The blood red sun sets on Tibetan prayer flags beneath Himalayan snow peaks. Buddhist monks walk in crimson robes holding iPhones. Low season. High mountains. Am I still in India?
McLeod Ganj has been the center of the Tibetan government in-exile, home to the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees for the past 50 years. Surrounded by lush mountains, draped in prayer flags, and filled with the celestial smell of street momos and thukpa, this place feels like a mini-Tibet. But why here?
Ever since China ‘liberated’ Tibet in 1950, Tibetans have experienced an ongoing nightmare. Over a million Tibetans have been murdered, thousands of women have been sterilized, countless others have been physically or mentally tortured, and over 6,000 Buddhist monasteries have been destroyed. Furthermore, Tibetan natural resources have been hijacked by Chinese economic greed. The Chinese have perpetuated mass deforestation and redirected Tibetan water sources towards China. They dump nuclear waste in the Tibetan wilderness and have endangered many exotic animals, such as the red panda.
I’ve seen FREE TIBET around the US but never quite understood its meaning or impact until now. In Tibet, it is illegal to say or promote a FREE TIBET in any way. Anyone that does so will be locked up and suffer hellish consequences. If one is found with a photo of the Dalai Lama, then he too will be sent to jail. The last big demonstration in Tibet occurred in 2008, and let’s just say it didn’t end so well. Over the years, fifty-four Tibetans have self-immolated themselves – set themselves on fire. This action is an extreme form of protest, in order to die for their country and draw attention to the matter. However, no one in the West hears about these things. Another self-immolation occurred last week. Did you hear about it? Probably not…
Now here I am, completely surrounded by Tibetans living peaceful content lives. They miss their homeland, but with the situation at hand, I think this is a good alternative. Getting here is another story. Thousands of men, women, children and grandparents make the difficult two week trek across the highest mountains in the world in order to experience this freedom. Many get sick, others die. I am sure it is happening right now.
In McLeod Ganj, there are tons of NGOs, constant activities that promote Tibetan culture, and insightful films played around town. When I arrived, I followed a German girl to LIT (Learning and Ideas for Tibet), an NGO where she had been teaching German for three weeks. Immediately I made the decision to dedicate myself to teaching beginner’s English to adults. This experience refueled my passion for teaching, and I’m sure the students have appreciated my enthusiasm. I have also been giving private English lessons to a Buddhist monk. We sit in a cafe and he reads me an Introduction to Buddhism book, practicing pronunciation, reading comprehension, and uncovering new vocabulary. For me, I play the role of teacher and student. I have had the pleasure learning Buddhist philosophy with such clarity. My mind is as fresh as the cool mountain air. My stomach is doing back flips… Typical India.
McLeod Ganj carries a special energy. I have never been more musically inspired in my whole life; in six days I wrote three songs, and have started playing the flute. Knowing that India can never be covered in one trip, I am perfectly content with sticking around and nurturing this experience so it can fully ripen.
Good things take time.
At the cafe for our private lesson
Playing at the bus station
Outside the Dalai Lama Temple