We left the land of the Sikhs to enter the land of Tibetan Buddhists. The most flexible option to go from Amritsar to McLeod Ganj is by bus first to Pathankot, then change bus to Dharamsala, and finally get on a shared taxi to McLeod Ganj, 7 hours in all.
McLeod Ganj, also known as Upper Dharamsala, became Dalai Lama’s residence in exile in 1959 after Tibet’s failed uprise in the same year. Since then, and due to the issues in Tibet and the oppression of the Chinese government, this little hill village has become the home of many Tibetan refugees and Buddhist monasteries and it’s where the Tibetan Government in exile has been set.
Tibetans, Hindus and many tourists coexist here in McLeod Ganj. Most of the tourists come here to do some meditation courses or just to escape from the busy India. There are plenty of things to do in Upper Dharamsala, specially if what you want is to learn a little bit about Tibet, their culture and their current situation. We attended a couple of talks, visited the Tibetan Children’s village and the Tibetan museum, attended cooking course,…
The talk that impress us the most was given at LIT (Learning and Ideas for Tibet) by a man (former monk) who was sent to prison after just taking part in a pacific protest. He was then tortured and sentenced to 3 years in prison. He described how after finishing their dreadful time in prison all political prisoners are neither allowed to go back to the monasteries or to study and how it’s very difficult to make a decent living, so he had no choice but to exile to India. One could see in his eyes the kind of suffering he had gone through.
We read about the Tibetan Children’s village (TCV), which is an association that was created by Dalai Lama’s himself to help the children of both the Tibetan’s who had died during the conflict with China and the Tibetan’s who where living in exile and had almost no money. TCV has schools and residences in different places around India where children receive free education, food and a place to live and also where they learn how to make Tibetan handicrafts. We visited TCV’s installations outside McLeodGanj on our way to the sacred Dal Lake (really disappointing, it should be called pond rather than lake) and after seeing the beautiful handcrafts they make we had no choice but to buy a few things! The money goes to the non profit association to continue helping the children in need.
Tibetan’s medicine is completely different to our modern medicine. As we were curious, one of the days we went to visit a Tibetan doctor for a health check. On arrival, he just checked the pulse from both wrists and listened for any kind of irregularities. After a few seconds, and a couple of questions he said we were both healthy and we needed no medicines. A pity because I was really hoping to try some of the strange looking herbal pills he had.
Every evening there are many activities in town: concerts, movies, parties… We were recommended to attend one of the free concerts of an award winning Tibetan group, Culture Brothers. I don’t know why, but maybe because of the name of the group, or the looks of the singer, we thought we were just about to listen traditional Tibetan music…. imagine our faces when the guy starts rapping! Rapping stories about the situation in Tibet and how he felt about it at the sound of an electronic keyboard. Everyone in the room was astonished! After a few minutes of “acclimatization” we really enjoyed the concert, different but good fun.
Food was the missing ingredient to complete our Tibetanization, so we attended a 3 evenings cooking course at Sangye’s Kitchen. Each evening had a different theme: Day 1 – Breads, Day 2 – Soups, Day 3 – Momos. Sangye had been giving this courses for the last 13 years and he still enjoys every class and so did we! After the completion of the course we even got a certificate which recognizes our ability to cook great momos! ;)
We knew little about the past and present of Tibet before arriving in McLeod Ganj. And after what we learned during our 6 days stay, we really hope the situation in Tibet improves and that the thousands of Tibetans living in exile can one day return to their homeland.
In case you want to know more about TCV and LIT here are a couple of links, along with a good movie, Kundun, about the Dalai Lama: