Would you like to meet the Dalai Lama's personal chef?
Angus and Dougal Hutchison travelled to India with Audley
"Would you like to meet the Dalai Lama’s personal chef?” asked our guide as we wandered round Dharamsala, home of the world’s most famous Buddhist.
Eagerly my Dad and I said yes, and our guide introduced us to a modest maroon-robed monk strolling through the temple. He was just about to leave for his own lunch but stopped courteously for us to take a photo.
I’ve wanted to visit Dharamsala, where the Tibetan government-in-exile resides, ever since I ran the Buddhism and Meditation Society at university. However, Dharamsala is not an easy place to get to.
When we turned up at our hotel in McLeod Ganj, a small suburb of Dharamsala, after a winding nine-hour drive from Shimla, I was excited to learn that we were living next door to Tibetan Buddhism’s figurehead. Though, unfortunately, he wasn’t in town. A more achievable goal than meeting him is perhaps visiting the rather good pizza restaurant underneath his temple – though the temptation to ask “can you make me one with everything?” should be resisted at all costs.
Dharamsala is a popular pilgrimage destination, and it’s easy to see why so many people make the journey into this northwest corner of India. The Namgyal Monastery, which sits in the Kangra Valley below Dharamsala, is exquisitely placed in front of the looming mountains of the outer Himalaya. But often the places you knew less about before a trip can be equally memorable. As much as I wanted to visit Dharamsala, Delhi, Agra, Shimla and Amritsar, an unexpected highlight of the trip was Rishikesh. Also located in northern India, it’s famed for yoga and the Beatles - the band composed many songs here.
There were no pop tunes playing now though – all we could hear from our wooden balcony was the flowing river. Our only companions were macaque and langur monkeys, peering at us inquisitively through the trees. On our final morning I got the chance to kayak in the beautiful green Ganges River. As we paddled away from the sandy shore, my guide told me stories about deer swimming past his camp after falling into the river. I asked him about the vibrant colour of the Ganges. “It’s like a mirror,” he replied, “reflecting the trees, wooded banks and hills that surround the water on either side.” It was the ideal way to end the trip – a peaceful chance to reflect, like the river, on our diverse adventures.
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