Along the Away

a traveler's tales

Some places go straight to my heart before I’ve even been there five minutes – Dharamsala is definitely one of those. Another twisty turny 6 hour drive from Mandi and we pull into the town’s narrow windy roads choked with traffic: crawling cars and faster pedestrians. Home of the Dalai Lama, and many of the Tibetans in exile, spiritually is in the air. Set high in the mountains with Buddhist monks in their red robes walking the winding streets and colourful prayers flags flapping in the wind, I am at peace the second I arrive.

There is a lot to do here but no hurry to do it in. I have an urge to come back even before I’ve left. It’s the kind of place I would like to spend a month of my life some time, taking leisurely walks in the mornings, learning yoga and meditation, art and cooking classes, and spending lazy afternoons reading in any of the numerous cozy cafes. It’s a place that recharges the soul – I certainly feel a lift in mine just being here, one I need after three months dealing with India.

I visited the Norbulingka Institute where Tibetan refugees learn the traditional arts and crafts of Tibet, ensuring their culture continues strongly even in exile. As well as walking around the peaceful grounds, there is the opportunity to peek in some of the studios where artists have their heads down working away, drawing, painting and sculpting. They look up and give visitors a quick smile and then are heads down at their work again.

There is a lovely cafe outside where we have morning tea sitting amongst the trees, colourful prayer flags strung up around us. It feels quiet and still, entirely unlike anywhere I’ve been in India previously. The story of Tibet is heartbreaking, all the more so once you sit amongst the peacefulness of their culture.

My group spent three days here in total, and amidst the cafe visits, roadside markets and hours spent browsing in an English book store I did a few of the local walks. There was a particular walk alongside a trickling stream that led up to a waterfall, where a very groovy cafe sits at the very top. There is a somewhat paved, somewhat not path from the town to the top, and along the way there are painted rocks, some with messages and some beautiful illustrations.

Another walk was a bit tricky, I was a bit worried I was going to go rock-sliding (a new sport?) on this one:

I joined a cooking class run by a local man who shared his story about escaping from former Tibet whilst he also demonstrated the art of ‘momos’, a specialty in Tibetan cuisine. We also made noodles and a soup which we got to eat for lunch. I must admit I find the food rather bland in contrast with Indian food (my great food love) so the more subtle Tibetan fare doesn’t stand a chance on my palette.

As much as I have enjoyed exploring the mountains, travel fatigue has started to take hold after three months away. I had become fairly complacent. Where the first couple of months I’d regretfully leave a place, forming attachments and looking back longingly at the end of every experience, I had started to feel fairly detached from places. I liked them, they interested me, but I moved on easily and felt no loss. Dharamsala changed that for me, I left that place begrudgingly, and if I hadn’t been on tour I may have changed the rest of my trip’s plans and spent the remainder there. If not for the fact that on we went to a homestay in the mountains that we had toactually spend a whole day walking too that is! Take me to the mountains, let me walk amongst the trees :-)
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Sydney based, coastal dwelling. When I'm not at work I'm somewhere outdoors, or in the yoga studio, or at my local cafe, or pottering at home.

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