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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

A walk in the clouds

August 17, 2008

The view of the Himalayas from Triund
Adrian Murphy
Business 24-7
August 15, 2008

Dharamshala -- To be anywhere near the Himalayas is a thrilling
experience; the sheer size of the mountain range, with its
snow-capped peaks, is a breathtaking sight.

With my starting point in the Indian capital of New Delhi, my mission
was to travel to Triund, a mountain walk 11km above Dharamshala, a
municipal council in northern Himachal Pradesh, to see some of the
world's tallest mountains.

Not only would this visit allow me to see one of nature's wonders but
would also give me a chance to understand a little more about the
Tibetan exiles who have inhabited the slopes of Dharamshala and the
town of McLeod Ganj since 1959.

Getting to Dharamshala from Delhi is fairly easy. Gaggal Airport, to
which there are many flights from the capital, is 15km away from
McLeod Ganj. There are also plenty of buses shuttling people up the
winding mountain roads – levels of comfort differing from mildly
bumpy to white-water-rafting-bumpy.

But instead of the one-hour flight and the two hours it takes from
Gaggal Airport, my friend and I, an Indian expatriate, decided to
drive the 520km, a 17-hour road trip that would take us through the
myriad roads of the capital and through three states.

I would not recommend this journey for the faint of heart, having
witnessed two accidents along the way. But driving through the Indian
countryside and stopping off at various roadside canteens for dal
(le-ntils) and roti (Indian bread) and butter chicken in Punjab, was
an expe-rience in itself.

As it tur-ned out, we had underestimated the journey. Setting out at
the break of dawn, by late evening, we were still 80km or a three
hours' drive away from Dharamshala, thanks to the condition of the
roads. We decided to stay the night at the River View Hotel just
inside the Himachal Pradesh border.

The next morning at eight, our trip resumed as we made the journey up
the mountainside under clear blue skies. The potholed and gravel
roads however did not seem to stop the buses, packed with tourists
from the nearby state of Punjab, some seated on the roof hurtling
past at what seemed like 100km per hour.

We passed through Dharamshala, endearingly called Little Lhasa by its
people -- after the Tibetan capital – and arrived in McLeod Ganj, a
bustling town that is distinctly Tibetan, although still very much a
part of India. McLeod Ganj is an old hill station, which used to be a
British garrison from 1850, named after the then governor of Punjab,
Lieutenant David McLeod – and is now the home of the Dalai Lama and
thousands of Buddhist monks in exile.

Once there, we parked and strolled around town, the main streets of
which were full of restaurants and guesthouses highlighting its
popularity with tourists. There were also signs on some of the
buildings offering Tibetan cookery lessons and yoga classes for those
on a longer stay.

A five-minute walk from the main bus station is the Tsuglagkhang
Complex -- the official residence of the Dalai Lama and home to the
Jokang Temple. The complex is filled with statues of Buddha and also
houses the Tibet Museum.

 From here we walked to Nick's Italian Kitchen, which offers an array
of vegetarian and pasta dishes and has a roof terrace looking over
the hills with spectacular views. We then drove to Dharamkot, which
is 2km above McLeod Ganj overlooking the Kangra Valley and at the
foot of the 2,000m high Dhaulhadar range, which are part of the lower
Himalayas.

We stayed at the International Guest House, which was basic but clean
and had views of the surrounding hills.

The guesthouse was among a collection of small lodgings and
restaurants and was just metres away from the start of the pathway to Triund.

Having seen the temple complex and museum it was time to sample some
momos or Tibetan dumplings with various fillings.

Walking around McLeod Ganj, you are constantly reminded that Tibet is
still a disputed country and pictures of atrocities on Tibetans are
plastered on walls and building murals with "Free Tibet" slogans are
also a common sight.

Tibetans are extremely hard working and proud although there is a
distinct lack of investment and permanent jobs in the area.

As we stood near the prayer wheels in the main street, we watched a
peaceful procession which, I am told, takes place every day at
5.30pm, led by Tibetan monks and compatriots holding candles to
highlight their continuing struggle. They were accompanied by
tourists who seemed more than willing to join. After some
refreshments at the McLlo Restaurant (Pierce Brosnan once dined
there), we had an early night ready for the final trek.

The following day we began our ascent to Triund at 7am. After a
two-hour trek, we could see our starting point in the Kangra Valley
and the towns and villages below. Then, halfway into the journey, we
came to a teashop perched on the edge of a cliff, some 2,500m above seal level.

Tired, we decided it was a necessary stop. After this brief tea stop,
we set off again. On the way, we passed a few people descending. One
woman on a donkey gave us encouragement by telling us roughly how
long we had to go. After six tiring hours the glorious Himalayan
mountain range began to open up in front of us. And as we made our
final steps, the steep slopes, which had blocked the view for so
long, began to ease and level out.

The Triund plateau, at 2,900m, is the perfect place to take in the
grandeur of the Himalayan range, rising majestically and with
strength and splendour. It left me speechless: gobsmacked even. My
friend and I stood for 20 minutes staring at the 5,000m high
mountains: the largest things I had ever seen in my life.

Sadly, after 20 minutes, a collection of clouds moved across the
mountain range and obscured our view. Before making our way down we
watched some of the locals play cricket, which could easily have been
the highest game of cricket ever played.

As we rushed back to New Delhi discussing future visits, I realised
that the little taste of heaven I just had was something I would not
have missed for the world.

Essential guide

How to get there

- Air Arabia (airarabia.com) flies direct from Sharjah to New Delhi.

- Emirates (emirates.com) and Air India (airindia.in) both fly daily
from Dubai to New Delhi and Etihad Airways (etihadairways.com) has
flights from Abu Dhabi.

- From New Delhi, there are flights to Gaggal Airport -- 15km
southwest of Dharamshala -- every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Jagson Airways is the carrier and flights cost roughly Dh757 and
there is a 10kg baggage limit. For more information
e-mail sales@destinationtravels.net. Taxis to McLeod Ganj cost Dh30.

Where to stay

McLeod Ganj and Dharamkot have many hotels and rest houses.

- International Hotel, off the Bhagsu Road, offers double rooms with
a shower for Dh30 per night.

- Green Hotel, Bhagsu Road, is a large guesthouse with various sized
rooms from Dh22 to Dh43 and a café that serves breakfast.

- At Triund there is a guesthouse from about Dh17 per night and also
places to pitch a tent and sleep under the stars.

Where to eat

- Nick's Italian Kitchen, Bhagsu Road, is a popular restaurant with
an extensive pasta and vegetarian menu. There are also a few rooms
for boarding and great views.

- McLlo Restaurant, main high street, offers a mixture of North
Indian and Tibetan fare. It is always busy and has a friendly atmosphere.

- Ashoka Restaurant, Jogibara Road, serves Indian food and meat
dishes as well as Chinese food and is a very reasonable Dh7 per person.

Best time to go

Spring is the best time to go as temperatures are around 21°C to
24°C. From April onwards, there are clearer skies, essential for
taking in the amazing scenery. In the winter, much of the lower
Himalayas becomes inaccessible due to snow and frost.

Visas

All foreigners need a visa to visit India and these can be obtained
from the Indian Consulate in Dubai. For for more information go to
cgidubai.com or for the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, visit their
website indembassyuae.org.

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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