We arrived in India around midnight and spent hours bribing a pack of customs officials to let us bring a bag full of cameras into the country. After we handed over a ridiculous amount of money we went straight to Majnu Ka Tila, the Tibetan colony in Delhi, to sleep. From there we caught the overnight bus to Dharamsala, the town in northern India where many Tibetan refugees live and where we will spend a good deal of our time this winter. Dharamsala is the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. Tibetans walk for weeks or months over the Himalayas to arrive in this rainy mountainous safe space. Some refugees set roots but many Tibetans seem to stay only until they have the English skills and resources to move to other areas of India or abroad. The town is also bubbling with foreign travelers. The majority of the young tourists are Israeli hippies. Most of the Israelis come after doing their mandatory time in the military.
The Tibetan community has done an incredible job of harnessing the tourism industry for their benefit. Many tourists volunteer at community centers, eat at the restaurants and buy stuff in the market. Dharamsala is not the place to go if you want to learn about ancient or untouched Tibetan culture. But it is the perfect place to learn about the current culture of Tibetan refugees. Thousands of refugees have incredible stories that they are eager to tell. We learned a lot volunteering in a conversational English class. Each day for two weeks we sat with groups of 5 or 6 people to practice English. I would begin by asking a general question about Tibetan culture but the conversation always turned to politics and the issue of Tibet’s freedom. People spoke directly about the hope that Tibet will soon be free. Many feel it is time to rise up and fight for Tibet’s freedom. The youth is restless and many monks are willing to give up their robes to take up arms. Still, most of the people we talked to greatly respect and love the Dalai Lama. While he is alive the majority of Tibetans will follow his non-violent middle way approach.
We spent two weeks in Dharamsala, which we will write at great length about soon. We left Dharamsala last night and will return there in November to hold an unseenamerica/unseenworld Bread & Roses photo class with an incredible group of refugees. The class will be made up of are workers, monks and Lha staff. They already have the cameras and will be emailing us stories about their lives while we are on the road. We are now in Delhi on our way to Tibet. We are traveling over land by bus, train and jeep. The journey should take a week or two. I am happy we have the time to go slowly.
I would love to hear all of your thoughts…