Travel story contributor: Abhinav Singh

When Delhi was burning in May heat, I impulsively took a bus from the Himachal Government Tourism Office in Connaught Place, Delhi but not before devouring the Delhi famous deep fried spicy aaloo-chaat.

Next day, early morning, I reached the cooler Dharamsala, a far cry from the sultry and sweaty Delhi. I stood by the boundary wall of the bus stop and admired the serene valley around and its unique flora and fauna, some of which I had never seen before! For e.g. the much darker and plump blackish sparrow and crows, furry , soft-toyish and mostly sleepy street dogs.

The moment I landed in McLeodGanjThe first view after I got down from the bus | Sleepy stray

Just few minutes walk up from there, comes the main center of Dharamsala, bustling with people, back-packers, monks, shops, bakeries, market , massage parlors, noodles-cart, momo sellers, all of them females, restaurants for all budgets and most cuisines, temples , the works ! All of this is concentrated in a very small charming area which is best explored on foot. Impatient to see a monastery for the first time, I asked people for the directions. Everyone was directing me to the famous and obvious destination Tsuglagkhang Complex. But one of them mentioned a hidden monastery called Namgyal monastery down the road. I chose the road less traveled.

Few minutes into the walk, I discovered the yellow monastery hiding shyly behind the dense conifer foliage. It sits pretty oblivious of the hustle and bustle of the commercial area, few minutes walk away. I was surprised to find not a single tourist there. Only few monks, going about their daily routine filled the space. I stepped inside hesitantly to discover a huge Budhdha figure sitting peacefully. Having whole of monastery to myself, I had the freedom to soak in the ambiance; observe, admire and photograph the peaceful place. The air was fresh and pious. Apart from spacious courtyard and manicured gardens, there were resident quarters for the monks. The place was impeccably neat, disciplined, clean, and orderly.

After exploring the area at a leisurely pace, I moved upwards to the more popular Tsuglagkhang Complex, which is credited for being the biggest Tibetan temple outside of Tibet. I entered the nondescript courtyard and took the stairs to the prayer/meditation hall above. It had a prayer hall and an open air space, every inch of which was occupied by devotees reciting their prayer. I was impressed by beautiful sights and sounds and of course pleasant weather!

Coming out mesmerized from my experience in the temple, I halted at the Tibet museum nearby. I was interested in learning about Tibet history, its freedom struggle and the atrocities faced by the victims of this struggle. The museum mainly focuses on these themes only using pictures to tell the story. There is a documentary like video being played in one corner showing bone-chilling real life scenes of victims and their stories.

Inside Tibet museumInside the Tibet Museum

Once done with the mandatory walk, I was strolling solo and aimlessly in the streets when my eyes stopped at a poignant scene. A group of Buddhist child monks stared curiously at kids playing around during their recess time. I stood there, wondering whether the highly disciplined life led by these children monks is making them miss the fun of childhood.

Child Monks looking at regular children during recess in a schoolChildren monks as bystanders look at school students playing in their school premises during lunch.

Do they crave to live the life of a regular kid or are they not affected (maybe temporarily?) by it! Do they crave to sing loudly? Goof up? Bully each other? Play football? Watch Bollywood films? Play video-games? I don’t have the answer yet. Maybe in my next trip, I will try to dig deeper and find my answers.