McLeod Ganj : 50 Years in India / 7 days in 'Tibet'
McLeod Ganj Travel Blog› entry 226 of 268 › view all entries
November 8th, 2009 – by: Stevie_Wes
It was 21 years since he'd last heard his birth name Lhamo Thondup; one given when born 23 years and 8 months ago to a farming family in Taktser, Amdo province, north east Tibet. So that would make it about 24 years and 5 months since he'd been little more than a twinkling in his father's eye on that fateful, fruitful night in 1934, 9 months or so since he'd most recently died. Sex and death. There's a lot of that when you've had at least 28 parents to date. Riding into India on the back of his dzomo (Tibetan Yak) at 26 years remove from his former official title Ngawang Lobsang Thupten Gyatso, and approaching 600 years since he'd last heard the first of Gedun Drupa and been expected to respond, I wonder which subject the 14th Dalai Lama found more confusing as he arrived in a lifetime of exile, politics or identity? Reincarnation and responsibility.
That was 50 years ago. Today with far less fanfare, far more hair, a far simpler name ( well, the surname's a little bit weirdy!) and a cold, this weary traveler arrives at 3.00am in Dharamsala - which invitingly means 'pilgrims' rest house'. Glad to be shot of one of the worst bus rides of his 15 months journey making and cocooned against the pre-dawn chill in the Bhuttico co-operative workers shawl he'd bought in Kullu, he gladly makes the acquaintance of Jantine (from the Netherlands); she being similarly disgorged by a midnight bone-shaker bus into the cold and uncertainties that inhabit such times of the day.
"Aaaaaah-CHOOO!!!" (snot - snot- snot) Yes I'm afraid my arrival in Mcleod Ganj is heralded with large quantities of snot and mucus. Sneezes trumpet my progress through the streets. Damp, shredded white bog-roll tissue, a fluttering ticker tape parade cascading from my pockets.
As the week progresses so do my symptoms. Most days are spent sniffing and sneezing and expectorating little green djinns into tissue paper or directly onto the pavement (an anti-social but inevitable habit after enough time spent traveling in China and India). The cold, whilst subsiding a little as the week goes on, does not depart, but merely steps to one side to allow a new act on stage; the next avatar of my illness, a throat-wrenching, chest-splitting cough that will not leave me (along with the gunky nose) for a good fortnight or so.
Of course, a good old gooey cold and honking cough are two of a host of things guaranteed to enforce a sense of exile. Already in long-term self-imposed exile from such comforts as Home, ‘normality’, family and friends and gladly from such joys as mobile phones, 9 to 5 slavery, income tax, British rain, TV, domestic politics and chores - my snot-ragging effectively further exiles me; this time from the community of Fellow Travelers.
A cold shrinks your world. With little interaction (and little desire to do so) and neither the physical capability or will to get out and about and do much, your world contracts to the space between your eyes and the pages of your current book. Your reach into the world no further than that required to lift your cup of coffee or cake from plate to mouth. And then it retracts a little further still, into your mind or at least a world of small and inconsequential observations and thoughts.
I sit inside Nick’s Italian Cafe (one of so many cafes in town with an incredibly fine array of high quality foods, pastries and cakes) and stare out the window to the far end of town as it crescent moons around the hillside.
The personal frustration for me is that illness robs me of the fine mountain walks in the area.
So why come to McLeod Ganj and what’s there to do? Well, for reasons of the aforementioned, I’m maybe not the best person to quiz. My seven days in ‘Tibet’ unfortunately reduced; their potential curtailed to little more than coffee-sipping, cake-nibbling ambles up and down the cute little tourist curio shop lined three-strip circuit of McLeod’s heart. There are loads of nice little shops, good bookshops ( “YEY!” ) and, as mentioned, lots of excellent cafes along the streets fringed by smiling, personable Tibetan refugees keen to eke out a living far from home selling hand-made jewelery, postcards and fresh steamed vegetable momos (Tibetan dumplings).
Quite often there are music performances or cultural ’happenings’ in the evenings so keep your eyes upon the ever shifting rainbow-walls of fly posters. I attended a great free traditional Tibetan music performance at the Tibetan Younglings School one evening where an energetic Tibetan solo artist went through his string-stroking ‘n’ plucking and foot-stamping repertoire. His songs interspersed by our humble host (who runs the charity for ‘Tibetan destitute children’ that the shows raise funds for ) imparting titbits of knowledge about Tibetan culture whilst bemoaning how sad he was to see how far it had died back when he fled Tibet to McLeod Ganj some 15 years ago. I also catch an interesting and extremely well attended screening, put on by the organisations Talk Tibet and Return to Tibet, of their short docu-movie entitled Open Road : The Failed Secret Mission to Return to Tibet.
