McLEOD GANJ: Merging with the Tibetans in exile in the Indian Himalaya

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July 16th 2008
Published: July 23rd 2008
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Loving the scenery and peace of the Parvati Valley (minus the Israeli crowd), we decided to go to the town of Naagar on the Kullu Valley. Another great breakfast at Moon dance Cafe taking in the mountain views, followed by another rollercoaster bus ride on the super narrow roads, with the squeeky brakes, the blind curves and the old bus packed beyond capacity.

I sat by an interesting local man caring a basket full of fresh roses. He shared that he picks the flowers from his garden every morning, filling the basket which he drops at a road side Hindu "temple" (it's actually just a tree with red and golden cloth and ribbons around it: see picture) on the way to work. And so it happened: the driver stopped, he handed the basket to a guy outside, he closed his eyes and prayed to Shiva for a couple of seconds. He will collect the empty basket on the way back home, just to fill it again tomorrow and every day. He was talkative and very friendly, answering my many questions about Indian culture. It helped me to cope being squeezed like a sardine in the smelly bus.

Naagar was described as a lovely village with stupendous views. Well, it didn't go very well for us there: The steep climb to the village was a killer. We checked 6 over-priced smelly rooms and settled for one at the (bad) Hotel Ragini. I found a huge 2 inch-black spider on my pillow (of course I screamed and run out of the room), the manager was rude, we argued, and we checked out after just 2 hours. There was hardly anyone around, except for an interesting German guy who has lived in Naagar for 10 years!! We went for a walk around the village, had a yak cheese sandwich, and left.

Besides a bus tire change, the trip from Naagar to McLeod was just another uncomfortable 9.5 hour overnight bus ride in India. "Delhi Belly" had kept me in bed for half a day in Kasol but poor Amanda had to endure it as we traveled :-(, using smelly squat bathrooms and all.

When we arrived in McLeod at 5:40am, touts already flocked the bus stop. However, more confident with the ways of traveling in India, I could now dismiss them assertively. I looked at 4 guesthouses before checking in on the great Pawan Hotel. I highly recommend it: clean, great views, balcony, friendly staff. I paid 300 rupees for the big room for 2 (about $8), although the initial offering price was 600 rupees. I am learning to bargain hard and not to be ripped-off, as often, like initially. :-)

Karma at play, we ended up at the same guesthouse and coffee shop as Sharon and Scott, travel bloggers I had been communicating with over the internet. We spent great times together, over meals sharing our travel stories, and also by Scott's bedside while he was ill. I guess out of desperation while being sick in India, he relied on me as his health provider. Having a personal dietitian is the best option if a private doctor is out of question, right? And so it was for Scott.

After eating some steamed and fried Tibetan momos (like a dumpling) with a super sweet Indian mango soda, we walked to BHAGSU, a village north of McLeod, taking the time to appreciate colorfull Buddhist prayer flags against the landscape of McLeod. We stopped to watch monkeys just a few feet away from us when all of a sudden a nasty one attacked a traveller. First it jumped at his foot, than again at his chest. I freaked, and had to agree with Amanda that the cute creatures are indeed, vicious.

Bhagsu was nothing I expected. Many travelers had advised me to stay there, describing it as a peaceful place away from busy McLeod. What I found was a busy place filled with tourists, again pictures of Bob Marley and mushrooms on T-shirts and Israeli travelers everywhere (although not as many as in Kasol).


Having been in Tibet twice, being a supporter of the cause for preservation of the vanishing Tibetan culture on the hands of the Chinese government, and being a sympathizer of Buddhism, I just had to spend some time in the Dharamsala area. Here is where the Dalai Llama and 2000 Tibetans fled to about 50 yeras ago when China invaded their peaceful country.


