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Free Tibet Tourism

The Indian heat proved to be too much for us, we left with me in a quasi-panic and we were determined not to stop until we had reached a cooler climate. The trip to the mountains involved nearly 24 hours of travel, through four provinces on four different buses. Our bus ride ended in McLeod Ganj, with a cool climate but otherwise uninteresting if it weren't the residence of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan community.

McLeod Ganj is somewhat of a Tibetan Disneyland, every other shop selling Free Tibet merchandise, but it is also a major source of information and publicisation of the Tibetan cause. There are museums, libraries, schools, workshops, and daily documentary screenings. Some of the testimonies by refugees, most having crossed the Himalayas on foot, are incredibly moving. A monk described fleeing China after refusing to denounce the Dalai Lama during a Chinese "re-education campaign". By the time he was brought in front of the Dalai Lama, he had lost both his legs and hands to frostbite and remembers nothing of his meeting because he wept through the whole thing. Our visit happened to coincide with the 18th birthday of the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet. The Panchen Lama is the second highest spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, after the Dalai Lama. After being appointed Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama he was abducted, along with his family, by the Chinese government. He was 5 years old at the time and has never been seen since. The Tibetan community organised a whole series of activities in honour of the Panchen Lama's birthday including marches and even a run. The school children all participated in the run, but it was the women in full Tibetan dresses running though town that really impressed the crowds. We spent most of our time in McLeod Ganj recovering from our two weeks in Rajasthan, eating Western style food, reading and watching movies at the local mini cinemas (complete with bootlegged new releases). Each morning began with a pot of "strong black coffee" accompanied by a bowl of muesli for me and a plate of chips and beans for Yann. One morning we noticed a small article in the local newspaper announcing that the highway from Srinagar to Leh had opened unusually early due to the hard snow-clearing work of the Indian military. Why did we care? Leh is the capital of Ladakh, a remote, mountainous region in Northern India (bordered by Tibet and Pakistan) that is only accesible by road for about 4 months of the year. We had concluded earlier that we wouldn't be able to make it there because we were just a little bit too early in the year. This news meant that we could get there within a week, the only downside was that the highway passes through Kashmir, brushing up against the line of control (there is one other route to Leh, but there was no hope of that one being open). Dangers are of course exaggerated by foreign governments, but downplayed by locals, making it impossible to really ever know whats going on, we decided to side with the locals.

3 comments:

Geneviève said...

i like the hair Yann!!!

Jean said...

Can Tibet be freed? Isn't their entire economy based on their captivity?

Papa

2par4 said...

Will he or won't he???

From Wikipedia...

The current Dalai Lama has repeatedly stated that he will never be reborn inside territory controlled by the People's Republic of China, and has occasionally suggested that he might choose to be the last Dalai Lama by not being reborn at all. However, he has also stated that the purpose of his repeated incarnations is to continue unfinished work and, as such, if the situation in Tibet remains unchanged, it is very likely that he will be reborn to finish his work.