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Clare’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 16 Mar 2008

Location: Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India

MapUp here in the hills it is just gorgeous, our guest house has a view of the snow-capped peaks of the Dhauladhar range behind the town but the sun shines most days making it lovely and warm for sitting about and admiring the view.

We have been in McLeod Ganj for almost a week now - it is the seat of the Tibetan Government in Exile and is where the Dalai Lama and about 200,000 Tibetan exiles live trying to preserve their language, history, art and culture against unbeliveable Chinese repressive odds. We arrived here on the 49th Anniversary of Tibetan Uprising Day which is a big deal for Tibetans. It was a day of speeches, demonstrations and the start of a march which will eventually go to the Tibetan border around the start of the Beijing Olympics in the summer, the likelihood is that the marchers will be turned back at the border as they won't have visas but for some it will be the first glimpse of their country as many have been born in exile. Refugees arrive all the time here in Dharamsala having walked over the mountain passes and are often frostbitten and seriously ill - many times resulting in necessary limb amputations. China continues to suppress and deny the rights of Tibetans in their own country - many people here refer to it as Genocide. Its a very sad situation as its clear to me that western nations have no intention of ever doing anything to help - there is no oil in Tibet after all.

Despite this terrible situation the people here are lovely, smiling, open and friendly and I think this might be my favourite place in india - amusing really that its nothing like India! Its referred to as Little Lhasa and really has a very different feel to it, there are lots of monks in red robes, Tibetan handicrafts for sale and quite a lot of rich tourists. Obviously the Dalai Lama is a big draw and there is an entire culture being preserved here to explore. A beautiful temple, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, sadly we've just missed the Opera festival, Chortens & Gompas (Tibetan Temples), Prayer wheels and I've been doing my bit to preserve the culture by taking a Thangka painting class. Thangkas are Tibetan devotional paintings of either deities or Mandalas. Mandalas are geometrical shapes to aid meditation and thats what I've been painting. So far I've only been doing the background but its taken me 9hrs and isn't exactly the Mona Lisa! I don't think I've picked up a paint brush in 20 years! Anyway its coming along and I fully expect some gushing praise for it when I get home...

Things are very quiet here at the moment as a lot of Tibetan owned businesses have shut in sympathy about the killings in Lhasa earlier this week however we are planning some hiking to the snowline early next week and I have my Thangka to finish before we leave - assuming we can get our train tickets - everything seems booked solid. It wouldn't be a terrible thing to stay here longer though!

Hope the storms haven't been affecting everyone too much?