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|India – Spring 2007
Dharamsala is a small town in North India’s Himalayan Mountains. It was amazing to look out and see the snow caps as we drove up the mountain to our hotel for the first time. Dharamsala has been my favorite stop on this unbelievably beautiful trip because of its colorful history, religion, and overall personality.
Today Dharamsala is made up of mainly Tibetan people. It was originally constructed by the British as a hill station but they fled the area in 1905 after an earthquake. In 1960 the Dalai Lama and many of his followers came across the Himalayas on foot to free themselves from communist China’s control of Tibet. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama made the area a popular tourist spot and a holy place for Tibetan Buddhists.
The Tibetan Children’s Village was one of our group’s first stops once we arrived. As we approached the school that Saturday, we saw many children running around like little kids do so well. We found it odd that they were there in their adorable navy and white uniforms on the weekend until the director gave us the whole story. TCV is both a school and an orphanage. Tibetan parents sneak their children over the Himalayas and give them over to the school indefinitely for a chance at a better life, a free life. I can’t imagine having to make the choice to give up a child, even if it was to freedom. As we visited the orphanage area we were allowed to interact with the precious little bundles of energy. They seemed happy and loving and couldn’t get enough of us, nor could we get enough of them.
The streets of McLeod Gang were covered with woolen everything, from hats to booties to Mount Everest worthy sweaters. They also had lots of jewelry, cloth, and Buddhist items. Quite a bit of free time was spent here shopping between our group meetings and listening to the Dalai Lama. We even braved a few cold and rainy days to continue our searches for the perfect hat (with ear flaps) and prayer flags.
Dharamsala is in a beautiful location, but it was the people that really made me smile – their gentle nature and genuine kindness. My personal favorites were the old Tibetan women who had faces that looked as if they had lived 100 lifetimes but still had a sparkle in their eyes. I also loved walking among monks each day, bumping into a 10-year-old monk buying a donut or a 60-year-old monk on the way up to the monastery.
A few of us decided to head to a Free Tibet concert on one of the last nights we were there. As we entered the small arts college auditorium, we were surrounded by all types of people. Young and old locals, many monks, and many westerners that would definitely fit into the hippy category all came to show their support. China’s control of Tibet affects the lives of so many of God’s children and the evening was filled with musicians, videos, and speakers discussing solutions to the conflict. We all really enjoyed being able to take part in such an awesome event with so much passion and constructive energy in one place.
While our friends at EMU enjoyed a week off for spring break, we had a break of our own in a way. This town offered our group a new and refreshing breath of mountain air. As I remember our time in Dharamsala, I’ll continue to feel the warmth of the people and the vibrant atmosphere of the Tibetan town.
- Maria Bowman