Bhagsu and Dharamkot consist entirely of hills and the trick is to try and minimise the hillage between where you’re staying and the nearest beer. We massively failed at the first attempt and ended up staying in what was basically a small flat in Bhagsu at roughly the height of Everest. At least that’s what it felt like when you had to get home but to be fair we just wanted to get out of McLeodGanj and we took the first place we could that was affordable and available whilst we decided whether we wanted to stay in Bhagsu or move to Dharamkot, which was going to depend quite a lot on where our yet to be chosen yogi was located because fuck trekking miles (yeah ok, metres, but uphill and at 1700masl…) to a studio in the morning before breakfast. People love Dharamkot. It’s small and quiet and once you leave the tiny nucleus, guesthouses and cafes are spread out, accessible only on foot along small dirt paths, dotted around the landscape, nestled in between little hills and trees. I prefer Bhagsu. Bhagsu has everything; yoga, macrame, plenty of the usual tourist places to eat, plus more local places at the bottom of the hill for when only a paratha eaten at a dirty table whilst several blokes stare at you will do. Also, Bhagsu Cake, because I’m quite easily swayed by anything with a noticeable sugar content. It’s a shortbread/biscuity thing with a layer of caramel stuff, topped with chocolate. Oh dear god, it’s diabetes waiting to happen but it’s sooooo so so good!
Finding a yogi is easier said than done. There are a shit load of them but we needed to find one who was right for us. After we’d spent a good hour visiting smiling men sat on mats, we sat down for chai and momos in the blue tarp tent at the bottom of the hill to discuss our options, none of which we were sure about. We were joined by a lovely, chilled fella who introduced himself as Om Shankar. Right. Anyone with a name like Om Shankar is going to know shit about yoga and it turned out he ran the Bhagsu Yoga Institute, could cater to all of our levels (Jess and Theo practically being fucking contortionists and me making old lady noises if I so much as have to sit on the floor), offered reasonably priced drops ins, did a deal if we bulk bought a week, and with very respectable 9am starts he didn’t require us to be fully functional by sunrise. Excellent. We had our yoga teacher.
Now all we needed was accommodation that wasn’t located up a massive hill and we found that in View Cafe Guesthouse which was closer to the bottom of aforementioned hill with just enough steps to make you feel like you earned your Kingfisher and few enough steps so that you still retain full control of your lungs when you head home. At this time of year you have to share your space with hundreds of these crane flies though, but they’re pretty cool. They aren’t hell bent on getting into all of your head orifices like flies are and they don’t want all of your blood like mozzies do. Occasionally they crash into you in the middle of a spot of mid-air shagging, but apart from that they just kinda chill out on walls and mind their own business. You’d be pretty fucked if you had some manner of phobia though, you’d end up spending your time curling up in corners and crying a lot in between yoga and macrame classes.
When we rocked up for our first yoga session with Om I recoiled in horror a little bit when I found out we’d be doing Hatha but it turns out that Hatha is different from the veritable torture that Hatha Flow was. Much more relaxed. He told us that “Ha” means sun and “Tha” means moon and it’s all about restoring balance unlike Hatha Flow which is all about applying pain to your joints. He still wanted us to do a headstand at the end of it because apparently the headstand is the be all and end all of yoga. It’s the most important pose. To work your way up to it you have to do something called the “dolphin” which basically involves rocking back and forth on your toes and elbows whilst in the plank position. Something about building up your core and arm strength. All the plank builds up in me is misery but I figured I’d have a bash at this headstand by the end of the week. I did try it at the end of the first session but I discovered quite quickly that I really really don’t like being upside down. I have also discovered that my arms are probably too short. At least they’re too short for yoga, I kinda feel like a T-Rex trying to salute the bloody sun or whatever.
Bhagsu though. It’s basically a big hippy training camp. Aside from yoga you can learn to do all manner of things such as macrame, poi, wood carving, meditation and jewellry making. It’s also packed full of Israelis which is the case across the whole of north India as I’d been reliably informed by a mate who’d asked me if I wanted to learn a bit of Hebrew before I came here. There’s a bit of a “them and us” mentality though. The Israelis tend to stick together but it does mean you get some pretty awesome food. I appeared to have developed a near constant craving for hummous, and the Hello to the Queen desert was as ubiquitous as Bhagsu Cake, although all the Israelis I’d gotten chatting to denied that HttQ was an Israeli dessert. I don’t care where it’s from. Their presence in a town means it’s readily available to apply liberally to my facehole should I require it which I generally do at least once a day. There’s also this local legend known only as Cookie who has another blue tarp tent structure in which he houses a restaurant called Cookie Walla. You cant miss Cookie. He’s the little Nepali guy shouting, “Hello-ooooow!!” at everyone as they walk past. He also provides, for a fee of course, all manner of Hello to the Something desserts, all of which involve ice cream and some manner of something else libel to rot your teeth and cling mercilessly to your hips for the next six months. Yeah, I can’t decide if Bhagsu is going to make me fat or flexible but right now the yoga to dessert ratio is definitely swinging in the favour of having to buy bigger knickers.
Bhagsu, Mcleod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India
Stayed at: View Cafe Guesthouse (after a stint in a flat at the top of a massive fucking hill)
Activity: Yoga with Bhagsu Yoga Institute