leading to a blue arch with a suspended brass bell (it's very tiny in this photo), I was surprised that I had made it to the entrance of the Brahmani Mata temple in just under an hour.  I walked this last part with Baba, a young dreadlocked sadhu in his early 20s.  He spoke only Hindi, but we somehow managed to communicate simple things to each other.

Baba at the Brahmani Mata, a small, modest temple in a small cluster of buildings, with a tea stall and a pool with freezing cold water where devout pilgrims bathe. I declined an offer to jump in.

Baba invited me to sit with his other friends and have tea.  This was a much more appealing activity than jumping in freezing water, so I joined them, sitting with them for almost an hour.

After tea, we all walked back down together.  After just two minutes, I slipped on the loose gravel and banged my knee.  They made sure I was okay before continuing on.  Then, of course, they started slipping as well, and after a while, we stayed off the stone path, preferring to descend in the more reliable dirt paths.  So two sadhus and a Chinese guy in Western clothes, slipping and sliding back down the mountain, bonding over the beautiful scenery and just the need to connect.  We were an interesting group of people to the Hindu pilgrims ascending to the temple. 

Here, my new sadhu friends and I stop to rest in the shade of a large pine tree.

Approaching the charming little village of Makotta, walking back down to Bharmour (Brahmaur). 

The three sadhus and I stopped off at a tiny Hindu temple.  I got an orange bindhi on my forehead and walked around the rest of the day with it.

I got back to the Chaurasi Hotel around 11:30 and ate and iced my knee.

After lunch, I walked up the Chaurasi complex again to hang out and relax.  I noticed the beautiful fall fashions, this year in leopard print, gorgeously color-coordinated with matching accessories, perfect for the active lifestyle of a sadhu who wants just a bit of panache.

Chaurasi temple complex in Bharmour (Brahmaur).

I walked back down to the hotel.  Shortly afterwards, a crew of plumbers came into my room, attempting to fix the many leaks in the bathroom, which had kept the entire floor perpetually wet.

I later hung out with a young Israeli traveler and four local Gaddis from Bharmour and Makotta village, all of whom spoke fluent English.  They said that Bob Marley loved to come up to Himachal Pradesh, and had visited Manali.  If he were to have come to Bharmour and seen pot plants sprouting on the side of the road, he probably would have never left.

One local guy asked, "How old is Madonna?  Is she 50?" 

"I believe that's right, yes."

He shook his head in awe.  "50 years old...and she's still sexy."

Around 8pm, several of us walked up to see the evening puja at the Chaurasi temple complex.  Frenetic drums, chanting, clanging, and bell ringing, smoke from incense, puja flames, people smiling - this nightly puja had all the fun stuff.

Evening puja at the Chaurasi temple complex in Bharmour (Brahmaur).

I ran into Baba, the sadhu from the Brahmani Mata hike earlier in the morning.  He smiled and offered me tea.  Because one of my new Gaddi friends was also there translating for me, I found out that Baba was 20 years old, and had been a sadhu since he was 7 or 8, and was originally from Gujurat.  He also thought I had a nice camera.

23 July - This was a long travel day.  I was sorry to leave Bharmour, but wanted to get back to McLeod Ganj.  I left at 7:30am, changed buses at Chamba at 11:00, and continued along a beautiful road, eating rajma dal and rice at the Hotel Hill Top ("This place good, safe to eat. You eat here. Ten minutes, challo," the bus driver told me).  The first part of the bus ride was particularly beautiful.  It made the ten hours of bus riding more tolerable.

Another view from the ten-hour bus trip from Chamba back to McLeod Ganj. I took this photo this out the bus window as we rumbled past, and was pleased to see that it came out well when I saw it at home.

On my way up to McLeod Ganj, up the hill from Dharamsala, I met Tenzin, a Tibetan woman who knew everyone from the Tibet Connection who was living here.

Upon my arrival, I met a street hawker who tried to get me to go to Ketan Lodge.  "Yes, I'm going there now, actually," I replied. 

"I just show you, just five minutes away.  New hotel, good hotel." 

"Yes, I'm going.  See?  I already have your card."  I took out a Ketan Lodge business card I had from before, which he took and examined thoroughly.

"This is very good!"

And it was indeed.  I got a superb room at the Ketan Lodge, just down Jogibara Road from the Hotel Ladies Venture and barely past the Japanese vegetarian restaurant. The views were nothing less than magnificent, and waking up to see these mountains and the Kangra Valley sprawling out below was such a privilege. I had two balconies, large airy windows, a decent-sized room, and a bathroom that worked, unlike the one in Bharmour. The hotel was away from the main McLeod-Ganj area and was quiet. Hotel Ladies Venture, sadly, no longer had fantastic views because the large trees had grown even larger, obscuring the view. But also, Ketan Lodge was a very new place, only two months old, and I was one of the first handful of guests to stay there. And at 300Rs for such a room (with a TV and a big comfortable bed), I was quite happy to stay here.

And was even happier after I ate a masala dosa at McLlos later that evening!!!

This photo was taken the next morning, 24 July, shortly after waking up.

Another morning view from Ketan Lodge on Jogibara Road on McLeod Ganj.

I met Rebecca, the Executive Producer for The Tibet Connection, at the vegetarian Japanese restaurant Lung-Ta for lunch.  She was even busier than usual due to the unusual amount of Tibetan activity of the last few months and the furor surrounding the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  But I think that the angle she frequently brings to her articles and radio segments is a unique one, often putting a face on events, personalizing it instead of reciting statistics.

And for us, it couldn't help but be personal.  Just days ago, we had heard that our friend Nawang had three cousins in Lhasa who had been arrested, two of them tortured.

Note:  The owner of the Japanese restaurant has, at least in part, established Gu Chu Sum to provide the basic needs to the recently arrived former prisoners including housing, employment, medical care, education, job training, and economic assistance. They also provide a library and have helped publish numerous books by ex-political prisoners. Also, volunteers can talk to the ex-political prisoners to help them practice their English skills, something that I did during my stay in McLeod Ganj.

The Himalayas of India:  Ladakh and Dharamsala, Summer 2008
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