It’s just after 5am when we finally pull in to Mcleod Ganj (the ‘upper’ part of Dharamsala, named after the British Governor of the Punjab) and I stagger off the bus, grateful simply to be alive. The town centre is deserted, with every hotel door shut and not so much as a chai walla in sight. It’s bucketing down, I’m shivering and sneezing and the only place I can find refuge is a dirty doorway. So there I pass a miserable hour, leaning against my backpack and waiting for the sun to rise.
At times like this I curse my wanderlust, wishing I were back in the comfort my elegant Tel Aviv apt. But of course, the darkest hour is always before dawn – in this case literally – and eventually the sky turns from inky black to pale grey, the door is opened by the desk guy and inside I stagger, gratefully. Hallelujah, they have a room. I throw off my wet clothes, not caring where they fall, and climb into bed, where there I sleep deeply for several hours.
When I wake, and check my watch, it’s just after midday and I realise I’m incredibly hungry, having not eaten for the best part of a day. I step outside onto the main drag and immediately my spirits sore. The sun is shining, the air, the air is fresh and smells of pine and cedar and two doors down I spy a café. Ten minutes later, I’m tucking into a plate of delicious momos (Tibetan steamed/pan fried dumplings, akin to Chinese pot stickers or Japanese gyoza).
The accompanying chili sauce sets my mouth on fire, which amuses the waitress. She brings me some broth and a side dish of crushed peanuts which go some way to allying the “head about to explode” sensation I’m feeling. They say your first time is always special. Ten minutes ago I was a momo virgin – despite the fiery chillies; I know I’ll be coming back for more.
Outside, I buy myself a lassi (my mouth is still on fire!) and wander off in the direction of the hills, where I spend the next few hours alone and lost in thought, taking in the spendour of my surroundings. Afterlast night’s hellish journey, I feel a need to kick back for a day. By 6pm I’m back at the cafe and ready for a light supper – cabbage and potato momos with mild chutney and a side dish of curd (there’s only so much hot stuff a girl can take). I am assured by the staff there that they’ll be open bright and early for breakfast. I’m figuring chhurpi cheese (a local delicacy, made with buttermilk) momos with a tomato sauce will hit the spot after a good night’s sleep. And so off I stroll, back to my room, where I take a lukewarm shower and curl up with “A Simple Path – Basic Buddhist Teachings.” Tomorrow I’ll start nourishing my spirit.