India’s Tibet

Some journeys metamorphose you. They bring about a colossal change in your lifestyle. The way you talk and walk doesn’t remain the same thereafter, nor does the way you dress and conduct yourself. Even your thoughts undergo a monumental transformation. Not only do you get to know and understand yourself better, but you also develop virtues like gratitude, empathy, and the like. My trip to Dharamshala, a city in the Himalayan State of Himachal Pradesh in India, happened to be one such journey. Known as India’s Tibet, the city let me take a peek into Tibetan art and culture, making me wonder as to why it is the good ones who suffer at the hand of the crooked.

If you haven’t known yet, Tibet, which is the highest region on Earth, witnessed an uprising in 1959. The uprising known as ‘The 1959 Tibetan rebellion’ was a response to the oppressive treatment meted out to the native Tibetans by the heartless Communist Party of China. The annexation itself happened through a military campaign in 1950, compelling the Tibetan administration to sign terms agreeing to China’s control over the Himalayan country. Consequently, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, who was the head of the then Tibetan Government, fled to India along with several of his followers. He has since been living in Dharamshala as a refugee and continues to be the head of the de facto Tibetan Government. Tibet, notwithstanding, remains under China’s illegal occupation.

Getting to the point, as Dalai Lama had been a mine of information for me, and Buddhism a source of inspiration, this trip assumed special significance. My female cousin, who had flown from Chennai to Delhi, traversing different terrains and covering a distance of more than 2000 km, was as excited as my parents and I were, if not more. The trip, we knew, was going to be one that we would cherish for long, for it was the very first time we were going to journey to a hill station as one. My cousin, furthermore, had come to visit us after almost a decade, and the very thought of spending time together in a hill station made us as happy as Larry. We were all like dogs with two tails! The month was June, the year 2018.

We travelled on a bus talking about the places we should be visiting. Alighting in Mcleodganj, a suburb of Dharamshala, we were greeted by a fresh zephyr. Coming from Delhi, which was known for its pollution, we felt this place could at least serve as a good detox centre, even if it failed to meet the other expectations we had had.

The next morning, we saw trees dominating the area and most of the houses built of wood. The place had a serene outlook. The weather was cold and dry, so we had no choice but to dress ourselves in warm attires.

A Buddhist monastery, which was situated about two kilometres from the hotel we had rented, engrossed us so much that none of us wanted to step out of it despite having spent a considerable amount of time there. The prayer wheels, called mani cho’khor in Tibetan, adorned a section of the monastery, mesmerising the four of us. We circumambulated the main shrine, turning the prayer wheel with our right hands. We soon learnt that turning each of the wheels once gave the same power that the oral recitation of the mantra printed on it would give. I came to regard Buddhism with even more reverence, and the large Buddha statue in the monastery seemed to convey that the affairs of the world would go on regardless of what happened to us. We meditated a while, took some photos, and made our way to the hotel.

That evening we went shopping besides visiting a tea estate and the famous Losel Doll Museum. The bazaars were as crowded as those in Delhi, but there was a mystical aura environing the place. The Viharas (Buddhist temples) could be spotted in every nook and cranny, and even the most crowded of the streets had a monastery or temple. Most of the people that we met were Tibetan monks, who were wont to spend a large part of their time in silent meditation. I had two Tibetan monks agree to pose for a photo with me, but they hardly interacted. There was something powerful in their silence. It was propitiously spellbinding.

The following day we were informed that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was soon to deliver a lecture. However, as we were to leave for Delhi the same evening, we couldn’t take part in it. But how could we miss sighting the renowned Dharamshala cricket stadium? The cricket stadium, surrounded by hills, appeared like a boxing ring encircled by people of all kinds. We clicked some pictures and lunched before being conducted to the Dal lake, where we fed a lot of small fish. The lake, which is enwreathed by Deodar trees, is believed to be holy as there is a temple of Lord Shiva on its bank. We spotted a lot of people frolicking, but since we were running late, we bid adieu to the enticing lake.

That night, while the four of us were readying ourselves to return to Delhi, I sat myself down, closed my eyes, and promised myself that I would return to this place come hell or high water. I recounted the peaceful faces of the Buddhist monks I had seen and meditated upon the serenity of Lord Buddha’s famed golden statue. Now, as I type these words, I wait for the destined day to come. Dharamshala to me, until then, will continue to be a metaphor for Tibet.

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