The narrow hilly streets/alleys are lined with tiny shops selling jewellery, clothing, charms, books, bags and more.
Me at the entrance of  Hope:Me at the entrance of  Hope:Me at the entrance of Hope:

One of the places to volunteer helping Tibetans to learn English to better intregate in society.
Yes, it does have lots of tourists besides buddhists monks and exiled Tibetans, including the DALAI LAMA, but most people who come here seem to have a common interest in the Free Tibet movement, or at least in a more holistic approach of life. Tons of opportunities to volunteer, take yoga, massage or meditation classes. Cheap and delicious vegetarian Tibetan and Indian food everywhere, and also bookstores. You can exchange books at cafes and hotels, just seat at a small cafe and while sipping tea, enjoy reading, people watching or engage in conversation with locals or travelers.

Like in most (or all?) India, the streets are dirty, cows and street-dogs sharing them with you, but the place casts a spell on you anyways. It still has a magnetic vibe, somehow.

The most memorable experience was VOLUNTEERING with English conversation classes for the exiled Tibetans. We taught classes at 3 different sights, at 4:30 and 5:30 for anyone and at 6:30 for exiled Tibetans who had been in prison and tortured by the Chinese policy. The crime committed was invariably protesting for a Free Tibet and for expressing their love and support for the Dalai Lama.

Two great men and souls:Two great men and souls:Two great men and souls:

Ghandi of India and Dalai Lama exiled in India, apropriately side-by-side. I found the pictures in an office I entered by mistake in McLeod.

On rooftops, overlooking the city and the Himalayan mountains, I helped ex-prisoners learn how to tell their own stories of protest, emprissionement, torture and harsh 28 days-escape trip walking and hiding on the freezing Himalayan mountains, all the way from Tibet to Nepal and India. Their stories were touching and of bravery. Many of my students were nuns, and all were so impressed and happy that I had been in Tibet, as they had never met anyone who had been to their country.

There were signs with protest against the Olympic games in China and the recent torture and killings in Tibet, plastered to walls of McLeod. But overall, no loud cries for the Free Tibet movement. A monk told me that they follow a peaceful way of fighting for the independence of their country, as it is wished by their leader, the Dalai Lama. I also heard: "we have to be nice and not cause trouble, because this is India, and it has been kind to us. China is powerful now because of economy and we need to be careful". I got it! Fear.

TSUGLALKANG COMPLEX: the home of the DALAI LlAMA, Tibet Museum, and temple:

This is where the Tibetan atmosphere is really found in the Dharamasala area. At the temple we joined Buddhists while they chanted, malas (rosary) in hands, during a 8-day, 9 to 4pm continuing prayer "as requested by the consul", we're told. A few Hindus walked around, a couple dozen westerns joined the prayers, but the feeling was of Tibet. Inside the temple, there was a 3 meter statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha and many offerings of food.

The small but wonderful The TIBET MUSEUM gives an in-depth look at the atrocities committed against Tibet and its culture since the Chinese invasion. A history lesson, an eye-opener, a must see. I left even more determined to somehow help, and headed to the volunteering center.

We walked down the hill to a village where there are free classes on Tibetan Buddhism were held daily at a library. A Tibetan Lama did the teaching in Tibetan and an English lady translated. We were mostly foreigners eager to learn more about buddhism, many of which spend months here while studying.

How not to take the opportunity to get a massage, with so many offers? So we did, choosing the unusual Thai massage. Better than the "Gorilla" massage I saw a sign for. (In case you are wondering, No, I don't know which kind of "monkey" massage that is and I was not interested in finding out). It was enough having men massaging us with their knees.

How not to smile as we saw many monks, in traditional robes, wearing bright colored croks! It looked untraditional, but cute.

