Locomotoring

Seven continents, seven seas, seven billion people and seven thousand good eats …

McLeodganj, Little Tibet of India

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Street of McLeodganj

Street of McLeodganj

McLeodganj, or upper Dharamsala is a bustling town, a well-known vacation spot, in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Since the 14th Dalai Lama sought refuge in this town after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, it has seen a steady influx of Tibetan refugees. Now, the Tibetan population perhaps outnumbers the locals.

The Tibetan Government in Exile, which operates from here, has set up various facilities for the refugees. There is an old peoples’ home, a dormitory for fresh arrivals and a large setup of ‘homes’ and ‘school’ for children. A large number of Tibetans send their children across to McLeodganj with groups of refugees to ensure that they receive good education and get to study Tibetan culture. Many of these children never see their parents again. Some are scared to make phone calls to them back in Tibet and gradually lose touch with them.

McLeodganj, partly because of the popularity of the Tibetan cause in the West and partly because of its serene surroundings has always been a backpacker ghetto. The pressure on the resources of this small town is increasing and one sees more vehicles than people walking the streets these days. As far as tourism is considered, McLeodganj is a well-appointed town. One can find hotels of all ranges and most facilities that one hopes for in a town like that, like good Internet cafes (with broadband lines), fairly worthy restaurants and even a discotheque.

School children in McLeodganj

School children in McLeodganj

If, for some reason, you feel like getting out of there, the airport (at Gaggal) is a scenic half an hour’s drive down into the valley. Be warned though, there is no restaurant at the airport and no bottled water either. They have put up a board indicating the intention of setting up one. Palampur, another hill town, famous for its tea gardens, is around 2 hours drive from McLeodganj and then there’s the delightful narrow gauge train ride to villages close by.

For those interested in utilizing their time more fruitfully, look out for posters soliciting volunteers for a variety of work.

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