Slow travel is the latest “IT” word in the travel industry. People from all over the planet are raving and writing so much about the benefits of slow travel, that you often wonder if the joy of lazing on a hammock on the beach was ever discovered. The truth is that despite my snarky comment, slow travel was indeed a lost art for quite some time. Vacation planning, traveling, and frenetic sightseeing had taken precedence because the hard working folks wanted full utilization of their holiday time and money. However, with the new trend of young professionals ditching their careers for traveling, slow travel has once again become popular and the lazy hippie ways are making a comeback. Moreover, traveling itself has started paying back and thus, it makes sense to go easy on it. Not too long ago, I used to be one of the lucky few whose job made her travel like crazy and it taught me the art of slowing down. I learned to relax, unravel, breathe easier, listen to my body and soak myself completely into my new environment. When you travel for work, it is quite understandable that your schedule is hectic and holidays are meant for being lazy. My Dharamkot trip is a perfect example of that, and I was not even supposed to be there.
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Dalai Lama and a change of plans
My original destination was Bir, the paragliding hub in Himachal Pradesh in India. A friend of mine has a flying school there and I was invited to go paragliding with him. While I was on my way to Bir, a frantic request from my editor to score an interview with His Holiness, Dalai Lama, made me change my plans and I landed up on a Dharamkot trip instead. Though HH Dalai Lama‘s abode was in the famous Dharamshala, crowd, traffic and muddy roads put me off and I headed for the neighbouring Dharamkot. I stayed there holed up for a few days in a small inn, while eagerly waiting for the arrival of HH Dalai Lama. But as luck would have it, some urgent matters canceled his visit at the last minute and I ended up making the detour on my vacation in vain. Dharamkot, however, was so exceptionally relaxing and pretty that I quite liked it there. Despite being within the walking distance of Dharamshala, it was peaceful, tranquil and the air smelled sweeter. Being smack in the middle of the rainy season, hardly any days went without being wet and I stayed at Dharamkot for one entire week. The downpour created messy roads and traffic problems while painting the landscape a dazzling fresh green. Everything looked more alive, more beautiful and the sky was impossibly grey blue. The North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh is by its own right a very picturesque place and the rain made it lovelier. Glistening rain drops sparkled on the pine trees and the richly coloured sky contrasted brilliantly with the dazzling snow capped mountains, green valleys, and bountiful orchards.
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When time slowed down on my Dharamkot trip
Perhaps it was the rain or the tranquility of Dharamkot which made me slow down and my days were spent reading, napping, walking and being kind to my body. Being on a physically challenging contractual job made me prone to frequent burn outs and it felt simply blissful to just do nothing. The restful body calmed down my whirring mind too and I found myself sleeping better, eating healthier and getting up in the morning without feeling tired. Call it a wellness break or a slow traveling experience, my Dharamkot trip was definitely very relaxing. My toughest decisions were choosing between walking around the fragrant pine forests or eating out at various small restaurants scattered all over the slope; and in a rat race world like ours, that was closest to which I could attain simple living. To many, it may sound monotonous, but there is something mindlessly soothing about having the same routine every day. Only once, did an impromptu Tibetan dance festival lighten up a gloomy afternoon and the splash of mountain costumes against the Himalayan chants was an amazing sight. Sometimes, on clear days, I exhausted myself by hiking through the rhododendron forests of Dharamkot and rainy evenings always guaranteed gently swaying on a hammock with a book. Mountain nights depending on whether clear or stormy can be either magnificent or terrifying and more than once during my stay thunderstorms ripped out the electricity to the village. Those nights were scarily long; mostly spent huddling under blankets by a flickering candle and watching lightning tear violet streaks across inky black nights. Time seemed to move at its slowest then and I stayed awake until flame driven moths left powdery traces of their wings against my window.
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Moving on before boredom settles in
Post stormy nights, Dharamkot, mornings always dawned crystal clear. The air was so sweet that you could almost taste it in your mouth. Birds chattered endlessly outside my window and the rain swollen waterfalls could be heard from the terrace. My late naps usually on such mornings ended with heavy traditional Indian breakfasts, after which acute restlessness used to set it. As long as I can remember, restlessness has always been a struggle for me and it continues to hinder my complete indulgence in slow travel. Even during my Dharamkot trip, I used to hike around the forests like a real wild child, until my energy would get snapped up. With a small packed lunch, water bottle and a hiking stick, I roamed for hours, stopping only to collect fallen rhododendron blossoms and listen to the cries of unseen birds echoing through the valleys below. Those were some of my finest travel moments, and even now, upon closing my eyes, I can smell the fresh pine needles crunching beneath my boots. The hikes always began and concluded the same way; by following, groups of saffron robed monks to and from Dharamkot, with a light dinner at my favourite eatery at night. Needless to say, this got mundane soon and before I knew it, boredom crept in. Slow travel was good as long as it lasted and finally, I came to terms with the fact, that perhaps it was completely not meant for me. Moving on was more of my style and at that time, my friend‘s renewed invitation for paragliding came as a welcome respite.
How to reach
The best way to reach Dharamkot is by bus from Delhi to Dharamshala (also known as Mcleodganj). The buses leave from ISBT and Majnu ka Tilla and are suitable for all budget. The comforts vary according to the bus fare and it takes around 11 hours to reach Dharamshala. The quiet village of Dharamkot is around 30 minutes walk (2 kilometers) from Dharamshala bus station and you can also take an autorickshaw to reach there.
When to visit
April – June is the best time to visit Dharamkot. Winters can be very cold there and July – September is avoidable due to the heavy monsoon. October and November are also pretty nice, and the prices are much lower than in summer.
Stay and Dine
There are many inns, guest houses and homestays at Upper and Lower Dharamkot. I stayed at the Dharamkot Inn and found it to be pretty comfortable. Dharamkot is a delicious destination and one can enjoy Indian and western dishes at one of the many restaurants there. Do not miss eating out at the very popular Trek and Dine cafe. The food lovers may try the delicious Bhagsu cake, the best sample of which is available at the Moonlight Cafe. There are also some restaurants serving only vegetarian and vegan food. Many restaurants and homestays offer cooking classes too. Like most Himalayan hill stations in India, herb and fruit based alcohol are easily found at Dharamkot. Grocery shops sell many varieties of Himalayan fruit wines and apple cedar. Try the Rhododendron wine, if you are feeling adventurous or skip alcohol completely.
Things to Do
For such a small village, Dharamkot offers an incredible array of meditation and yoga courses, alternative therapies and workshops. It is a hippie base too, though most travelers find it tranquil and peaceful. The best way to enjoy Dharamkot is by walking around the lovely nature in which it nestles. It is a great place for unwinding, reading a book, relaxing and slow travel in general. For those looking for some spiritual healing, there are the Tushita Buddhist Meditation Center. A beautiful, colourful Tibetan style monastery, Tushita offers programs like the 10 days discovering Buddhism course. There is a daily guided meditation course at 9.30am held in the beautifully decorated Tibetan gompa next to the Dhamma Sikhara Vipassana Meditation Centre. Since Tushita is extremely popular, book ahead in advance. Dharamkot is also very popular as a base for treks such as the Triund, Illaqua and Indrahar Pass. Alternatively, you can book a single or multiple days local village and countryside hike and start off with the neighbouring village of Bhagsu. For a more action-packed day, head to the Dalai Lama Monastery, which is also known as the Tsuglagkhang Complex. Spend time at the Tibetan Museum, eat momos and other Tibetan food and volunteer with the refugees. You may also stand a chance to attend an audience with HH Dalai Lama himself if he is in town.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE