May 29, 2014
In the first of a fortnightly series, we explores the idyllic vistas of Sidhpur at a leisurely pace, while giving the bustling tourist hub of Dharamshala a miss.
It’s an unexpectedly drizzly morning. I sit surrounded by dense foliage in the Zen garden, listening to water gurgling through a network of rivulets from one end of Norbulingka to the other. Every now and then, a spray of water falls over Buddhist prayer wheels, making them rotate peacefully. The only other sound is of magpies calling out to each other as they swoop from one treetop to another. The Hummingbird Café next door isn’t exactly humming with activity, but it’s the sort of place where time loses its city-bred urgency. As we wait for our momos to arrive, I spot a flyer that someone’s left behind about the disappearance of the Panchen Lamafrom Tibet in 1995. I read it with the dawning realisation that Norbulingka’s Eden-like serenity masks the quiet tumult of a nation in exile.
Named after Dalai Lama’s summer palace in Lhasa, Norbulingka is dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture and is a training school for traditional crafts such as thangkas, wood carving, carpet weaving and more. We walk into the thangka painting class, where modernity coexists comfortably with tradition. Students with edgy haircuts and oversized headphones work on exquisite religious paintings. One of them, Tsering, is painting a beautiful image of Avalokitesvara, god of the world. It could take him four months to finish, he says. He points to another student painting a huge thangka: “That one will take over a year…” The weather is surprisingly cool, given that it’s May and we’re barely at an elevation of 4,700 feet. “You’re lucky,” says Tsering. “Usually, temperatures soar to 35 degrees celsius in summer.” The rain and chill we’ve been enjoying are abnormal: “The wheat is ripe in the fields, and these rains could destroy the crop,” he says.
We take shelter there from the rain one morning and order muffins. Just then the kitchen door opens and a tray of cream rolls emerges. We have one in memory of the tuck shops of my childhood. It’s still raining, so we order a pineapple pastry. Delightful. Just when I reckon I’ve had more than my weekly quota of carbs in one sitting, the baker brings out a tray of irresistible buns stuffed with chicken salad, melting with goodness. “No more,” I tell the children after the last crumbs have disappeared. The door opens again. “Don’t look,” they cry. But I do. It’s meringues, so fresh their centres are still gooey. By the time the sun struggles out from behind the clouds, we’re barely able to stagger out.
Later that evening, I sit in the evening chill, Ella Fitzgerald playing on a loop. Unlike other hill stations which get dark by early evening, Kangra Valley has prolonged, spectacular sunsets. So we read in the evening light until 7 pm, when the sun finally ducks out of the horizon. I say, in the true manner of a Delhiwala that I’ve seen the perfect piece of land for us to buy. Soon I begin to dream of rose trellises, deep verandahs and seeing the Dhauladhars every morning. Then, in my buzzy day dream, Buddha’s words filter through: You only lose what you cling to.
So we pack our bags to leave, knowing that Sidhpur will always stay with us — even if we don’t always stay in Sidhpur.
How to reach Sidhpur
* SpiceJet and Air India operate a one-hour flight from Delhi to Gaggal, Kangra’s airport. From there, it’s a mere 20 minute drive to Sidhpur and Dharamshala.
* By rail (Jammu Mail is good) from Delhi, it is an overnight journey to Pathankot. From there, Sidhpur is about 17 kilometers by road.
* HPTDC and other private bus operators run buses to Dharamshala from Delhi (520 km) and Chandigarh (250 km)