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Published: October 16th 2005
Entry into India from Nepal was easy, like walking from one neighbourhood to another. The only trying aspect was the frustrating slowness and pointlessness of the questions at immigration. Having just arrived in India, the only logical point I could have come from, in that small border town, was the Nepali border. Yet, the procedure entailed that very much-repeated question, "Where have you come from?" which required setting sarcasm and impatience aside, just in case this was a test.
The first big city from my entry point was Lucknow, a city rife with fantastic architecture. Unfortunately, I was dropped in a run-down sort of area rife with over-priced hotels. However, on to Agra the next day, for a well-deserved detour to see one of humankind's wondrous architectural feats, the Taj Mahal.
It shone, in its white-marbled glory. It has amazing details which coagulate from afar to become striking murals but which up close are precisely carved out of multi-coloured marble.
As my main purpose in this vast country is to see what is happening in the exile community, I spent but one night in Delhi and headed on north. Around the same time, the horrible earthquake in Pakistan
occured, one for which the death toll is still increasing towards an estimated 40,000. Again so near to the misfortunes of life I am thankful for my own fortunes.
The government in exile, and a large refugee community, is found in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala.
Having developed in the last decade, McLeod is apparently much changed, with uncountable tourist hotels and guesthouses, restaurants, tea-houses, clothing shops, book shops... It has led to paved roads, more pollution, lots of crap down the hillside. But, there are some positive things happening. One group has a Green Store selling environmentally friendly goods, including recycled paper, cloth bags, boiled water, and a lot of fun things. They strive to educate locals and tourists on how to be nicer to the environment. McLeod also has a plastic ban, meaning no baggies. Purchases are wrapped in newspaper most often, but also the ubiquitous dried-leaf bowl, a brilliant idea found all over India (or the parts of India I have thus seen).
There are many Free Tibet type groups here, selling propaganda merchandise (guilty of buying and planning to buy!) and willing to chat, as well as many volunteer centres. As this is the key
destination for new exiles, the area is set up to provide different education for new refugee arrivals. They can study Tibetan (ironic, isn't it, that they must leave Tibet to study Tibetan), English, and computer skills.
GuChuSum, an organization of ex-political prisoners, has an office in town which publishes newsletters and an annual book. It also provides training for ex-prisoners, in computer, English, tailoring, and restaurant skills. I mentioned it before, but just in case: www.guchusum.org
There are many things for the tourist to do here: study Indian or Tibetan languages and cooking, take Buddhism classes, attend lectures, watch videos (both on Tibet and new release types), learn Tibetan banjo, listen to someone learning the banjo, hike, drink beer at the beer bars... So many choices. I've my first tabla lesson tomorrow!
I've taken a few students for one-on-one tutoring. They are a pleasure. One works in an Education centre and has an energetic, exciteable personality. He is my new Tibetan teacher. Another is a monk from the Amdo region of Tibet. He took me walking yesterday, along with a friend of his, a new arrival from the same region. The third I'm very interested in:
she is a nun who was imprisoned for 5 years in C's worst prison, Drapchi, for the offense of putting up posters and participating in freedom protests. She endured horrific torture which resulted in her needing 4 operations. She still has physical problems, but you'd never know her story from her face. She glows with the smile of a child. And she likes David Beckham.
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