Category Archives: McLeodganj

India for Introverts: 5 Destinations To Avoid The Crowds And Follow Your Bliss

One of the biggest complaints I hear from foreigners who travel to India is that the crowds and noise can be distressing. This can be even more overwhelming if you’re an introvert, like me. People and noise drain my energy and tire me out very quickly.

But India is not all crowds, noise and beggars. If you hate these, then I recommend you avoid all Indian cities, except as layovers, because you will find these three things in abundance in most cities.

Even though Indians are not known to have a concept of personal space, it’s possible for introverts to find destinations, in this vast country, where they’ll get nothing but peace and quiet. I know, because I found some of these places by actively looking for them.

So, if you love a quiet holiday, whether by the beach or in the mountains or the forests, here are five delightful destinations where you can avoid the crowds and follow your bliss.

  1. Talpona Beach, Goa

I went to Talpona Beach, Goa, in May 2018, because I wanted to take a road trip with my family and my two Labradors. I know Goa pretty well, having lived there for two years when I was completing my Masters at Goa University.

Sunset at Talpona beach

I thought I’d seen almost every beach in Goa worth seeing, until I chanced upon the perfect family accommodation at Talpona beach, in Canacona district at the very south of Goa. We stayed there for a week in a quiet little cottage with our dogs.

There were very few people, mostly locals, on the beach and the few creatures we encountered were stray dogs, cows and crows. With excellent food, Wifi and only my family around, it turned out to be a very restful and relaxing vacation, in spite of the road trip.

Read about my visit to Talpona Beach here.

  1. McLeodganj, Himachal Pradesh

I went to McLeodganj a number of years ago to do a 5-day Introduction to Buddhism course at the Tushita Meditation Center. McLeodganj is a little town near Dharamshala – the Dalai Lama’s summer capital – in Himachal Pradesh.

View of the snow caps from McLeodganj

We spent hardly any time in the town itself and, except for my classmates, there were no crowds to disturb the serenity of our experience. The meditation sessions were an introvert’s dream. To sit in silence and contemplate was just what I needed at that point in my life.

The main meditation hall at Tushita. Image by Jaypee – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

But you don’t have to stay at a meditation centre to find peace and quiet here. You can use AirBnB to book a quiet little cottage or room with stunning mountain views in the hills of McLeodganj.

Read about my visit to McLeodganj here.

  1. Pahalgam, Kashmir

Pahalgam is a sleepy little town in Kashmir with scenic locales and sights that would be perfect in a Bollywood movie (and many have been filmed here, too).

We went to Kashmir on a 10-day trip in 2011 and Pahalgam turned out to be one of my favourite places ever. Walking along the quiet banks of the Lidder River, listening to only the sound of gushing water, was one of my favourite things to do.

The beautiful Lidder River

There were no crowds and the only people we met in the tiny market were locals going about their business. We saw no other tourists on our visit there – none where we were staying, at least.

I envisioned myself staying for a week in a little cottage by the river, enjoying the spectacular view of the pine trees and water gushing by my front door. Oh, Heaven! Accommodation in Pahalgam is also very cheap, so perhaps I’ll do that one day.

My dream cottage on the banks of Lidder River Pahalgam

Read about my visit to Pahalgam here.

  1. Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra

Mahabaleshwar is a pretty popular tourist spot near Pune, so it’s not a place an introvert would think of as peaceful and quiet. No, for that you have to avoid staying in the town and instead book yourself a room at Club Mahindra Sherwood Mahabaleshwar.

Our room at Club Mahindra Sherwood Mahabaleshwar

This quiet luxury resort is located in a forest where you’ll see very few humans around, except when you venture into the dining room for your meals. The only people who’ll disturb you are the people who come to clean your room.

You may see a monkey or two and a few forest creatures, but these are welcome distractions. The resort is pretty far from the town (most of Club Mahindra’s resorts are), so you don’t have to go to any touristy places unless you want to.

Read about my visit to Mahableshwar here.

  1. Pangong Tso, Ladakh

This remote destination is an introvert’s delight. A high-altitude mountain lake with spectacular views and few people to disturb your reverie… What more could one ask for?

On a trip to Ladakh in May 2016, we stayed for a night in a tented camp at Pangong Tso (Lake). I wished I could have stayed longer, never mind that it was freezing cold and the food and amenities were pretty basic.

Pangong Lake Tented Camps

For that matter, almost anywhere you go in Ladakh, you’ll find almost no crowds, and the only thing that will assail your ears is the wind blowing through the rugged snowy peaks.

If sadhus and holy men are the ultimate introverts, it’s no surprise that they choose such remote places for their reflections.

Read about my trip to Ladakh here.

I hope that, with these 5 locations for introverts in India, I’ve done my bit to change your vision of India as a place filled with crowds and noise.

Peace and quiet can be had in many places in India if you know where to look. These 5 travel destinations will help you find it.

Tushita Meditation Centre: My Samsaric Journey In McLeodganj

In November 2009, I visited the Tushita Meditation Centre in McLeodganj, for a short introduction course to Tibetan Buddhism. This is what I learned during my visit and afterwards. 

It’s in the moments of disillusionment with our lives that we become seekers looking for guidance. And so it was with me many moons ago, when I decided to take a 5-day Introduction to Buddhism course at the Tushita Meditation Centre in McLeodganj.

If I couldn’t find answers there, I wouldn’t find them anywhere, I told myself. So, in the first week of November 2009, I set out from Mumbai to McLeodganj via New Delhi.

Before I left, I connected with Shilpa, another Mumbaikar who was attending the course. She was flying from New Delhi to Kangra airport. I was taking the bus from Delhi to McLeodganj.

