A Forgotten Cause

Last year during my two month backpacking trip in India i spent a good couple of weeks in this place called McLeod Ganj. Located in the north of India at the foothills of the Himalayas in the state of Himachal Pradesh, thirty minutes from Dharamsala is the suburb of Mcleod Ganj. Popularly known as little Lhasa in reference to the capital of Tibet, this truly magical place is the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile and the official residence of his Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Apart from the fact that this place is surreal with its picturesque views, strong spiritual presence and connection. One thing that is quite visible is the large Tibetan community and culture that exist’s here. People from all over the world come here for diverse reasons one of them being to deeper their understanding and study about Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism by doing courses at the Tushita meditation center which in my opinion should be in the bucket list of anyone interested in studying about Buddhism.

As a traveler i believe that one of the main reasons we travel is to learn by adopting to a particular place rather than the place having to change according to us travelers. This i believe will make us more open minded individuals, which is very important in this day and age. My time spent here was a turning point and real eye opener for me, hence i thought i would share my view on a subject that hit me and i hope this will raise awareness on an issue that has been ignored for quite a long time.

One thing quite evident in this place was the many awareness campaigns by local Tibetans to highlight the invasion and on going illegal occupation of the Chinese government in Tibet. This was clear to me when i visited the Tibetan museum and saw first hand accounts and pictures of the suffering Tibetans have faced in the past and which sadly continues to this day under an oppressive Chinese rule.

Tibet was once a free autonomous region, a country with an old and proud history that dates back to more than two thousand years. Buddhism plays a pivotal role in the country’s political affairs and culture, and has been for a very long time. His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama serves as the country’s political and spiritual leader. China’s invasion of Tibet happened in 1959, or as the Chinese government called it “The Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”, but there was nothing peaceful about it as thousands were killed and slaughtered under a brutal regime. In all accounts it was a genocide. Following the failed Lhasa uprising and the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet in 1959 the government of India accepted the Tibetan refugees. India designated land for the refugees in the mountainous region of Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile are now based.

Since then the community of Tibetans living in exile in India have expanded since 1959 and their culture has spread across India and all over the world. They have created temples, schools and cultural centers all across India, which are positive and encouraging steps taken in order to preserve and continue a culture, tradition and race which in Tibet under a Chinese rule are denied to them. Simple things like their own language isn’t being taught in schools, instead they are forced to learn Chinese . Unfortunately to this day the injustice and suffering faced by Tibetans back in there homeland under a Chinese regime continues to be ignored by the world primarily because of China’s supremacy in the world economy and honestly it is quite sad and frustrating.

To avoid suffering at the hands of the Chinese government, every single day Tibetans flee there homeland and most of them make there overland journey to India by crossing the Himalayas by foot under extremely adverse conditions. This life or death journey is a result of the suffering they have been facing since Tibet’s invasion in 1959.

Some of the disturbing images that i saw in the museum will be in my memory for a very long time. Like the picture of the eight-year old boy who after having survived the life or death journey across the Himalayas, but was crying in pain due to injuries sustained to his feet due to frostbite because of the extreme cold Himalayan weather, his feet were literally blue in colour. Looking at that picture and thinking about it makes me cringe to this day.

Even to this day Tibetans are fighting and hoping for a free country, a country that they can one day call home, led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama along with most Tibetans they believe in a peaceful resistance. This is a virtue we as human beings should admire and i believe this comes from strong Buddhist foundation.

A another thing that caught my eye and was really emotional for me when i was in the museum was the “Wall of Immolation”. A wall with 47 pictures paying tribute and honouring the Tibetans who have self immolated or burned themselves over the years. Looking at all those faces most of them young men and women who have ended their lives hoping that at least their extremely bold, painful acts of inflicting pain upon themselves so that the world will open its eyes to what is really going on in their homeland and hoping that one day this would bring about a better future for the next generations. But sadly to this day the world chooses to turn a blind eye.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in great volunteering initiatives such as the language conversations classes which are aimed at helping Tibetans learn various languages from English, French, Spanish, etc, which will help them integrate into society when living in a foreign country. It was a great feeling to help out and contirbute in a small way to a much bigger cause. Being around these intriguing people i discovered that the resilience, optimism and their sense that one day everything will be alright was truly inspiring.

