Leaving the ashram in Rishikesh was hard, and the bus journey didn’t make things any easier. It was hot, cramped, and bumpy all night. Our Scottish friends, Ewan and Caroline, shared the last row with us, which made things a bit more pleasant sharing the experience. We finally arrived in Dharamsala around 7:30am. The cool mountain air was refreshing, but our lungs couldn’t handle it right away and a wheezing cough lingered for the first day or two. The change in temperature, lack of sleep, and insufficient meals didn’t help the immune system either. Regardless, the endless sea of evergreens nestled within snow-capped mountains was stunning, and the mid-60s weather presented a welcome change.
The Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala in 1959 to escape the tyranny China was inflicting upon Tibet, which continues to this day. As a result, Dharamsala has become a safe haven for thousands of Tibetan refugees who successfully escape their homeland. We visited the Tibet Museum one day and learned about the struggle that has been happening to this peaceful nation for decades. Subsequently, the refugees have filled the town with ornate hand crafts, Buddhist monks, and delicious Tibetan food. Across from the Dalai Lama’s house is the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. There seemed to be more Tibetan language and Buddhism than Hindi and Hinduism. It didn’t even feel like we were in India anymore!
We spent 6 days here and made the most of every minute. One day, we made a trip to the nearby town of Bhagsu and hiked up to a waterfall. The next day we walked to Dal Lake, which provided some scenic photos along the way and the discovery of a wood carving shop that makes a beautiful Tibetan stringed instrument. On Tuesday, we hired a taxi for the day to take the four of us out to the hot springs, about 30 miles away. After a warm dip, we walked over to a nearby river to cool off on the rocks downstream from a Himalayan mountain range. Then we visited the Norbulingka Institute, which works to preserve Tibetan art and culture. We also took a Tibetan cooking class and learned how to make momo’s!
Overall, we really enjoyed Dharamsala and would certainly come back to visit for longer. We were kind of bummed to leave, but we had already booked a flight from Delhi down to Goa on Thursday. We took another overnight bus down to Delhi, but this time we booked the luxury bus (i.e. more legroom and A/C) and made sure to get a seat in the middle! The trip was uneventful and we made it to the airport a few hours before the flight.
We’re now in Goa (Arambol, to be exact), where it’s currently “off-season” and the place is pretty empty. The heat reaches the low 90s everyday, which apparently is unbearable for most tourists, but we’ve got a room with a balcony on the 3rd floor that overlooks the beach for just a few dollars per night. The lounge chairs by the ocean are always open, the water is warm, and everyone wants us to eat at their restaurant. Traveling in the off-season isn’t so bad after all!