Once Upon A Winter In Dharamshala

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A Himalayan vacation in heaven!

“Momos. I smell momos”, my sister yelled, as the wafting aroma of fresh momos and thick hot sauces dragged us into a quaint little café on the main street in Dharamshala. Tinkling wind chimes adorned the wooden doorway and lines of colourful prayer flags, fluttered in the cool breeze. The warm fireplace was a welcome respite from the bitter cold outside. We quickly settled in, went through the menu and placed our orders. I hummed along as the Tibetan prayer mantra, ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ played in the background.

“I’ll have a cup of Tibetan butter tea along with the momos”, I told the server.

It was going to be my very first time, tasting Tibetan butter tea. The experimental and eccentric side of me had clearly taken over.

As our order was being prepared, I glanced outside the large window I was seated beside. My attention was captured by a group of monks clad in garnet red and ochre yellow robes strolling down the street. Something unusual, or so I thought, caught my eye. Could those be donations made by some very charitable and generous people? It had to be right? I doubt they could afford it themselves. But I guess I’ll never really know, I thought to myself as I spotted some of the monks holding iPhones, while some wore branded shoes.

Dharamshala
Mountains of Dharamshala

“They have to be donations”, said my sister as we got into a discussion about our observations of the monks.

Few minutes into our discussion, we were interrupted by the aromas of the momos and hot sauces. Our order arrived quickly and was served to us in a pretty bamboo basket with chopsticks.

After a few bites of the delectable momos, it was now time to taste the Tibetan butter tea. I geared up in excitement and looked forward to tasting it. As I took the first sip, my nose crinkled, eyes squinted and lips puckered at the unexpected salty and extremely creamy flavour. I nearly spat it out in dismay. Laughter erupted at the table.

“Ugh, this definitely requires an acquired taste. Eating a lemon wedge would’ve been better”, I told my sister as she continued to laugh at my expense.

After much deliberation, I sipped on the rest of the tea while trying to keep a straight face. My very first twisted experience of the Tibetan butter tea was going to stay with me forever!

Dharamshala

The pleasant weather cheered us on as we headed to the famed Norbulingka institute. Built in traditional Tibetan architecture by a Japanese architect years ago, the institute boasts of being centered around delightful Japanese style zen gardens and a pond. Impressive Tibetan art and culture from centuries ago are preserved at the institute. The ‘Thangka paintings’, a sacred but complicated art form are created using colourful threads to form tapestries. These paintings depict Buddhist deities and mystical scenes and events from the lives of the deities. The institute also houses a ginormous library containing Tibetan works and archives collected over the years.

Once we entered the main temple area, a sense of calm, quiet, peace, and tranquility took over. We gazed in awe at the 14ft. golden gilded statue of The Lord Buddha statue, amazed by its grandiosity and massiveness as it glimmered in the sunlight. We observed the prayer wheels placed beside the statue and the mantras inscribed on them, gradually heading to the prayer area to spend a few minutes in prayer and meditation.

We left the institute with newfound knowledge about Tibetan art and culture and proceeded to spend the rest of the day exploring the surrounding areas on foot. Everywhere we looked were sweeping astounding views of the mighty mountains and luscious dark green fir and pine trees. The sky, was blue and clear and the clouds looked like soft cotton balls, embracing each other; it was a magical sight to witness.

dharamshala

Tired after all the walking, we stopped at a roadside stall for some evening tea and maggi. As we waited for our vehicle to arrive, we noticed a lady (old enough to be our grandmother) sitting all by herself in a corner. She was dressed in the ‘Kho’, a traditional Sikkimese dress that really interested us. We went up to her and introduced ourselves and she welcomed us with a warm and gentle smile. The wrinkles on her face and gray and white strands of hair revealed moments, experiences, adventures, memories, and laughter from a lifetime.

“Where have y’all come from?”, she asked.

“From Mumbai, we’re here on a vacation,” I answered.

She looked excited as she recalled memories of her travels.

“I too travelled a lot when I was younger, just like you girls”. “Dharamshala, too is just a stop, I will go back to Bangalore after this and eventually head back to my hometown in Shillong”.

She spoke about her husband too, who was a constant companion on all her travels. He was no more, nevertheless she continued to travel to places they had planned on visiting together.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke of him.

“When he was alive, he kept me very happy and we travelled a lot together. You should also find yourselves such partners, who you can travel with”, she advised as we smiled at her and nodded in agreement.

She even went onto sing a Sikkimese song for us. We applauded once she finished and thanked for being so kind. Meeting her felt so refreshing and inspiring and the impromptu song felt like an icing on the cake.

As we arrived back at our hotel, I stared in amazement at the setting sun’s blazing rays, spread over the enormous and vast mountains that stood just outside the hotel. The top of the mountains was clad in snow while the sun’s rays gave it a vibrant and fiery orange hue and the bottom half of the mountain was filled with a fusion of purples and pinks melting into one another.

We stopped at the hotel’s restaurant for tea. I relished each moment while sipping the hot cup of masala chai, the flavour slowly filling my palate making me think how important the saying is, ‘stop and smell the roses’. Dharamshala taught me the art of slowing down, to soak in the moments, to cherish conversations and colours, cause life, I realised is all about the little things that makes us happy!

We hope that this article has inspired you to plan a trip to Dharamshala. If you have any questions or tips about the destination please leave them in the comments below.

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This article is contributed by our Guest Writer Nimmi Mathai for Postcard Thursdays Column.

About Author

Nimmi Mathai is a writer & editor by profession who specializes in travel, food, beauty and lifestyle. She loves to travel and explore new destinations and whenever possible, makes sure to book a window seat. She’s also an unsophisticated foodie who loves trying out new cuisines. A writer by day and reader by night she’s always looking out for new destinations to mark out on her map.

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Nivi Selvaraj
Hey you! I’m Nivi Selvaraj, an Indian backpacker with an insatiable thirst for offbeat experiences from around the world. A travel curious soul who loves the smell of books and gets high on food. I thrive my soul on travel, art and adventures. I believe in responsible travel and support local communities in whatever ways I can. I majorly focus on budget, solo travel with a keen fondness on culturally diverse and immersive experiences. I take you to destinations less travelled, while I narrate unfiltered, raw experiences from the road, delivering it right into your inbox, in a hope that someone, somewhere will be inspired to pack their bags to explore the world! Ride along for an unabated dose of travel tales, tips and tricks. Let’s begin, shall we?
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