We recently holidayed in Mcleodganj (population of about 2000), a beautiful suburban town of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. This town is surrounded by the majestic Himalayan Mountains and speculated to attract three times more tourists than the town’s population, from India and the world.
The city is busy and crowded too with vehicles swirling and speeding across crowds of people walking on narrow lanes. The narrow lanes are fenced with small coffee shops, road-side eateries (momos and Tibetan bread greeting you right outside the coffee shop), Tibetan stores selling paintings, jewellery, clothes, etc. Strangely it seemed like everybody was busy and hustled And suddenly I didn’t miss Bombay (Mumbai). Mcleodganj seemed like a replica of chaotic-Bombay but without the traffic jams. The unnerving feeling of being once again in the heart of a Bombay-wannabe-town seemed enough inspiration to walk out of this craziness… literally!
And we did! In our pursuit of silence and oneness with nature, we walked 14 kms to Naddi village and back where we walked alongside the gigantic and intimidating Dauladhar Ranges. We breathed in the crisp and fresh air, soaked in the calmness and got lost in its beauty A refreshing walk it was following trails with no names…A walk into the unknown.
And our walking pattern continued the following day to Triund. It was a strenuous trek because we tried completing the walk (16 kms back and forth) in one-go, which is definitely not advisable.All reinvigorated, we returned to our hotel and briefly chatted with our friendly Tibetan manager. She spoke about her life, beginning with how she had moved to Mcleodganj following transit schooling at Karnataka (South India), and leading to a deeper discussion. Apparently, most Tibetans enrol into transit schools to be able to follow a smooth transition.
Before we could try and better understand what “smooth transition” meant in this context, our manager added, “His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) has always encouraged us to learn different languages. We had to learn to speak Hindi and English otherwise it is difficult to find good jobs”. After probing further we found out that between Mcleodganj and (the main city) Dharamshala, Mcleodganj had the most number of Tibetans who indulged in tourism-related jobs (trekking, driving tourist vehicles, carrying luggage for trekkers, selling Tibetan jewellery, clothes, painting and running hotels and restaurants like that of our Tibetan manager).
“But very few Tibetans have migrated (from China-controlled Tibet) to Mcleodganj since the Olympics in 2008”, she continued. “Tibetans (from China-controlled Tibet) cannot relate to Hindi-movies-loving and cricket-following Indians. And, so many have migrated to US, Canada or Australia, but those abroad-settled Tibetans do not know anything about our struggle for Free Tibet”, she said in despair. At the hotel, we came across many articles, pictures/posters and videos on Tibetans’ struggle for a ‘Free Tibet’, before and after 1959. And just when our manager talked about it again we stumbled upon a disheartening fact that Tibetans and the Tibetan government were in exile and lived like refugees in Mcleodganj!
And now some generations may have skipped the struggle phase and conveniently moved away from this reality, making them (maybe even) lose themsleves now, more than ever. … maybe in time, across generations, or particularly in Mcleodganj, despite their proximity to the exiled Tibetan government (that lies between Mcleodganj and Dharamshala). And, they may seem to be drifting away from their true purpose, which requires more than just direction from a spiritual leader or international support. Seems like a steep, rocky road like our 16 kms Triund trail …except that our trek had an end. The exiled Tibetan government, however, may not be that fortunate.
By Bhakti Joshi