One essential stop is the small, clearly presented and powerful Tibet Museum which sits inside the Tsuglagkhang Complex on Temple Road. This complex also houses the official residence of the Dalai Lama and the main Namgyal Gompa temple. A series of photo and text galleries as well as a short movie highlight - I felt with great restraint - the history of the Chinese invasion of Tibet from 1950 onwards and the endless litany of crimes against culture and humanity that have been inflicted upon the latter by the former ever since. Even in short an international Commission of Jurists in the 1960s supported the supposition that over 1.
The main reason of course that many visitors come to McLeod Ganj is in the hope of catching a glimpse and a teaching of the Big Man himself; ole Dalai Lama XIV aka Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso nee Lhamo Thondup nee... Hmmm, this could take a while. I prefer just to call him DL! :) All over the north of India you’ll come across travelers feverishly bending and rewiring their itineraries in an attempt to coincide with one of his stops at ‘home’ in McLeod Ganj or elsewhere. But this ain’t an easy task. He’s a man in demand. The world needs peace it seems and no one is considered more skilled at 'selling' the idea of peace and its prospects than the ever-smiling DL; his efforts having been recognised with a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
So where in the world right now does one find DL? Well he ain't currently in the clouds of McLeod that's for sure.
Right now he’s up in the north easterly Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh where he first arrived when he entered into exile 50 years ago. It’s ’disputed territory’ i.e. The Chinese would like to have it therefore it is ’disputed’.
'Hell' I think to myself 'If only more of the worlds perceived separatists were Nobel Peace Prize clutching individuals who’ve devoted their entire adult lives to propagating messages and stratagems for global peace, mutual understanding and inner enlightenment. You never know, the world might just start to become a better place!'
Stepping away from the Tibet Museum and the murky and painful worlds of politics and history, I walk a little further to the Namgyal Gompa, the main Tibetan Buddhist temple in McLeod and the venue for the DL’s teachings when he’s in town.
I sit on a small bench beside a time-worn old boy with broken spectacles and broken teeth and bending back as he props his frail old frame with a stick in one hand and flips wooden beads on a large prayer string with the other.
Inside the gompa, sat behind the little throne DL delivers many of his lectures from sits a large intricately carved and particularly cadaverous wooden statue of Buddha in his final stages of pre-Enlightenment emaciation. Besides it - as if challenging his fasting - aside from the small gestures of money the usual quaint little piles of food offerings that always amuse me so much. Here we find cartons of Tropicana fruit juice and packets of those travel-diet stalwarts Oreos. Also carefully stacked boxes of Orion's Choco-Pies, 'Chips Ahoy' cookies, almond butter cookies, oatmeal digestives, chocolate bourbons and most quaintly a little cellophane-wrapped gold-foiled trio of Ferrero Rocher ( 'Why monsieur, wiz zeez Dana** you are really spoiling uz!' ).
“Ah-ah-aaaah-AAAAHTCHOOOOOOO!!!” ( snot - snot - snot ) Oh boy this colb just isn’t going to leeb me alone it seems. Strepsil number 500 consumed. My voice is in tatters by now. Thankfully Jantine is a patient new travel companion, not seeming to mind as I sniff into my Vegetable Thukpa, sneeze into my momos or cough into my coffee as another conversational angle disintegrates into splintered wheezing and throat-clearing. Bless her!
And so, I didn’t get to meet DL this time, though he was to be in McLeod later in the month of November.
* ‘China calls Dalai Lama a separatist’ - article in Times of India 4th Nov 2009
** Dana - the Buddhist term for any offerings, charitable or otherwise freely given (sometimes in hope of receiving merit)
[ Notes : The XIV Dalai Lama’s ‘Five-Point Peace Plan’ for the future of his nation of Tibet that was first delivered as part of an address given on Capitol Hill, USA on 21 September 1987 :
2. Abandonment of China’s population transfer policy which threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as a people.
3. Respect for the Tibetan peoples’ fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms.
4. Restoration and protection of Tibet’s natural environment and the abandonment of China’s use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste.
5. Commencements of earnest negotiations of the future status of Tibet and of relations between Tibetan and Chinese peoples.
As the Dalai Lama enthuses in his autobiography Freedom in Exile, it is important to expand briefly on the aim of point 1 of the ‘Plan’; that being the turning of the whole of Tibet into a proposed Zone of ahimsa - ahimsa being the Hindi word for peace and non-violence. Some key elements of this proposal being :
- Demilitarization of the entire Tibetan plateau
- Prohibition of all manufacture, testing and stockpiling of nuclear weapons as well as manufacture and use of nuclear power and other technologies that produce hazardous waste.
- ‘The Tibetan plateau would be turned into the world’s largest natural park or biosphere. Strict laws would be enforced to protect wildlife and plant life; the exploitation of natural resources would be carefully regulated so as not to damage relevant ecosystems; and a policy of sustainable development would be adopted in populated areas.’
- ‘National resources and policy would be directed towards the active promotion of peace and environmental protection.’
Good stuff, right?! ]
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