On my last day in McLeod I ventured out of the room at 7am. No tourists, no vendors, no beggers, not even a single cow!!! I walked off the beaten path, thru alleys and stairs, reading the signs posted on the dirty walls, many of protests against the Chinese. Looping all around the Dalai Lamas compound, a steady "traffic" of mostly elder Tibetans, "malas" (rosary) or prayer wheels in hand, passed by finishing their "koras" (circumbation around a holy site). Comparing to Tibet, of course, there are much fewer Buddhists, and saddly, only the old refugees wear the traditional Tibetan clothing. That's sad. After all, I am standing where the soul of the fight for the preservation of Tibet is rooted. Although this is India,
Shiva "Temple" by the roadShiva "Temple" by the roadShiva "Temple" by the road

Just a tree trunk where my bus mate drops a basquet of flowers every day.
in this little piece of its soil, lives the heart of the resistance against the death of a culture: The Dalai Llama.

How not be sensitized by the Tibetan cause?

I end by hoping you will want to get involved by contacting one of the following sites to help or just to become more informed about the movement pro-Tibet:
- (One of the volunteer centers we tought at)
- Google: Tibet or Dalai Llama. There are many links

Next we will head south to Rishikesh and Hardiwar, to witness Hinduism first hand, in 2 sacred places by the river Ganges.

See you than.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 28


Begger girl and baby.Begger girl and baby.
Begger girl and baby.

There are lots of Indian beggers in McLeod, mostly women with babies. A sad reality which can't be solved by handing them money and the " milk for the baby" they specifically ask for, turn around and sell the milk back to the store!
Old Tibetan woman and hope for a free Tibet:Old Tibetan woman and hope for a free Tibet:
Old Tibetan woman and hope for a free Tibet:

Her back has the Tibetan flag, banned in Tibet by the invasor Chinese government
Prayer flagsPrayer flags
Prayer flags

Found around the Dalai Lama's compound while doing "kora"
With Amanda & one of our studentsWith Amanda & one of our students
With Amanda & one of our students

Class on a roof top as the clouds come in
Cow & Prayer flags and RocksCow & Prayer flags and Rocks
Cow & Prayer flags and Rocks

By the path behind the DL's home
Volunteering class for TibetansVolunteering class for Tibetans
Volunteering class for Tibetans

A way to help the cause of Tibet. Anyone can contribute by teaching, donating books, sponsoring a student.
The mesage reads:The mesage reads:
The mesage reads:

Amanda spining prayer wheelAmanda spining prayer wheel
Amanda spining prayer wheel

Tibetan Buddhist believe it helps to accumulate credit for next life. There are written prayers inside of them.
The umbrella fixer.The umbrella fixer.
The umbrella fixer.

It rains a lot in McLeod, so I guess it's big business here

23rd July 2008

about McLeod
From Dave: For a wonderful informative blog thank you. For the volunteer centre website thank you. I'm visiting india for 5 months in September and really look forward to the north of India. Dave. I am glad you found my blog useful. Do volunteer, as they need our help. The buiding next to and in front of where HOPE holds their meeting have oppotunities for volunteering also. One of them is for ex-human rights prisoners only.
23rd July 2008

moe info
If anyone wants more specific info, please send me a message or comment.
25th July 2008

Boa viagem!
Meninas, estamos amando cada foto de vcs, belas como sempre, lugares muito diferentes e principalmente, o clima muito gostoso entre vcs duas estampado em cada registro fotográfico. Saudades, Ana, Mario e kid´s.
26th July 2008

oi prima
Que bom saber que vcs tem curtido nos acompanhar. Eh uma delicia viajar, e com a amanda super legal. Beijos
26th July 2008

Great pictures!
I LOVE all of the pictures of monks with crocs! I missed those! Also, could you email me a copy of the picture of all of us? It's so much better than mine and I'd like it for my photo album?!
26th July 2008

Hi Sharon Nice that you liked the pictures. I will send the the one of the 4 of us and a great one of you guys. How's Africa?
5th October 2010
Hinduism and Buddhism side by side in McLeod

Beautiful. Your lens could bring out the glimpse of the soul of India--where poise and serenity merge with vibrant colours of life.
6th October 2010

thanks. it was a great experience to be able to "capture" a little of India through my lens

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