Postcards from McLeodganj

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Life has always surprised me with nuclear bombs when I was praying for some pretty fireworks.

I have always thought of myself as a “mountain-person” due to my tendency of getting bored of the beaches too soon and too easily. Ever since I discovered McLeodganj through Instagram, I have waited impatiently to gather the best company that I could and head over to the land that’s fondly called the ‘Little Lhasa of India’.  

Now McLeodganj is a good 10 hours away from Delhi if you’re taking the road. Add to it another 2 hours in the flight and 2 hours of waiting at the airport.

Now imagine doing all this on the second day of your period.

That’s right – just the day before my flight, aunt flo decided to pay a visit.

Last-minute disappointments in my life are just as regular as corporate slaves stabbing their keyboards in a Starbucks outlet.

Periods make me emotional with my hormones doing their own crazy dance and I didn’t want to be sullen and peevish while I was finally taking the trip that I’d been looking forward to for years now. After accepting the fact that there was nothing I could do about the situation, I prepped myself mentally and packed a good 30% of my luggage case with sanitary napkins.

Thankfully, the bus ride was extremely comfortable and things stayed in place without making me “go red” in shame (or horror).

I caught my first glimpse of the mountains at around 6:30 AM when a sharp turn of our bus woke me up while we were a couple minutes away from our destination. The snow-clad Himalayas seemed to have worn a golden hat with the sun slowly making is way above them.

Before this moment, I hadn’t been able to imagine what people exactly meant when they described an experience as ‘breathtaking’.

The sheer calm and simplicity of the place put me at ease in such a way that not even a single cramp could bother me. I, along with 3 other friends of mine, did quite a long but an easy trek all the way up to the Bhagsunag Waterfall, and then another one in Dainkund, Dalhousie two days later.

Stomach cramps after all that trekking? Nope. Much to my surprise, it was, in fact, a happy period!

When I was preparing for this trip, I did quite a lot of reading about the place’s culture and history. I’m geeky like that. I was looking forward to seeing monks strolling casually on the streets, visit beautiful monasteries, walk along the streets lined by the Deodar trees on both sides and hog on all the local delicacies that the place had to offer. Oh, and I wanted to collect pinecones, lots of them!

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I did all of that and much more.

I’ve always found it difficult to reach out to people; even my own friends. I’m always afraid of “bothering others” with my “concerns”. What if people don’t get what I’m trying to say? Or worse, what if people think that my worries are pointless?

The thought of getting my fears and doubts invalidated by those I count on makes me feel like I’ve been kicked hard in my gut.

Hence, I always refrain from initiating conversations; the burden of keeping the conversation alive feels a bit too heavy to me.

Vicky, our cab driver who was introduced to us by our Airbnb host, turned out to be an easy-going and a very pleasant chap. I thought it would be rude to sit in the passenger’s seat with my earphones plugged in, so I sat there hoping that he doesn’t try to force any conversations.

He would occasionally point at a temple or an important building to tell us about its significance as briefly as he could. I liked how perfect the length of our conversations was.

It was as if we had some sort of a mutual agreement between us to give each other company without getting into each other’s space.

On our way back, we had to get down at a café which was a good 30-minute walk away from our Airbnb. The plan was to end our cab ride and get down at the café, and eventually walk our way back to our accommodation. Vicky being the sweet soul that he was told us that he had no trouble waiting for us.

Aap log akele andhere mein chalkar jaane se behtar hai ki mein ruk jaaun. Aadhe ghante ke liye toh ruk hi sakta hun” (I’d rather wait for you to come back than let you girls walk back in the dark. I can surely wait for half an hour.)

Was it normal for cab drivers to be this concerned?

My first thought was to find out what his motive for being so considerate was, but he had none.

When we booked another cab ride on our own, our Airbnb host went out of her way to ensure that the cab driver was a reliable person. Whether she did so out of genuine concern or as a precaution to avoid any possible trouble for her own sake is another topic altogether, but she did what she did and it made me realize that it’s possible for people to care for you irrespective of the duration of time that they’ve known you for. I’d been sceptical about her since the beginning, thanks to my never-trust-anyone policy. But unexpectedly, she turned out to be yet another pleasant acquaintance on the trip.

Wow! I’d never thought that it could be so easy to forge connections with strangers.

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People here in McLeodganj seemed to trust each other a little too much. A tea-stall owner would leave his stall unattended without the fear of having people leave without paying; cab drivers would gladly let their fellow drivers take passengers instead of cutting each other’s throats for the sake of making as many bucks as they could; people were not worried about pick-pocketers even when the streets were at their busiest in the evenings; monks as young as 5 and 6 years old would walk on the streets without the fear of strangers bothering them.

We also saw a monk who walked in sports shoes, clicked tonnes of pictures using his smart-phone, and posed readily when I requested to click his picture.

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What even was this place? Is it even safe to trust each other to this extent? Are people everywhere so easy-going?

People here lived from hand to mouth. They woke up, went out to earn their daily bread, came back to their families and took a good night’s rest before they could wake up and take on another day. People here worked hard, even those whose backs were bent from the burden of age. They would either play a musical instrument in a corner of the street or prepare a small quantity of eatables to sell.

People here refused to beg. No matter how tiny the earnings were, they would make sure that it came in exchange of hard work.

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How did a tiny town of barely educated people understand the rules of life better than the “highly educated” metropolitan lot? This goes to show that ethics and education clearly are independent concepts.

This place had slowly started to feel like home. By the end of our trip, I realised that a sense of familiarity would accompany me whenever I walked on the streets.

I would smile at random strangers and they would smile back!

This was strange because hey, I’m not supposed to trust strangers and unfamiliar places right? I learnt that as a child and grew up practising that. Was it possible for connections to grow so deep so quickly?

As clichéd as it sounds, this trip turned out to be way more than what we’d expected it to be. It taught me how gorgeous people can be if I just let myself see them for what they are without constantly judging them in my head.

It taught me how beautiful our own kind is.

McLeodganj, you definitely have my heart!

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