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Letter: McLeodganj goes global sans basic facilities

June 7, 2008

By Jaideep Sarin
Thaindian News
June 5, 2005

McLeodgan, June 5 (IANS) -- The steep nine-kilometre drive from
Dharamsala town of Himachal Pradesh to McLeodganj - the abode of
Tibetan spiritual head the Dalai Lama - may be a motorist's delight
but that is no guarantee against a bumpy experience. Attracting
thousands of visitors every year, the majority being foreigners from
across the globe, McLeodganj is literally torn between its
international image and the ground realities of a haphazardly made
northern Indian small town.

The drive up to McLeodganj from Dharamsala is a pleasant one, mainly
due to its upkeep by the military authorities who have a small
military station en route. The green cover on the hill adds to the charm.

But once you reach here, the story is different. Stinking garbage
dumps and open drains at practically every available corner, broken
and congested roads, chaos and pollution of scores of vehicles and
several other problems are part of the daily life in this town.

Despite all this, the town sees a near full house in its 200-odd
hotels for most of the year - thanks to the global attraction of the
Dalai Lama, who conducts his teachings at the main temple here at
least two or three times every year.

"Hotels go full most of the time, especially in peak tourist seasons
in summer (April-July) and winter (December-January). Guests,
especially foreigners, make bookings for rooms at least six to eight
months in advance whenever the Dalai Lama is scheduled to deliver his
teachings," hotelier Ram Sarup told IANS.

The Tibetan-dominated township gets several celebrity tourists every
year. The likes of Hollywood actor Richard Gere, former James Bond
Pierce Brosnan and Melinda Gates (wife of Microsoft founder Bill
Gates) have been here in recent years along with scores of other
well-known people.

The state government had sanctioned Rs.30 million for development of
the town in 2005 and to streamline the congestion here but nothing
seems to have changed.

"Whatever we do, the flow of tourists keeps increasing every year and
puts more burden on the existing infrastructure," is the defence put
up by a district official on the lack of basic facilities in this
international tourist spot.

Foreign tourists come here from the United States, Israel, Japan,
Vietnam, Taiwan, Britain, Germany, Russia, Scandinavian countries and
several other countries in Europe and elsewhere. Many of them stay
here for several months.

At any given time, nearly 500 taxis - from Maruti vans to Toyota
Innovas - and auto-rickshaws ply on the congested roads of the town,
adding to the chaos and making walking difficult.

"We also don't like the chaos that our taxis create. But these
vehicles are the lifeline of this place," says taxi driver Manoj Pathania.

An earlier move to have multi-storeyed parking lots at the two ends
of the town and to make the main street - the Temple Road -
vehicle-free and only for pedestrians seems to have been lost in
government files.

Still, the main tourist attractions - the main temple and the palace
of the Dalai Lama, monasteries in and around the town, the Bhagsu
temple and its waterfall, the church of Saint John's in the
Wilderness, the small Dal lake and Naddi - continue to get hordes of
tourists every day.

"Things have gone from bad to worse here but the flow of tourists,
especially foreigners, does not stop. The state government should do
something to enhance the beauty of this place so that visitors do not
carry a bad image from here," points out local activist Sumit Jaswal.

The Dalai Lama heads the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala.
He came here after fleeing Chinese occupation in 1959.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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