First glimpse of the Himalayas en route to McLeodganj

A bumpy 12 hours later, I alighted at McLeodganj, a short walk from Tushita. A few Tibetans from the centre greeted us and helped carry our bags.

At the registration centre, we were asked to surrender our mobile phones. We were supposed to be connecting with ourselves, not with the rest of the world, so distractions were frowned upon. I missed being able to call my child in Mumbai, but the picturesque setting made up for it somewhat.

Tushita is located above McLeodganj town. A short trail leads to the town below. McLeodganj feels like the kind of town that has seen better days when things were probably more peaceful and less touristy. It does have an enviable view of the mountains above, and the Dalai Lama’s summer palace in Dharamshala below.

Walking down from Tushita to McLeodganj town

On checking in, we were given a schedule, and asked to choose our karma yoga – work that ranged from washing utensils to cleaning toilets – that was part of our tasks during our stay there. Tasks are cycled through, so if you’re cleaning dishes one day, you may be unclogging a toilet the next.

The rest of the day we were in sessions where various teachers explained the fundamentals of Buddhism, interspersed with short meditation sessions, either guided or free-form. We were also encouraged to participate in group discussions on Buddhism.

In the recess, we could attend a yoga class, visit the library and purchase books on Buddhism, or just hang out with our classmates under the tall pine trees. I remember telling my group the tale of the green-skinned Buddhist yogi and saint, Milarepa, whose story I found fascinating. Here’s the animated version.

In early November, the days in McLeodganj are pleasant and bracing, but the nights can be bitingly cold and temperatures can dip below zero. We shared a room with one or more of our classmates. The dorms were Spartan with no heating, which is why we had been told to carry sleeping bags and warm clothes.

After 8 pm, the temperature dropped so rapidly, it sent all of us scurrying into our sleeping bags, not to emerge till morning. I had lined mine with blankets so I was warm and toasty. One of our classmates had forgotten to carry a sleeping bag and came down with a severe cold. He was forced to drop out early because of ill health.

Our meals were simple, but filling. They consisted of Tibetan vegetable soup accompanied by thick slices of bread, slathered with delicious, home-made peanut butter and honey. I never realised that combination could be so satisfying until I tried it.

Tushita Meditation Centre closes for the winter as a great migration takes place from McLeodganj and Dharamshala. Most of the Tibetans move to Bodh Gaya in Bihar, the place where Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) is said to have obtained Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. It is also the Dalai Lama’s winter capital.

My course was the last session of the year, a truncated version of the regular 10-day course in Buddhism. I had read up a bit about Buddhism and was attracted to it because of its deep study of the nature of the mind.

It teaches us to overcome our failings by focusing on our thoughts. That our thoughts create our reality is a teaching found in many belief systems. By becoming aware of our habitual thinking (called shenpa, by teachers of Shambhala Buddhism) we can become aware of how we react to our conditioning. And awareness leads to change.

Hanging out with Shilpa in McLeodganj

It’s a theory that Buddhism shares with modern psychology, which is why it was the only belief system I felt attracted to. That is until I was exposed to its ritualistic nature.

No sooner had I begun to enjoy the process of meditation, than I began to be disillusioned with the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. If I had come hoping to find a path that was pure and free of rituals and the trappings of Samsaric life, I was not going to find it here.

I do believe that rituals can be good for mental health and can even boost creativity because they help to shut down the monkey mind – that part of the brain that tends to overthink things. But, combine rituals with dogmatic thinking, and you get … religion.

Not only did I find Tibetan Buddhism as rife with ritualistic mumbo-jumbo as Hinduism and Catholicism, but I was disturbed that the women (nuns) are not exactly treated as equals. Like most religions, in the pecking order, it’s the men (monks) who rule the roost.

And although the Dalai Lama hopes that the next leader of Tibetan Buddhism will be a woman, one never really knows if that will come to pass.

View of the snowcaps from McLeodganj

While I was at Tushita, we were visited by a woman called Khadro-la, whom they called “The Oracle”, for her precognition of certain events. I remember finding her appearance striking and thinking there was definitely something special about her.

The Oracle was honoured in a ceremony presided over by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Founder and Spiritual Director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). The ceremony was held at a shrine at the top of a hill. It took quite a hike to get there and I was glad I’d brought my hiking boots.

The Lama’s arrival at the centre caused a huge buzz and people were talking about it for days before he finally made an appearance. He was quite an engaging personage, and even though he spoke in Tibetan and had a translator, he had a great sense of humour.

I also met Kali Rinpoche, the much-loved canine on campus. Rinpoche is an honorific title meaning “precious one” and is given to those who are loved and revered. If there’s one thing I love about the Buddhists, it’s how much they love and cherish animals.

The main meditation hall at Tushita. Image by Jaypee – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

What puts me off religion, in general, is not just the dogma, but all the bowing and scraping to those they anoint as holy. For me, the Dalai Lama is just a man. A very wise and good man, no doubt, and having read his book, The Art of Happiness, I have much respect for his thoughts and his achievements as a leader.

But I believe that all people are equal and cannot bring myself to bow, scrape and prostrate myself before anyone, no matter how elevated or holy.

However, doing that 5-day course set me on a journey of learning that helped me see the world, and myself, with more clarity. I learned a lot from reading the works of Shambhala Buddhist teachers like Pema Chodron and Chögyam Trungpa.

In the years since, I’ve come to realise that when one is disillusioned, it isn’t so much a disenchantment with the world or with other people, but rather with oneself and one’s own expectations. Today I know what I truly want, and more importantly, do not want, from my life and from the people around me.

On the way back, after I’d boarded the bus to Delhi and was making my way to my seat, a suitcase came loose and fell on me, giving me a painful bruise and a black eye that lasted for days. The Buddhists would call that karma.