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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Letter from a Punjabi kurri in Dilli | Tibet’s restive rest house

April 12, 2008

By Ruchi
The Post - Lahore,Punjab,Pakistan
Friday, April 11, 2008

Hello friends.

The current protests by Tibetans all over the world revives memories of
a quaint little place in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh. This
pine-clad resort has been the abode of Tibetans in exile ever since the
Dalai Lama took refuge in India in 1960. India’s first Prime Minister
Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru provided asylum to the Dalai Lama among other
refugees from Tibet and also permitted them to establish a
government-in-exile there. Since then, this place is the largest Tibetan
colony outside the territorial confines of the Chinese mainland. So much
so that this places has acquired the sobriquet, ‘Little Lhasa’.

The cool climes and a certain exotic character of the place have pulled
me there twice. Not just me, but it also managed to play magnet to the
gora saheb as early as 1848. The Raj annexed the area and established a
military garrison there. British officers posted in north India hiked up
to the hill resort and soothed their frayed nerves and seared minds.
Since then, the brown sahebs have taken after the gora variety – angrez
chalay gaye, magar angrezi chhorh gaye – and made the place their haven
for cooling down in the hot summer of the plains. Being at a short
distance from the major cities of Punjab, Haryana and the national
capital region (Delhi and its satellite towns of Guragon, Noida,
Ghaziabad and Faridabad) make it suitable for a quick getaway, often on
a long weekend too.

Like most hill stations, the moment you enter this one, the tang of pine
trees whizzes through your sinus. The misty air wakes your soul up from
the slumber that the rut of life tends to send you into. As you enter
the municipal limits of this place, you see cute, chubby monks in maroon
robes and Reebok/Nike sneakers, saying the rosaries, scuttling up and
down the slope that makes for roads. At the entrance to the main Tibetan
colony is an old world post office, a la daak khana, adjoining the shop
of a Parsi gentleman, where he sells ‘general’ items. Up ahead lies
Tibet-in-exile. One sees young – even if they are old, they look younger
than most of us – Tibetans, trendily dressed, sans makeup. Once I asked
a Tibetan girl why women from her community stayed away from decking up.
She replied, “Apna desh nahin hai na, khushi nahin hai.” Her reply
unleashed the thought of the importance of the nation state in my mind,
which at that time was not being groomed in such matters as it is now.
Despite this, they make for quite an impressive exterior. Zero usage of
makeup by the women comes as quite a surprise, especially to us Punjabis
who are accustomed to seeing our ‘aunties’ under layers of chocolate
brown and maroon lipstick, swathes of kajal and rouge.

Anyway, let’s revert to the streets of the Tibetan colony. You see shops
selling fancy ‘imported’ items like electronic gadgets, watches, lacy
(or racy?) lingerie, cosmetics, trendy clothes and shoes. Interestingly,
all these ‘imported’ items were manufactured by the country that the
Tibetans deem as their tormentor – China. This, I feel, must give them a
lot of pain, but Chinese products have inundated the global market with
cheap yet popular versions of the more sophisticated and expensive
items. These shops, collectively known as the ‘Tibatti Market’ amongst
us crude Punjabis, are extremely popular.

Then there are rows and rows of restaurants dishing out Tibetan fare in
all its authenticity. Momos seem to be the prima donna of Tibetan
cuisine. These steamed parcels made of rice and maida stuffed originally
with pork/yak mince served with what I call gunpowder sauce made of red
chillies and garlic are sold in a more ‘respectable’ avatar in India.
Mutton or chicken takes the place of the aforementioned repulsive meats
and for those like me, minced mixed veggies make you the laughing stock
of the Tibetan town. People mock at your choice saying, “Momos, and veg?”

The balmiest part of the city is made up of Tibetan Buddhist
monasteries. Pagoda-like buildings with golden brass prayer drums lining
the walls are a sight to behold. The faithful roll these drums and
quietly quiver their lips in prayer. The Namgyal Monastery and the seat
of the Dalai Lama make the Vatican of Tibetan Buddhism in India. A huge
brass statue of the Buddha in his famous posture with his fingers
intertwined sits majestically as the Shakyamuni Budhha at the Dalai
Lama’s headquarters.

The evenings here see young boys in skinny jeans, snazzy jackets and
gelled hair strum guitars on the streets, smiling at passersby. The
place has a fun character to it, the air is crisp and the locale
romantic. The place is ideal for meditation in a monastery, honeymoon in
a hotel or an educational excursion. The people are peace loving and
gentle. One wonders at the zest they are showing these days in
expressing their long pent-up angst against China. The protests in India
began from this town as it houses the Tibetan parliament-in-exile. The
peaceful, romantic, spiritual town became restive overnight.

All these years I have been going there or hearing experiences of others
who have holidayed there, but this thought never struck my mind. Since
the protests began about a month back, the very name of this hill town
seems to have become completely congruous to its inhabitants. This
captivating little hill resort tucked away in the lower reaches if the
Himalayas is called Dharamsala. ‘Dharamsala’ in Hindi means ‘rest
house’, a temporary abode. In letter and spirit, this town has served as
a residence for displaced Tibetans who always prayed to the Buddha to
cast a spell of impermanence to this abode of theirs in India. I felt
this today, only today.
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