Dharamshala’s experience - a traveller
Dharamshala represents a unique experience both for cricket and otherwise.
Dharamshala is a wonderful place to experience human tranquility. The Tibetan influence is pronounced. Of course Tibetans have made it their home after the Dalai Lama fled to India, escaping Chinese capture when part of their land was occupied. Apart from that, the ‘Pahadi,’ that is the Himachal Pradesh resident is a peaceful, well spoken, well mannered and courteous entity.
One doesn’t feel there is any hypocrisy in the dealings or hospitality of the people. Tourism is a major earner and the citizens of this mountainous land respect that. As a population, Himachal is defined as simple and middle class. Of course, there are qualified people and doctors and lawyers but the feeling among the average person is of a ‘live off the land’ philosophy, something the brazen outside world is trying to adopt in parts.
After the India-Pakistan partition of 1947, many Punjabis in Pakistan lost their lands and the Indian Government handed these previously rich feudal barons some lands in Himachal Pradesh. Of course, one cannot, as an outsider, buy land in the state. Again, the amity that exists among ethnic groups even if temperamentally and culturally different is worth seeing. While language is not a barrier between Indians, one notes how well the Tibetans have adapted to their new land and equally, the people of Himachal in accepting them. Of course, minor concerns are there as there will be when two different cultures have to occupy the same land within a span of barely 50 years.
Restaurants run by Tibetans thrive here, many serving a multi cuisine menu even offering Indian dishes. When you hear them conveying your order to their kitchens, having first struck you as Indians from the North east, you suddenly realize they are a completely different people but yet have adapted superbly. Since immigration from Tibet to India is an ongoing process, many reach these restaurants to work in the kitchens and do not yet have a good grasp of Indian languages. It thrills you even more. The scenario is much like the gradual influx of Chinese workers in Singapore.
Some typical scenes seen at a small Tibetan restaurant - A group of boys from interior Punjab land up with bag and baggage for a new experience of a holiday. Their suitcases are by them as they struggle to convey their order to the Tibetan kitchen staff. Finally, a 30-something year old Tibetan frequenting the restaurant breaks out in such fluent Hindi that you’d feel embarrassed if yours is not the proper type. He helps the kitchen staff understand what their customers are trying to convey. Everybody’s relaxed. But there’s more.
Our Tibetan in flawless Hindi goes on to describe facts like Chinese aggression and people’s reaction. Every time the kitchen staff says something to him, you are reminded of his actual nationality. Your next thought as an Indian is “Imagine if I have to learn my own national language from a Tibetan!”
To reach Dharamshala by air is a one-hour flight from Delhi where you actually alight at Kangra airport which is at a base level. Next is the half hour drive to Dharamshala atop the hills. About eight kilometers further to a peak is the place everybody wants to visit for an evening out – McLeodganj. There is a patronized monastery which catches your eye. Also at large is a restaurant-pub Mcello. It has hosted even celebrities like Piece Brosnan for a cocktail and dinner evening. Simply put McLeodganj can be described as ‘happening.’
Although Himachal Pradesh is a region without major industry and only a recently growing strength in cricket (their Ranji Trophy team is in the upper tier of the championship, that is, the Elite league), the people adore all cricketers. Thanks to that medium, the TV. Far from being a neutral region for Kings XI Punjab to host some of their matches, it is a home venue; the franchise encompasses Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Haryana and was the first to be a state franchise whereas others are city franchises. Recently Kochi Tuskers Kerala added themselves as a team in the IPL thereby giving a fragrance of being a franchise with a ‘state influence.’
Himachal Pradesh’s people are therefore quite chauvinistic of the Kings XI Punjab team, considering themselves a part of them. It’s quite touching to see how the world outside has influenced even simple rural dwellers in Himachal. As the player’s convoy passes by, crowds, thinner in number of course for the sheer population of the town, throng the roads and wave at the cricketers. Girls drool over their favourite stars hoping to catch a glimpse of them.
It’s this consumer interest that helps the people of the larger region of Punjab and the neighbouring states forge an alliance. Of course, differences of thought will be there between the distinct Cricket Associations but none that time can’t resolve amicably.
Of course the major attraction is a visit to the Dalai Lama’s abode. Jharna waterfalls are another attraction. Of course cricket is the main focus during this hectic travelling schedule but time permitting, teams make an effort to visit these places of interest. During this trip, the Royal Challengers were scarcely able to visit anywhere because of their schedule and also an unscheduled change of hotels. On their return via Delhi, the group was split into two on different flights. One group managed to salvage three hours and visit the waterfalls. For the others, well, maybe another time!
Check out a video of a drive down from McLeodganj, through Dharamshala and towards the airport (Kangra) as we return: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAXkzwWKlLw