Raising a toast in the Dalai Lama’s abode

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McLeodganj: Bollywood stars and cricket icons have something in common – a pub in this uphill picturesque Himachal Pradesh town that has already gained prominence for attracting a steady stream of Tibet enthusiasts, Buddhist scholars, backpackers and even Hollywood stars like Richard Gere.

On visits to the town, they raise a cheer at the pub.

Owners of the Mc’LLo restaurant-cum-pub say Bollywood celebrities like Preity Zinta, Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and yesteryear stars Vinod Khanna, Dimple Kapadia and Dharmendra are among those who have raised a toast at the pub.

Even Hollywood’s Pierce Brosnan has once raised the toast in the pub.

International cricketers like Adam Gilchrist, Chris Gayle, Hashim Amla, Jonty Rhodes, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Robin Singh, Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh are among the permanent fixtures in the pub during the IPL matches at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association’s showpiece stadium in Dharamsala, located just eight kilometres from here.

The Who’s Who has included businessmen Siddharth Mallya, Mohit Burman and Ness Wadia.

Located at the town square, the quarter-of-a century-old Mc’LLo, with a seating capacity of 200 plus, has two floors, with a rooftop bar.

The restaurant displays pictures of celebrities from Hollywood to Bollywood stars, cricketers and models who’ve frequented the place.

“During the IPL seasons, this venue is the favourite haunt, both for the players and for the fans,” owner Pankaj Chadha told IANS.

He said Australian cricketer Gilchrist is so impressed with the beauty of McLeodganj, known for its Tibetan artefacts and traditional recipes like Tibetan dumplings, that he promised to bring his family here for a holiday.

Chadha remembers the day when cricketer Brett Lee spent the entire day playing his guitar in the restaurant.

“Actually he was a Kings XI player and he was out of the team owing to an injury. He skipped watching the match and spent the entire day playing the guitar.”

Chris Gayle, as usual, was the life of all the night parties hosted by Kings XI owner Preity Zinta in Mc’LLo.

The restaurant offers Indian, continental and Chinese cuisine, as also Tibetan dishes like dumplings.

For liquor connoisseurs, the pub has on its premium wine list brands from at least 15 countries, mainly Australia and South Africa.

“A bottle of a top brand of wine costs somewhere between Rs.2,000 and Rs.5,000, depending upon the origin and the vintage,” Chadha said.

The restaurant is known for offering a platter of an authentic taste of Italy – a thin crust wood-fired pizza and, of course, pasta too.

“Our pizza gives a smoky flavor as it is smoked in a wood oven. Others use electrical ovens,” he said.

“We have a special Chinese menu, which includes traditional Tibetan cuisine. Since most of our guests are Tibetans and followers of the religion, we offer typical dishes like momos and thukpa noodle soup, while the main course comprises mutton thenthuk and mutton gyathuk,” Chadha said.

McLeodganj is the uphill quaint town about 500 km from New Delhi. Also known as Little Lhasa, it’s home to thousands of Tibetans who found a second abode to preserve their unique faith, culture and identity.

The mighty Dhauladhar peak in the town’s backdrop, the nearby British era tea estates and the spiritual pull of globetrotting Buddhist monk the Dalai Lama is luring hundreds of thousands of tourists.

FAQs:

* Getting to McLeodganj:

By public or private road transport from Delhi via Chandigarh (500 km). It’s an eight km steep uphill climb from Dharamsala.

It is also connected by air and rail from Delhi. The airport is at Gaggal near Kangra town, some 40 km from McLeodganj. The nearest railway station is Punjab’s Pathankot town, some 100 km from McLeodganj.

* Where to stay: Hotels, guest houses, and even home stays with local people (Rs.1,000-Rs.8,000). There are 91 registered hotels with a capacity of 1,000. There is no five-star hotel in the vicinity.

* Nearby destinations: Tea estates, some of them set up by the British, in Palampur. Those who want to mix leisure with spiritualism can visit Kangra, Baijnath and Jwalaji, known for prominent Hindu shrines. Most of these towns are within a 40 km radius of McLeodganj.

* A meal for two in Mc’LLo restaurant would cost between Rs.1,000 and 1,500 (without alcohol).

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