Monday, January 09, 2006
Like in all tourist places, Mcleodganj has locals for whom tourists are part of a culture. It is as you know where the Dalai Lama sought political asylum after the Chinese occupation of Tibet. It is now his home and the exiled Tibetan government is here.
For Tibetans, their occupations revolve around their country. Whether it is selling antiques, traditional attire or T-shirts with Buddhist Mantras written on them, their day to day life revolves somewhat around selling bits of their culture.
As soon as one gets off the bus, hotel owners hound you claiming they’ve had a lot of “Delhi students’ stay with them before. From what angle we were assuredly Delhi students to them, I don’t know.
We were already tired of being cheated so we chose a room in a nunnery which was really perfect and had a terrace attached so it was lovely to see the snow capped peaks gleaming amidst the night’s darkness. For anyone interested in the concept of culture, Mcleodganj is the place to visit. Majority of the population is Tibetan and the rest of the inhabitants are migrants from North India or Nepal. The tourist population is largely Western or Israeli people in search of nirvana or drugs. There are of course the weekend trippers from parts of Punjab who just come for ‘sight-seeing’ (Oh, How I loathe the term).There was a lone mallu shopkeeper as well, longing for the coconut trees conspicuously missing (for him) in this mountainous confine. These mallus, I tell you, are everywhere.
According to the ‘other’ communities, the Tibetans are lazy because they get aid from Western organizations ‘fooled by’ pictures of ‘sad eyed’ children.’ They are, says, D, a Rajasthani, living on charity’. Following the alleged rape of a Tibetan boy (thought to be a girl because of the long hair’) by a Drunken Punjabi man, Punjabis have been looked down upon, says R, a Kashmiri. He warned us to stay away from them. The Tibetans however told us not to trust the Kashmiris and so did the Rajasthani. Another well meaning Indian tourist from Delhi told us not to trust the foreigners. The Indians resent the fact that Tibetans are so well off, even as refugees. According to some of them, the monks are leading luxurious,’ immoral’ lives ‘sporting expensive watches and getting pregnant’. Female tourists are harassed often.
Mcleodganj, in this sense is a cultural mess.
At the Dalai Lama temple, there is a beautiful sense of community as monks and punks sit together and pray and share meals.(No I am not saying that for corny rhyme value, I am referring to those guys clad in extremely baggy pants(gravity’s slaves) ,psychedelic colored T shirts and lots of (non- prayer ) beads. The monks and the chuba clad women carry those prayer wheels rotating them rhythmically to Buddhist chants. We were the only Indians there really, but they were very friendly and invited us to eat with them. We really felt like we weren’t in India and the meat in the soup was making my loyal vegetarian self very paranoid. I couldn’t obviously waste food that has been so graciously offered to me in near foreign settings. It turned out to be Tofu. Phew! (and yea , I was shameless enough to ask.)
There is a vibrant young crowd one meets at TIPA (Tibetan institute of performing arts). Whether it is preparing for Tibetan opera shows in Darjeeling, designing colorful traditional costumes or playing the Tibetan guitar and offering classes for tourists, the students here are an interesting lot. Enrolled for a five year course, they specialize in one aspect of the Tibetan opera in an institute that is struggling to preserve an ancient oral tradition. The 20 something guys playing the drums to western music, on hearing that we were from Bangalore, claimed proudly that when they came here, they hung out at Forum and Brigade Road.
Tibetans are in many ways facing an identity crisis. There is a little known past, the Indian identity and Western influences all merging into the modern second generation Tibetan identity. For the article on this that I wrote , go here or click on link above
The foreigners who come are mostly here for yoga and meditation following the new nirvana seeker brigade to ‘incredible exotic India’. There are many yoga, meditation and Tibetan Buddhism centers around town .In Dharamkot; there is the famous Vipassana mediation centre. (The course requires you to shut up for twelve days and eat very little and the other intricacies of Buddhist tradition, I honestly cannot do justice to.)
Perhaps the troubled Western psyche is used to market a lot of tailor made courses that advertise freedom from indecisiveness, stress, negative thinking and the like. Some of these courses, people claim are money making techniques. The Tushita meditation centre and The Vipassana centre, I gather from all the people who went there are very good.
For regular, tourists, there is not much to see except the dirty Dal lake, the Dalai Lama temple, pretty paths in the hills with mountain streams, meadows, amazing views et al.