People who don’t seem to fit anywhere else seem to fit in Mcleodganj.
It is a place that isn’t really, but is India, isn’t really, but is Tibet, and no matter how many people go to Zion Cafe in Bhagsu, isn’t really, but is Israel.
It is here that I meet Inbal and Theo, who both don’t feel like they belong in their countries or communities; people with a deep love for the road and a deep desire to question everything they see.
It is a place filled with good cheer and goodwill. The Tibetan government in exile, complete with the Dalai Lama and a large Tibetan community all live in Mcleodganj. Travelers from all over the world abound. It is full of people having fun, and people who care.
Imagine a great natural disaster – an earthquake, a tidal wave, a cyclone. Think of all the people who come in consistently to help out in any way they can. They always turn up, surely and steadily, these people who give a damn from all over the world. Mcleodganj is like that, except that this great hurt is not natural, it is made by politicians. And it is not a one time rescue operation, but constant.
In June 2010, at the time that I’m here, Mcleodganj has seen the celebration of 51 years of friendship between India and Tibet. 51 years since the Dalai Lama has been in exile here in Dharamshala. 51 years of wrongful occupation, torture, injustice by China.
It is here that I attend and document a talk given by a political prisoner’s wife, Lhamo Tso. I am surrounded by people. We see footage of torture by the Chinese authorities on the Tibetan people, the arrest of a man for simply making a film, the loneliness of the woman who is making bread alone every day in Mcleodganj. After a while, I cannot look. But this is not even happening to me, it is happening to Tibetan people. Their instant smiles betray nothing, until you talk to some of them in conversation class and they tell you about their families, in far away Tibet, in a hostile and repressive home. It is one of the most intense experiences of my life. I am surrounded by people crying. I am not ashamed of my own shaking shoulders.
Mcleodganj does what every travel experience has done to my life so far. It gives me a total positive affirmation for the whole act of living, the choice to live. It also lets me meet people who are open and aware and compassionate enough to question what their own communities are doing wrong. It is a huge relief from jingoism lurking just behind a veneer of patriotism. These are people who know their own communities enough to accept what they can be proud of and reject what should be changed. People who are not indifferent enough to refuse to set standards.
Mcleodganj is full of people coming and going, and the mountains are for everybody to wonder at.