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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

A Visit to 'Little Lhasa'

January 31, 2010

The Irrawaddy
January 30, 2010

DHARAMSALA, INDIA -- Nestled between curving
mountain roads and steep hillsides, Dharamshala
is a peaceful city. Unlike New Delhi, it's
pollution free-fresh air, a clear blue sky and many trees and flowers.

Located in Himachal Pradesh State in northern
India, this mountain city was offered as a
shelter to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the
Tibetan people in 1959 by the then Indian prime
minister after Tibetans fled from China, fearing
religious and social persecution by the Communist government.

People often call the town "Little Lhasa" after
Tibet's capital. It's divided into three
parts--an upper area called Mcleod Ganj; a middle
area, Kotwali Bazar; and lower Kacheri.

Most Tibetans live in Mcleod Ganj, which is home
to the Tibetan government in exile and also the
home of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual
leader and a Nobel Peace Laureate like Burma's
pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. They share
the same fate of true leaders of their people who
have been denied their rightful roles by oppressive regimes.

The streets around Mcleod Ganj Hotel are crowded
with restaurants, gift shops and Tibetan women
kniting clothing and craft items. Strolling
around, foreigners, wearing traditional Tibetan
dress, often stop Tibetan monks to talk.

A Tibetan woman, Sharab, who participated in the
Tibetan protests in Lhasa against China told me
that life here is free of the stress found in Tibet.

"We couldn't live in Lhasa anymore because we
worked for peace, democracy and independence in
Tibet," she said. "I have been here for 23 years.
This is a very peaceful place. There's no
repression, and we don't need to worry about anything.

Asked if she knew my country, Burma, she said
"no," so I asked if she had heard of Suu Kyi.

"Of course, I know her," she said. "She is our
hero. She really is a woman hero. Are you from
her country, how is she, has she been released?"

Sharab said she wished Suu Kyi well and would
pray for her health and freedom. She said
Tibetans think of Burma as "Suu Kyi's country."

"When I saw monks on TV chanting the 'metta
sutra' while they marched in the streets and were
shot at and beaten by government thugs, it
reminded me of Tibetan monks and nuns who were
beaten, forced out of monasteries, arrested and
jailed by the Chinese Communist government in Lhasa," Sharab said.

With tears in her eyes, she showed me a picture
of Lhasa. She said she prays for peace in Tibet so her people can return home.

Tourists and trekkers regularly come to
Dharamshala for its magnificent views of the
mountains, waterfalls and nearby lakes. The town
depends on tourism as its major source of revenue.

The Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government
have established a Tibetan cultural library and
documentation department in Mcleod Ganj to
promote Mahayana Buddhism (the Great Vehicle) and
the history, politics and culture of the Tibetan people.

Many Tibetans come to Dharamshala to receive a higher education.

Ahshi Dayan told me that she left her village
with her older brothers to study English here,
and then she plans to return to her village to help educate the children.

She and her brothers were detained for two weeks
by Chinese border guard who found two photographs
of the Dalai Lama in her brother's shoulder bag.

Finally, she was released but her brothers were
not allowed to leave Tibet. They encouraged her
to continue her journey, to accompany the other girls she was traveling with.

Asked if she wanted to study abroad, Ahshi Dayan
said, "I don't have any desire to go. I will just
try my best to study English here. Then, I 'll go
back home and be a school teacher. Children in my
village don't have proper access to school. The
Chinese government holds us down because it fears
we'll become educated. I want the childern in my village to be well-rounded."

Ahshi Dayan said she burst into tears of joy when
she had a chance to pay her respect to the Dalai
Lama in person. Tibetan people venerate the Dalai Lama as a living Buddha.

Unfortunately, during my visit he was traveling
abroad, and I couldn't pay my respect.

The exiled Tibetan government provides financial
assistance to young people like Ahshi who are
eager to study and also offers scholarships to
study abroad. It also helps the poor and elderly
and provides them with vocational training and assistance.

About 7,000 Tibetans live in Mcleod Ganj. While
in Dharamshala, I realized that Tibetans support
their exiled government because it's democratic
and develops programs to help the people.

Acharya Yeshi Phuntsok, a parliamentarian in the
exiled Tibetan government, said: "It's very rare
for Tibetans to resettle in third countries.
There is no resettlement program for us. We have
been blocked since 1965. Most of the people are
now settled here and not too many want to go abroad."

As I left Mcleod Ganj, I was struck by the
peacefulness of the people and by their
committment to help each other and to return to
Tibet. Burmese and Tibetans have much in common.

As Tibetan and Buddhist flags swirled in the
wind, I thought of my fellow Burmese exiles. One
day, both Burmese and Tibetans will have their countries back.
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