Dharamkot is like my very own little slice of paradise. Upper Dharamkot, especially, is one of the most relaxing little neighbourhoods you can find in Himachal. And after the hullaballoo of McLeodganj, its serenity is especially refreshing. The three best things about Upper Dharamkot are the food, the chance to forage for your next meal and of course, the inherent feel-good factor here!
Accommodation: Homestays in Dharamkot can compete with some of the best hotels out there, if not in terms of luxury then definitely in terms of the view. For as little as INR 300 a day you can rent a small room with a small kitchen and a shared washroom as well. Running hot water, orchards fragrant with ripening fruits and friendly dogs make a stay in these places a complete indulgence.
This is also a great way to bond with the locals as well as tourists, from different parts of the world, who show up here in search for tranquility and peace of mind. There are plenty of cafés that welcome people to stay and talk, hours after their ordered food has been gobbled up. There is no hurry for getting to your next destination, and certainly no anxiety about missing the last bus or train. Time here, walks at the pace that you want it to!
Food: In Dharamkot, food can be described as a sort of new age religion, and a very well-followed one at that. There are cafés and restaurants along every bend in the road, near every homestay and within each hotel. From authentic falafel and hummus to a decadent wood oven smoked pizza, from the perfectly sticky banoffee (banana and toffee) pie to the sublime apple strudel, and from the humble mushroom bruschetta to the sinfully delicious chocolate brownie.
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There are a good number of pizza parlours, with a homely vibe, and quite an unorthodox green cilantro and mint sauce to go with the smoky, cheesy pizzas. Some of these parlours also serve homemade and home-bottled apple cider. You will also find plenty of places that serve authentic Israeli cuisine; the reason being that a lot of travellers from Israel visit these parts of India and choose to stay for long durations at times. Did I mention that the food at most of these cafés is super inexpensive? Yes, for INR 500, you can have a large pizza, a piece of pie, a bottle of cider and a huge plate of steaming hot cheese and spinach dumplings.
Foraging: When you stay in Dharamkot, for more than a couple of days, foraging will come easily to you. The fields and the mountainsides are full of edible vegetables, fruits, greens and mushrooms for a balanced meal. For instance, when crossing the small make-shift cricket grounds near the entryway to Upper Dharamkot, make sure to look for pumpkin patches. Pumpkin greens can be great simply boiled and tossed with salt in a pan. Pumpkin flowers make the best fritters, tossed with flour and salt and shallow fried in hot oil. There are also small corn fields that grow in the wild, if you wish to snack on some baby corn. Banana flowers, which are in abundance here, are a great idea for making a spicy curry of.
Wild spinach (they are easy to identify, with a darker shade of green and broader leaves) grow rampant in the forests right behind Upper Dharamkot, and can be great for a pasta dish. Mushrooms and morels can be found as one goes a little away from civilization. However, steer clear of any brightly coloured or spotted fungi; it is best to not eat something that you are not familiar with. In short, if you have a kitchen and want to cook your own meals here, all you need would be the basics such as salt, oil, spices, some rice and some flour. Rest can either be foraged from the hills or bought cheap at the local market.
If you are fond of long walks, you will not find it difficult to gather food from nature and live off the land. For not just visiting but actually experiencing living at a place is usually the best way of getting in touch with your inner self.