We spent four days reacquainting ourselves with McLeod Ganj, a peaceful hillside town which has great religious significance to Tibetan Buddhists, and is also a haven for people who want to get away from big city hubbub. Luxuriating in the sunshine, we took long strolls through the countryside, visited the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) school in Upper Dharamsala, connected with old friends, perused the markets for my favorite billowy pants and outrageous earrings, and became acquainted with the crew that was laying the foundation for a new hotel on the side of the hill (where else?) near the Pema Thang.
Simple 2-person shovels with one person pulling while the other dumps, bamboo scaffolding, and the endless labor of women is building Dharamsala.
During our stay we watched the progress of the construction.
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I couldn’t resist a few shots of other sites while walking through town. Building was going on everywhere!
It was actually a relief to move on up the hill and get away from the “busyness.” Here is the corner where you can catch a taxicab. It’s so relaxed compared to most of India. Or how about a lazy walk down the street? It’s quite beautiful to see the rows of houses built into the hillside.
As we were walking to dinner on our second day we bumped into an old friend, Thinley Gyatso, about whom I’ve written in the past. We first met him in 2011, when he was doing translation work for a Swiss NGO. Last year we visited the restaurant he had started in Dharamsala to help young Tibetan refugees get work and begin a new life in India. He just sold the restaurant and now lives near Dal Lake by the Upper Dharamsala TCV school, continuing his writing and translating. We spent a very highly charged evening of political discussions with him as well as an afternoon at his home following our first visit to the school.
On our third day we had a delightful reunion on the outside deck of the new Pema Thang restaurant with a former TCV student, Karma, who is now studying at Men-tsee-khang, the prestigious school for Tibetan medicine in Dharamsala.
It’s wonderful to see the students every year and watch them develop into dedicated, compassionate, determined professional people, who want to make a change in the world. They’re young, and, yes, idealistic, and they will make a difference. The same can be said for Shawo, Cary’s sponsored student, who now is studying at a university near Seoul, South Korea, on a full scholarship.
We also had a lovely reunion with Phuntsok Gyalpo, whom Cary has known since 2007. Phuntsok tutored her in Tibetan during her retreat at the Pullahari Monastery in Kathmandu. Many of his family have emigrated to Australia, but he is staying in Dharmasala to care for his elderly parents.
One motto that is universal in all the TCV schools was displayed prominently on the embankment in front of the school. It is at the heart of all Buddhist teachings and is key to the underlying philosophy that fuels the life work of these institutions and its participants.
That afternoon we took a taxi for our second visit to the TCV school in Upper Dharamsala. It is quite beautiful, situated near Dal Lake and nestled behind large pillars with a winding road leading to the main athletic court, behind which are academic buildings, dormitories and offices.
We visited with Lobsang Tenzin, the former TCV Bir sponsorship director. It was fun to see him in his new office with his two children. On the way we were delighted to bump into Ngodup Wangdu, former director of TCV Bir and now director at Dharmasala TCV.
We met, once again, with a delightful young woman, Boshey, sponsored by Jim and Rebecca Sundberg in Langley. Boshey is taking advanced business and science, and gave us a tour of the school and her dorm. I’ve never climbed up and down so many stairs in my life, except on the Inca Trail in Peru!
I was surprised at how small the rooms are, housing three students, but each had her own space where she could neatly stash her books and belongings. The buildings were of thick cement and, like all such building in India, susceptible to mildew. There is, obviously, not enough money to clean and repair such a huge building complex. But the education these young people receive is excellent, which is the primary focus. Boshey walked us back up several banks of stairs and to the entrance, where we found a tuk tuk to take us back to town.
On our last day, we decided to go the back route to town and avoid traffic. We struggled down a rugged rocky path through the gorgeous Chonor House, passing the Kongpo House, where we had stayed in previous years, and ending up at our favorite café. There we bumped into another old friend, Caroline Martin, dancer and world traveler, whom we had met in 2007 at our first Dalai Lama lectures. Small world!
Halfway through breakfast we heard drumbeats and lots of excitement out front. It was international AIDS day. A boisterous parade of men and women were marching and dancing through the streets, dressed all in white. They looked at first glance like the KKK, but they were actually promoting condoms for safe sex. Let’s give a cheer for transparency !
The group was sponsored by Kunphen, meaning “universal benevolence.” It is the only Tibetan NGO, and provides treatment programs for alcohol and drug dependence, and HIV/AIDS. The emphasis is on care for the suffering.
On December 2nd we said goodbye to magical Dharamsala with the life-threatening traffic. There was that one last look at the valley and the temple from our balcony, and the fond farewells with white katas from the hotel staff draped around our necks. Then it was down the winding road, a stop at the Namgyal Temple to light our last candles, and on to Bir.
I wonder if I’ll return next year, and, if so, how many more hotels there will be? And whether I can attend one of the Dalai Lama’s teachings. I hope. I hope.