15.10.2015 - 22.10.2015 23 °C
McLeod Ganj is right near Dharamsala and many people come here to visit the place where the Dalai Lama lives in exile. Situated in the mountains, the town is a series of difficult uphill slopes and steep staircases taking you forever higher. Surrounded by pines, deep valleys and snow capped mountains the views are amazing wherever you look.
There is a large population of refugee Tibetans who left Chinese occupied Tibet to seek a freer and better life in the hope to return to a free Tibet in the future. For many Tibtans, the fact that the his Holiness, the Dalai Lama resides here makes McLeod Ganj an appealing place to seek exile although they would all prefer to stay in their homeland, Tibet if the conditions allowed.
Because of the high numbers of refugees here, there is a lot of information in the form of free movie nights, conversation classes and literature available for people to educate themselves about the fight for freedom. We attended several movie nights which are held three nights a week in a school and show documentaries about different aspects of Tibetan life under Chinese occupation. Along with the documentary, they provide Tibetan style cooking that is prepared by the monks. It is a nice community feel and the people running it are very lovely and hospitable.
During the weekdays at the school there are afternoon conversation classes which are free to attend. At the classes Tibetan adults who are learning English converse with foreigners on a number of set topics both local and global. After discussion in small groups everyone stands up and voices their opinions on the days topics. Evan and I attended one conversation class and we both found it very rewarding. We both learnt a lot and hearing the Tibetan refugees speak is very interesting. The difference of perspective based on our lives is very different and made me think about how lucky I am to able to live in my own country and leave of my own volition. The Tibetan people are forbidden to leave and are forced to forgo their own traditions and beliefs and adopt the Chinese language, culture and way of thinking. A culture that is so ancient is dying and people honestly feel that they would rather risk dying to cross the mountains, through the snow with a chance of being shot or arrested then continue living a life that is against their very core. They are not allowed passports and not allowed to leave their country, forced to stay or take the chance leaving.
Another large part of visiting McLeod Ganj is trekking around the mountains. There are several walks to do that take to you villages, lakes, waterfalls and temples. One walk we took led us to the Dalai Lama Temple Complex and the surrounding forrest which is filled with pine trees and prayer flags. The walk is very peaceful and along the way we were walking higher and each time the trees cleared, we were able to see some amazing views. We were joined by a very friendly Tibetan man who explained different things to us. At the end of the walk we visited the Tibetan Museum which, through photos and a documentary, told the story of the Chinese occupation, the loss of Tibetan culture in their own country and the sad and desperate way that some young people set themselves alight (self immolation) in the belief that this is the only way that the world will pay attention to the Tibetan struggle.
Walking through the Dalai Lama Complex in McLeod Ganj, I was drawn away from the temple towards the lower level where the sound of clapping filled the air. The source of this commotion was, surprisingly the usually peaceful monks. I looked around to see several pairs gathered in the gardens and around deep in debate. One person was seated and the other was standing over them speaking quite passionately and emphasising their point every so often with an animated clap of the hands. Buddhism is a religion of wisdom and knowledge. Buddhists believe that one is freed by wisdom and philosophical debate is a large part of their search for knowledge. It is believed so important that if a monk lost the debate with their opponent, they were forced to adopt the view of the opponent. If a point of view cannot be defeated, then the monk is expected to accept it.
The purpose of debate is to seek understanding of the nature of reality through analysis of the state of existence. There is a challenger who stands and asks questions and a defender who sits and answers the questions. The challenger is the monk that does the clapping which is a way of emphasising their response to the defender.
Another day we walked to Bhagsu Waterfall. The waterfall has created a deep ridge carved into the mountain and the walkway twisted uphill towards the top of the mountain. Along the way again there were fabulous views and the landscape was very rocky. We saw lots of mountains goats up there. It is a fairly difficult walk up to the top but definitely worth it.
We also walked a few kilometres out of town to a very small Indian village called Naddi. Along the way we climbed along a ridge and the trek was made difficult by many rocks and uneven paths. We diverted off the path into the forrest and heard children singing. We followed the voices and found ourselves at the back of the Tibetan Performing Arts School where the children were all lined up singing traditional songs. The sound was amazing, very haunting, beautiful and ancient. After this we headed towards Naddi where we found peaceful farmers and lots of calves. The village is small and built right into the mountains. On our way back down we visited a lake and the only Christian Church I have seen in India, called St John in the Wilderness. It is set in a beautiful forrest area and the name is very fitting.
Staying in McLeod Ganj has been peaceful and soothing. I have learnt a lot during my time here and I hope that when I am removed from this environment I still remember the things that I realised about my life and apply that thinking to my day to day living at home. I really realise that others do not have it so easy.