A Day In Mini Lhasa – Mc LeodGanj
— Tucked away in the mountains of Dharmasala and
Kangra, Mc Leodganj is a far cry from the sleepy lifestyle of most Himachal settlements. When you scratch the surface, it is a happy, bustling tourist destination but there’s more. The narrow, shop lined streets draw thousands of visitors from across the world every day. Wares on display include chunky jewellery, crystals, incense sticks, Buddha and Tara figurines, scarves and clothes. Cafes offering Tibetan, Indian and continental cuisine co-exist with tea shacks. Business is brisk as tourists stream in endlessly.
— For the average tourist, the uphill walk in the marketplace is as close as one can get to idyll. But the road tapers off into another world, where one abruptly comes face to face with the trauma of Tibet’s past and present. The statue of a man engulfed in flames shocks the visitor. Nearby are photos of Tibetan youth who immolated themselves during the struggle for independence. One of the pictures is that of a burning corpse. Others of fresh faced Tibetan youth who seem to have no business offering themselves to the flames.
— The Tibetan museum gives the complete picture. It contains a photographic account of Tibet’s horrendous encounter with the brutalities of imperialism. The story begins with the peaceful Tibetan community waking up to the sound of Chinese troops marching into their homeland one morning in 1949. Photos of Tibetan temples and monasteries plundered and destroyed speak of a ruthless campaign to wipe out all traces of the local culture. Pictures of the Red Army contrast with those of glassy eyed Tibetans staring into nothingness in front of desecrated temples and monasteries.
— There are accounts of arduous journeys across dangerous terrain. It’s a journey many undertake but few survive. Death lurks in Chinese sniper rifles as well as in the snow clad heights that tower above the hapless Tibetans. The tattered, bloodstained shirt of a Tibetan prisoner and his scarf, handcuffs designed to tighten on prisoners’ wrists and electrical torture implements repulse the visitor. According to a nun who was incarcerated and tortured, electrical torture devices were inserted into her private parts and cigarettes were stubbed on her. This is part of the Chinese boot on the spiritual legacy of Tibet. The atheistic government has imposed measures such as forced denunciations of the Dalai Lama, destruction of around 6,000 temples, monasteries and nunneries and elimination of temporal education. Spiritual leaders, including the 11th Panchem Lama have disappeared and Tibetans have been deprived of education, healthcare and livelihood.
— After the grim reality shown by the museum, the Tibetan temple on the main square acts as a balm. The spacious compound contains signs of both Tibetan austerity and faith. Wooden planks line the spacious compound, presumably pilgrims use them as beds. Large statues of Buddha, Avalokiteshwara, Green Tara and Guru Padma Sambhava adorn the temples. Offerings of biscuits, butter and other utilities are piled up before them. The temples are spotlessly clean and serene. There’s something poignant about seeing displaced Tibetans prostrating before the deities, praying for the well being of their people and country.
— After spinning prayer wheels, visitors make their way outside the temple. At a relatively posh eatery owned by a Tibetan family, the conversation turns towards the struggle and life in India. And we realize that the struggle is far from over. “We don’t belong here. If we have to go out of Mc Leodganj we have to furnish papers to the effect and we don’t get them. We cannot buy land, we are not recognized as citizens and don’t get those rights. We are at the mercy of the Indian government,” says the proprietor before he cheerfully joins his wife and son for lunch.
— Mc Leodganj or mini Lhasa does offer a happy retreat from the rough and tumble of life. But wherever you are and whoever you are, do take out time to look beyond the surface and stand with the Tibetans in their ordeal.