For one reason or another, so far I have always pushed back my first encounter with the Himalayan region of the world. As I was planning my manic geographical take on the whole of Asia for the past three years, I knew it would have been an important part of my trip. I also knew that It would not have come too soon. Finally, as my Journey to the West turns Eastwards because of a border block – Pakistan -, we have travelled from the golden city of Amritsar and its temple in Punjab, to the border town Pathankot. Here, together with Himachal Pradesh, a new dimension was bound to start: a world where distances are not measured in kilometers but bends and hours, a world where people get easily lost – on mountain tracks or in life -, and where the culinary borders have introduced an amazing form of steamed dumplings called “momos”.
It took us around 3 hours to cover the 90 kilometers to Dharamshala and its nest Mcleodganj, literally the Las Vegas of Tibetan Buddhism: arriving just after dusk, the assault of lights in the small main square can only confuse you. One of the worst first impressions ever; but after all, it is best not to judge a book by its cover. Mcleodganj is a pleasant place, especially its surroundings. If you can tolerate the satellite districts of Baghsu and Dharamkhot which fill up quickly with charas smoking Israelis and revelation seeking foreigners of all kinds, sizes and colors, if you can forgive and forget, and head out to the mountains, you will find some incredible places to explore.
The outer Himalayan Dhaulad range is easily accessible in a day trek to Triund, a 2875 meters-high peak which will make you feel like you are about to be crushed by the mountains. The dwarfing sensation is not easily reproduced on paper: try to imagine walking up a mountain for three hours, finishing off the last kilometer climbing over snow. And as you arrive to the top, be reminded by one of God’s fingernails that you are as small as a cockroach. And as such, you deserve to be crushed, gushing disgusting juices all around.
A Tibetan monk walked with us for the last hour: he does this hike once per month, to keep healthy. He had the tiny glasses and the typical curiosity of someone who has definitely met way too many humans. Apparently, there is no race he has not talked to. But after a while he stops talking and becomes a silent figure in that maroon robe, he loses interest in us. Not too bad because the mountains have by now taken all of the available attention. Huge, massive boulders, breaking up into snowlines reflecting the sunlight like unnatural mirrors. It is difficult to look elsewhere as they are so white, pure, and pristine. Similar to the features of a goddess… if we may compare to something we have never seen thus far.
I am excited to think that for the next month or two I will be lucky enough to immerse myself into this incredible part of the world, as it is like another. We are exiting Himachal and Uttarkhand fast to enter Nepal as most of the Northern routes in Himachal are still snowed over… this means that I will have to come back during another future summer to reach Leh and the Tibetan settlements up North. Although a bit saddened by this, I look forward to a bright future after a meeting in Khatmandu next week… and this summer, we will possibly look at Ladakh from the opposite of the border. Which country, I am still unsure of. And by far, I am enjoying the views and the chirping of hundreds of birds sounding so refreshing and nice after two months of “the other India”, one made up of cows, chaos and a bit less of a different kind of magic.