Monday, July 19, 2010

Travelogue--McLeod Ganj

Financial Express
Vishakha Talreja
Posted online: 2010-06-27

Travel to McLeodganj is usually for spiritual or escape-the-sweltering-summer-in-the-plains reasons. Of late, however, an emerging reputation for its cuisine has been drawing foodies there.
Home to the exiled government of Tibet, McLeodganj is a haven for many foreign tourists and has exciting cuisines on offer, mainly Israeli, Tibetan and Italian.
The picturesque hill station is abundant with small eateries, pretty-looking cafeterias adorned with candles and lamps and the quintessential coffee shops, most wi-fi enabled. For starters, there is Namgyal Cafe, located at a stone’s throw from the Dalai Lama Temple, a ‘must visit’ for tourists. This cafeteria serves vegetarian food—thin crust pizzas, crepes, cakes and cookies. Fruit beer complements the freshly made pizzas, though ‘fresh’ means having to wait for a good 30-40 minutes for the food to arrive. There is a silver lining in the form of a small library, where you can flip through books ranging from popular fiction to spirituality. Nick’s Italian Kitchen, Tibet Kitchen and Green Restaurant are some other eating joints worth checking out on Bhagsu Road.
For those craving excitement, ‘Xcite’ is the place to hit for beer and grub. The place claims to be McLeodganj’s only club, if a club means a big screen playing a FIFA match, lots of beer guzzlers, groups smoking hookah and noise till the wee hours. The terrace eating joint is opposite another three-storeyed restaurant, McLo, which offers some Indian champagne and wines (not by glass), though the food is average.
If your stomach is not quite resilient, breakfast at Ayurveda Cafe is a safe bet. This tidy place offers healthy food options like poha, dosa, fresh fruits, banana lassi and honey lemon. There are interesting thalis, which allow one to go whole hog without adding calories. One can also book an ayurveda body massage here, of which the masseur does a good job.
Besides restaurants and cafes, the street food options on McLeodganj’s Mall Road are also galore. What gol gappas are to Delhi or pav bhaji to Mumbai, momos and thukpa are to this place. Binge on mouth-watering mutton or chicken momos at the small kiosks or munch homemade chocolate cookies available at small bakeries.
A gourmet trip to McLeodganj is incomplete without a day’s tour to Dharamkot, a 15-minute drive uphill from McLeodganj. The small village, dotted by bread & breakfast eateries, is home to many long-stay tourists. Most cafes here have seating in the open, offering full view of Himachal’s scenic beauty. A recommended cafeteria here is Pizzeria, that one can locate with the help of locals, as there are no signboards. It’s amazing to learn that so many tourists actually walk down the narrow hill roads, crossing fields to reach the cafe. But the walk is worth it. Tuna pizzas with fresh cheese that melts in your mouth, all with the breathtaking view, hit the right spot.
Cafes in Dharamkot are not about food, but the experience. Cafe Nirvana exemplifies this. At this small designer cafe one can spend hours trying different types of pancakes, sipping lemon tea and just gazing at the mountains. The seating is relaxed, with nice colourful mattresses and low lying tables giving you a home-like feel. The trance music that continuously plays in the background truly is liberating!
Though the cafes might not be stocked well with urban food-extras such as chilly flakes or mustard sauce, the staff at most cafes is friendly (read overzealous to serve, in a nice way). The cherry on the cake—you can have a lip smacking meal and the smallness of the bill will only add your sense of well being. Little Lhasa is truly a paradise for those who live to eat, or shall we say travel to eat!

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