My time spent in this incredible place and the lessons i learned has changed me as a person. The more i travel, the more cultured and knowledgeable i will get. My inspiration to travel to Tibet in the future and wanting to do something about this issue was inspired during my stay here. I am looking forward to helping the Tibetan cause in a much more profound way in years to come. A cause i believe that has been forgotten for far too long.

Below are some pictures I took of the sights and surroundings of Mcleod Ganj, Bhagsu,Dharamkot and most importantly some of the great people I had the priviledge to have met. Thank you for all great memories and beautiful moments.

Volunteering while Traveling

During my two week stay in Mcleod Ganj, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to have taken part in some great volunteering initiatives.

To volunteer while traveling is a great way to meet other like-minded travelers and moreover it’s always good to give back to a community or a place.These volunteer groups are spread across India and are indulged in activities that vary from environmental conservation to teaching languages etc.

Among these groups Waste Warriors is a group that is doing good work by cleaning the trekking paths and the city of Mcleod ganj and has active chapters in many other places like Corbett and Dehradun. I was fortunate to have stayed at the Waste Warriors base thanks to a dear friend of mine.

Waste Warriors

Founded by Jodie Underhill, a British woman who traveled around India and volunteered at the Tibetan children’s village(TCV) in Mcleod Ganj in 2008, she was bothered by the garbage situation in this beautiful place and decided to do something about it. She started her first mass clean up with the help of many concerned locals and from there onwards Waste warriors has gone from strength to strength and has now established itself as household name in waste collection, recycling, environmental cleanups, animal welfare, etc. With active chapters in other places around India. A true success story of how it only takes one person to spark and ignite others to make a change. This is living proof that one person can definitely make a change.

The organisation’s vision is for a cleaner India and to educate people about waste disposal and recycling. As an organisation they have a limited staff hence they mostly depend on the generous contributions of volunteers.

I myself volunteered by joining a group  of volunteers from Taiwan and did the popular Triund trek on my first day. It’s a day trek that starts in the morning at around 10 am. While absorbing the breathtaking views the trek has to offer, our mission was to pick/clean up the trial that is dirtied mostly with plastic bottles we see in our way. We started around 10 and the trek usually takes around 7 hours to reach the top while picking the garbage, resting and seeing first hand what gorgeous nature this land has to offer, it’s definitely worth taking your time. It’s a pity that sometimes people treat this beautiful home we live in with such disregard like throwing trash where ever they feel like and an organisation like Waste Warriors are doing a great job in educating the public and making them aware on how to be more caring individuals towards a cleaner environment. We all have a certain responsibility towards a cleaner planet, not just for ourselves but for the health and welfare of future generations.

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So we reached Triund in the evening, for me it came with an advantage to make new friends seeing that I had the opportunity to work with other volunteers. In the night the starry sky and cityscape of Dharamshala and Mcleod Ganj give a beautiful view from the top of the mountains. It’s a popular trek for avid campers, hence I took the time to roam around and meet some of them, I mean what’s the point of traveling if it isn’t to meet people and connect. I particularly enjoyed meeting some university students and enjoyed conversing with them sitting around a bonfire.

After having a generous dinner that Sanam was kind enough to have arranged for us, it was cold outside so everyone went inside their sleeping bags after a productive yet tiring day.

Next morning we woke up and segregated the waste into different bags, eg-plastic bottles in separate bags etc and cleaned the surrounding area of Triund. It was fun and the morning views were great with rocks and lush greenery surrounding the whole area. 

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After the cleanup we all made our way down to Bhagsu and finally arrived in the evening. It was a throughly enjoyable experience and one I would highly recommend for any traveler visiting Mcleod Ganj. This trek made my Mcleod ganj visit worth it. I mean there is nothing more worth while than to experience and appreciate what mother nature has to offer and in the process to give something back in a small way, since it has given us so much more.

It was a very humbling experience and it felt good to have contributed in a small way. All the good work done by these volunteers goes a long way and are positive steps towards a cleaner India. I urge all travelers to volunteer in some way while traveling. Traveling is a fulfulling way of living life and volunteering is only going to enrich that experience.

I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to the fabulous group from Taiwan that I met during this trek, to Vivek, Sanam and Atreju. It was a throughly worthwhile experience and one that I highly recommend.

You can get involved with Waste Warriors and contribute to a cleaner India by getting in touch with them to the link I have provided below.
http:// http://wastewarriors.org/

Thank you Waste Warriors.

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