McLeod Ganj: Tibetans in exile

“The systematic eradication of Tibetan culture and religion saw the destruction of 6000 monasteries and temples.  The handful still standing today are used as tourist attractions, army barracks, or public toilets.  Precious scriptures and sculptures were destroyed or sold in international art markets.  The Chinese use scriptures as shoe soles, and monks and nuns were forced to desecrate religious objects.”  

Hatsang Jigme, Norbulingka Institute and the Tibetan Museum, McLeod Ganj

 

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a distant awareness of a situation with China and Tibet.  Regrettably, however, I knew little more than two facts about it all; the Dalai Lama has lived most of his life in exile and China claimed Tibet as its own.  

In McLeod Ganj, every other interaction was with a friendly, polite Tibetan.  The hostel, our cafes of choice, friends we made in the street and places we visited, all were mostly Tibetan.  As tourists, we were made to feel relaxed and at home, totally comfortable.  We didn’t pick up on signs of current pain or suffering from them.  Looking back, I never really talked to a Tibetan about the situation with China, how long they’d been in McLeod Ganj or what circumstances they arrived in.  As generally timid, reserved and modest people, maybe it’s not surprising?

Gate at the entrance to the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts

Gate at the entrance to the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) - One of three main buildings set up to preserve Tibetan culture, there is also a library and cultural centre called the Norbulingka Institute

It took a chance meeting of a Canadian woman, called Mati, to open my eyes, followed by a visit to the Tibetan museum to supply some facts.  Suddenly I realised that China’s occupation of Tibet wasn’t a remote saga in a history book long since concluded.  The elderly red-robed lady that I’d been sharing smiles with on the walk home from the monastery was actually a well-known and respected torture survivor, currently taking care of newly rescued orphans.  In all probability, every Tibetan over 50 years old that we’d met had made the perilous month-long trek over the mountainous border.  Certainly many of the younger guys, people who we’d chatted to about football or rock music, had never seen their homeland.  And those who were born in Tibet grew up under the Chinese regime and can have only ended up in McLeod Ganj after becoming refugees themselves.  From what we were told, many Tibetans still have to flee their country in exile every day, and do so without being able to let their families know what they’re doing or that they’re even alive.

Struggles for land, power and resources have been in existence since humans began walking on the earth.  In an evolutionary sense, it’s understandable.  However, I think there is a stark difference between exploitation of an advantage and attempted racial destruction.  From what I can gather, the past fifty years have not only seen murder, torture and imprisonment, but a systematic attack on the Tibetan identity; targeting religion, destroying literature, banning native clothing, demoting the language, preventing the attainment of wealth or education and making Tibetan people a minority race in their own country. 

Red flag that reads "Boycott 'Made in China'"The Tibetan strength of character and astounding Buddhist approach, which has enabled them to continue in such a dignified and positive manner, touched my heart very deeply.  Staring at preciously displayed coins, stamps and flags of a people desperately clinging on to their heritage, I made a pledge to shout about this and try to raise awareness.  If there’s anything I can do to help prevent Tibet and its culture from becoming a forgotten land, only existing in history books, show me the way! 

 

Don’t just take it from me…

Books

  • The Voice that Remembers by Ama Adhe, the elderly torture survivor I mentioned.
  • Freedom in Exile, the 14th Dalai Lama’s autobiography
  • Tibetan Foothold by Dervla Murphy, the lady who cycled from Ireland to India in 1960’s.  This is her encounter with McLeod Ganj when she ended up volunteering there.

Facebook Group

  •  ‘High Peaks Pure Earth’ run by a London-based action group

Blog 

Mati, the Canadian lady, was leading a teaching exchange project with Canadian students working in McLeod’s Tibetan schools.  This is what they have to say about it all:

Texts from the Tibetan Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Laura on November 13, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Wow Tor, really interesting reading (just got to reading them all!).

    I know relatively little about the situation, so found this blog an especially interesting read. I visited an exhibition in Taiwan which showed a documentary about the situation in Tibet and the kidnapping of the Panchen Lama – all so sad and definitely not shouted about enough, sounds like you have had a fascinating emersion into the culture and challenges these gentle people have faced.

    Glad to hear that you are both having a fabulous time, I will certainly endeavour to read the blogs as they come going forward (new job has been very very hectic and thus far not had time for any ‘extra-curiclar’ activities) so that I can live through it with you!!

    Your blogs are beautifully constructed Tor – really conjures up vivid images – love it!

    Give Tom a big squeeze from me, so glad that you are both trusting your instincts and absorbing and experiencing so much. I am very envious, but am very much looking forward to the next instalment!!

    Laura x

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: