the monks and the cold

McLeod Ganj view from our balconyI am currently huddled in a warm internet cafe in McLeod Ganj, a small hill top town next to Dharamsala and home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. On the bus up from Amritsar I ran into two American girls, Emily and Melissa, that I’d met at the border ceremony in Attari and the three of us managed to find a guest house in the dark, after several false starts, and accidentally running into a pack of about fifteen fighting dogs!

View from BhagsuIt is cold here, really cold and especially as none of the buildings have heating. I can see my breath in the air in the daytime! I am currently wearing three layers of t-shirts, a vest, jumper, a rather stylish Tibetan-style fleece I brought on the first day, scarf, bandanna and woollen shawl. Despite the temperature, I really like this place, it’s the kind of place you can easily just wander around all day and contentedly do absolutely nothing. The town is perched on a ridge in between the hills with snow covered peaks in the distance and coloured balconied buildings spilling down the slopes. It doesn’t feel like India, most of the people are Tibetan refugees and there are maroon robed monks walking around the streets, buddist temples, prayer flags and it just feels like I’m in a totally different country.

Girls at the waterfallOur first morning we visited the Tsglagkhang complex, which is the main buddist centre, and houses some very ornate gold statues which all have, bizarrely, offerings of Hobnobs, Oreo cookies and Tropicana orange juice placed at their feet. Prayer wheels surround the man chapels offering up hundreds of silent mantras with every turn. A couple of tourists were walking around and a few Tibetan women were doing the yoga-like bowing prayers on a mat in the courtyard. An American looking guy in a cowboy hat was sprawled out asleep on one of the benches, it is a supremely relaxing place! The monks also run a cafe at the bottom which does amazingly good pizza and vegetarian food.

Yesterday we went for a walk to the next village, Bhagsu, and up alongside a huge boulder strewn dry river bed to a small waterfall tucked into the hill side. We all lay back on a smooth rock in the sunshine and watched Indian guys taking macho photographs of themselves in front of the rocks! I also did a Tibetan cookery course last night as I decided I needed another stab at the Momo making. The guy Lhamo running the lesson was lovely and got really excited when we managed to master the various pinching patterns of the different momo shapes; we did vege ones, spinach and cheese and sweet momos and they were delicious. I am going to live off these things when I finally get back home.

LhamoLhamo himself came to India in 1991 because he wanted to see the Dalai Lama and apparently, at that point, you weren’t allowed to learn or speak Tibetan in Tibet, only Chinese, and he wanted to learn the language of his country, he had to exile himself to India to do that. He can’t return to Tibet now, despite the fact that most of his family is there and he can’t email or phone them but manages to pass verbal messages through visitors who can travel between Lhasa and India. In his kitchen there was a huge panoramic photo of Lhasa which shows just how much building, roads and modernisation has been done in the fifty years since the Chinese invaded, they are doing a horrible job of destroying the culture and traditions physically as well as spiritually. This town is full of DVDs of documentaries on Tibet, posters showing the faces of buddist monks who have ‘disappeared’ or been ‘detained’ and signs calling for China to be held accountable for its Human Rights infringements. So, as a small gesture of support, I am now wearing a red SAVE TIBET T-shirt underneath my many layers!

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