Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Little Lhasa Emerges in Nepal

April 30, 2009

Kathmandu becomes centre of Tibetan culture
Michael Mccarthy
Vancouver Courier (Canada)
April 29, 2009

Tibet is once again in the news, and once again
in a negative fashion. Chinese authorities, after
crushing all protests from Tibetan refugees
during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, once again
cracked down hard on all forms of dissent in
Tibet during the 50th anniversary of the Chinese
invasion. Those crackdowns included restricting
travel to the capital of Lhasa, which has become
a mere facsimile of its former self over the past
decade as authorities in Beijing attempt to
transform the capital into just another concrete
Chinese city, albeit with a few remaining tourist
amenities like the Potala Palace --former home to
the Dalai Lama--so they can keep the tourist money rolling in.

Luckily, for those interested in true Tibetan art
and culture, Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal has
taken the place of Lhasa as a tourist
destination. There, in the northern Boudinath
district, are now so many Tibetan attractions and
recent refugees that the area is becoming known
as "Little Lhasa," well worth a visit to those interested in Tibetan Buddhism.

Centred around the largest stupa (temple) in the
world can be found more than 40 different Tibetan
monasteries, arts and crafts stores, cafés and
restaurants, cybercafés, bookstores and
guesthouses, many catering to western visitors.

My first visit to a cybercafé in Boudinath amply
demonstrated the pros and cons of a visit to
Nepal. The cost of sending an email home was
about the same price as a first class stamp in
Canada, but I immediately realized the importance
of using the "save" function frequently because
the power supply cut off without any warning,
causing a lot of loud cursing in a wide variety
of languages. In the bureaucratese of anarchistic
Nepal, this is known euphemistically as "load
shedding," the word subtly implying that the
government is doing its best to save the
environment. The truth is less charming; the
country is so poor that the electrical system
breaks down--or is simply shut down completely to
save money--for as much as 16 hours a day.

However, whenever this frequent event occurs, the
charm of ancient Kathmandu kicks right in as the
staff rushes to supply clients with a candle and
sometimes even a cup of chai. This is when you
notice that all the characters have been rubbed
right off the computer's keyboard by overuse,
that a lot of chai has been spilled on the
keyboard by previous users, and that the keyboard
itself is held together by masking tape, as is
the chair on which you are sitting.

Yes, Nepal is a poverty-stricken country and it
often appears that the only thriving industry is
tourism, but where else can you get a room in a
guest house run by chanting monks in purple robes
for $10 a day, and a breakfast of corn flakes and
chapattis for 25 cents, and enjoy an earnest
conversation about existentialism with an elderly
bearded sadhu (wandering wise man) toting a
trident and speaking excellent English in a 1910
Oxford accent while asking for a modest tip for his time?

Early in the morning, mobs of pilgrims and
refugees circumnavigate the 250-foot high stupa
in a clockwise direction, murmuring prayers and
spinning the prayer wheels, lighting butter lamps
and offering gifts to the gods. Pilgrims come
from all over the Himalayan world to worship
here, often prostrating themselves on the ground
in devotion over every inch of their long
journeys, arriving in a rather advanced state of
wear and tear. Here, in the giant plaza you'll
come face to face with ragged peasants sporting
wild hair and torn clothes, greying hippies, gay
Dutch tourists holding hands, Indian touts
selling every sort of artifact (some real), hip
young Nepali entrepreneurs toting BlackBerries,
revered holy cows munching on street garbage,
Swiss restaurateurs offering wonderful pastries
and desserts, New Age wanderers with stardust in
their eyes, serious practitioners of Tibetan
Buddhism and starving street kids with their
hands out, all vying for your eye, camera or attention.

While many visitors to Kathmandu head directly
for the downtown Thamel tourist district, with
its cheap hotels, loud bars, trekking stores and
tatty souvenir shops, travellers looking for a
real Tibetan experience will direct their taxi
driver to turn north from the airport and head for Boudinath instead.

There are no visas or harsh Chinese authorities
to ruin your sensory experience, and you won't
find any troops in the streets threatening to
arrest you for wearing a Dalai Lama pendant. In
fact, posters of that venerable sage can be found
everywhere, and you will feel you are truly in
Tibet wherever you wander in Little Lhasa.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank