Dharamshala-Home of the Dalai Lama and the Exiled Tibetan People
My next stop on my travels through Northern India, was Dharamshala, famous for being the home of the Dalai Lama, who has been in exile from Tibet since 1959. Nestled in the mountains, Dharamshala also is a small town that is great to unwind and relax for a few days. There were also hiking and trekking options, but I was running short on time since I had booked my flight to Germany at the end of April to attend the famous Fruhlingsfest, the Spring version of Oktoberfest. After taking a night bus from Manali, where I was subjected to many harrowing twists and turns around the mountains, I arrived in Dharamshala at 3am. Luckily, I was able to find a guesthouse to crash for the night before I moved to one with a better location in the morning.
Here in Dharamshala I was able to reunite with my friend Tom, whom I hung out in Udaipur with and visited Animal Aid for the first time. We had breakfast in a café (plenty of good ones to choose from here!), and caught each other up our adventures the past few weeks since we last saw each other. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, Dharamshala is famous for being the home of the Dalai Lama. There is also a large settlement of Tibetan people living here, as the Indian government has graciously granted them asylum as they’ve been forced from their homeland by China. I have to admit that prior to coming to Dharamshala, I was largely ignorant on the plight of the Tibetan people. I knew that China occupied Tibet, and it was now often referred to as “Chinese Tibet”, but I was not aware of the brutality they’ve inflicted on the Tibetan people, turning them to a minority in their own country and trying to stamp out their culture and language. As such, many have tried to flee their country, braving the trek through the dangerous Himalayas to countries such as Nepal and India, in hopes of a better life. Meanwhile, others are still stuck in their native land, and are being marginalized, as China exudes their domination over these disenfranchised people.
Here in Dharamshala, they have an interesting museum called “Tibet World” that gives the details behind this horrible history and that is still going on today. Over a couple hundred Tibetan people have gone to such drastic lengths of setting themselves on fire in an effort to let their cause be known. Several have been known to state before their deaths that it is better to die than to have to live a life where they are brutally oppressed in their own homeland, while most of the world turns a blind eye. We were also able to watch a documentary about the Tibetan nomads, who live off of the land with their herds of yaks and goats. They are now being forced to live in crudely built settlements, restricting their nomadic spirits that calls them to move wherever there are greener pastures.
While the Dalai Lama was in his residence while we were there, he was currently in a period of self-isolation. I was a bit disappointed when I found this out a couple weeks prior, as I am very interested in meeting him and hearing him speak. Just reading little snippets of prior speeches, he seems to be very wise, often lecturing about aspects of life that all people can relate to.
Tibetan Children’s Village
I had heard that there was a school and orphanage that was set up by the Dalai Lama’s older sister in the 1960’s back when the Tibetans were seeking refuge from the Chinese government. As many children’s parents were either killed or detained in Tibet, they were essentially orphans and had no place to live. She founded a boarding school to allow the Tibetan community to remain together and to teach the next generation of Tibetans the Tibetan language and their local culture. This school soon grew and expanded to other locations. Now there are over 10 scatter around India, with over 1,500 children living at these schools. Tom and I had the opportunity to talk with one of the secretaries of the school and were given a tour of the grounds. It was a very nice campus, with classrooms for kids as young as 3 years old up to 18. There were also several sports fields, including a soccer field and basketball court-rare for India. The secretary explained that the children are divided into family units of around 20 kids, each with a host mom. Each family unit has their own separate house, eats meals together as well as complete chores and homework together. This helps to give the kids a feeling of belongingness that several orphanages sometimes neglect. If anybody is interested in learning more about the Tibetan Children’s Village, I’ve attached a link here. Here is a link where donations can be made, as the school doesn’t receive any money or funding from the government. Who can deny a cute Tibetan child the right to learn his culture and language alongside his peers?
Must Do’s in Dharamshala/McLeod Ganj:
Stay: Kunga Guesthouse. Located above and below the delicious Nick’s Italian Kitchen, Kunga offers clean rooms and is in a great location.
Eat: Enjoy some delicious Italian food (rare in India!) at Nick’s Italian Kitchen, especially the gnocchi!
Meet: The Dalai Lama (if you’re lucky!)
Trek: Triund Hill, a few hour’s hike from McLeod Ganj. I didn’t have the opportunity to do this, but Tom did, and showed me some amazing pictures!
Go: Tibet World museum. A small but informative museum detailing the plight of the Tibetan people.
Eat: Snow Lion Café
Eat: Illiterati. Located a bit outside of McLeod Ganj, Illiterati is worth the trek. They have great red bean burgers.
Buy: Some Tibetan handicrafts. Stalls line the street with Tibetans trying to make a living selling various handicrafts. Support them in buying a cool souvenir (or two!)
Eat: Momos. The traditional Tibetan dumpling can be filled with meat or veggies and are often sold in sets of 8 or 10. They can be found at any restaurant or café or food vendor and are delicious!