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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
buddhadharma| 51 |spring 2008 dressy art-world event in Los Angeles, the opening of an exhibition of contemporary art focused on the Dalai Lama. Witty and serious, comfortable as international travelers, evidently at home on the road, they seemed emblematic of educated Tibetan citizens of the world. They were adamant: Come see what it’s like. My reporter’s nose itched—a condition I’ve never yet cured. I gathered my husband, Andrew Pekarik, and after the usual melodramatic tra- verse of India’s anarchic roads we found ourselves drinking tea on the balcony of a hotel overlooking the Dalai Lama’s Namgyal Monastery and temple. This sprawling complex of white buildings wraps itself around a knoll at the lower end of McLeod Ganj, the old British Hill town perched some thou- sand feet above Dharamsala. You reach the ridge by twisting up a single-lane road that mysteriously serves as two lanes for cars, buses, bikes, lorries, and scores of people walking. The settlement lies in an earthquake zone and was leveled by quakes sometime before the Tibetans arrived. When the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, Nehru gave him the ridge, which sits in front of one of those Himalayan mountain ramparts that drop from the sky like shower curtains. The land is leased to the Tibetans for ninety-nine years, and the time is half up. Tibetans are still pouring daily into India. They escape the Chinese occupation of their homeland by hiking across trackless snow passes (often in Chinese-made tennis shoes), evading soldiers and extortionist border guards, and negotiating the tricky Nepali and Indian travel-permit system. They are issued papers in Nepal, assuming they make it that far, and are sent to Delhi, which directs them to one of the Tibetan communities in India. For those who arrive in McLeod Ganj’s nar- row streets, their next-to-last stop is the Tibetan Reception Center, a modest pile of concrete with no sign, across from the post office. Andy and I climb a set of blackish concrete steps to the office of the director, who says his name is Dorjee. He gives us numbers: most Tibetans com- ing over the passes are teenagers or young men, but a few are ten years old or younger, and some are sixty or seventy. Women find the trek hard. Babies often make it over in the arms of someone (Opposite) A recent arrival at the Tibetan Reception Center in McLeod Ganj. (Above) Scenes of McLeod Ganj. MedAPT/Wen-YAnKInG(LefT):IvAnchenG;(rIGhT):MohAncorsIGLIA