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Postcard From...Dharamsala

August 13, 2009

Saransh Sehgal
Foreign Policy In Focus
August 11, 2009

Editor: John Feffer

Dharamsala is the capital of the Tibetan exile
community. Thousands of Tibetans fled to this
city in northern India and have lived there for
the past half-century. Most live in Upper
Dharamsala, popularly known as Little Lhasa,
where the Dalai Lama has his residence, just
opposite the Tsuglag Khang, the central cathedral.

The heart of Tibetan exile life beats in
Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama, the Karamapa
Lama, who is third in line, as well as other
high-ranking lamas and monks. Also in residence
is the government-in-exile, with a prime minister
and legislature elected directly by exiled Tibetans.

In the hills, Tibetan prayer flags, maroon-robed
chanting monks, and signs of Tibet's diverse
culture are everywhere. The town throngs with
small Tibetan-run cafes. Volunteers teach young
students and monks courses in Buddhism. Protest
flags against the Chinese are ubiquitous, along
with Free Tibet billboards. Monks and nuns
outnumber tourists and revelers, performing
hunger strikes on every major holiday in the
hopes of influencing global public opinion.

With the Dalai Lama now 74 years old, anxiety has
grown in recent months over the future of the
autonomous Tibet movement. Once Tibet's most
iconic figure retires or departs, Tibetan
Buddhism will change dramatically and the Tibetan
cause could fade from the international
spotlight. Many Tibetans are resting their future
hopes on the third-highest lama in the Tibetan
Buddhist hierarchy, 24-year-old Ogyen Trinley,
who was born and raised in Tibet but escaped to
India in 2000, in a dramatic trek that took him
across Nepal to Dharamsala. Although the exiles
fear talk about succession, the Dalai Lama
himself hasn't shied from the subject: "If people
feel that the institution of the Dalai Lama is
still necessary, then this will continue."

The United States and other members of the
international community have sent clear signals
to the exile government that they are concerned
about developments in the Tibet region, and
expect that Beijing and the Tibetan exile
community will come to a mutual resolution that
respects the wishes of the people of Tibet.

"I hope that you will use that credibility and
those relationships to help persuade Chinese
officials that the Dalai Lama is not part of
their problem but rather part of the solution to
the situation in Tibet," Jeff Bader, a senior
director for Asia of the White House's National
Security Council, told a group of prominent Chinese-Americans a few months ago.

The Dalai Lama will visit the United States in
October and hopes to meet with President Obama.
But Washington has also stressed the importance
of its relationship with Beijing, particularly
during the global financial crisis. Chinese
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu warned, "We
firmly oppose the Dalai's engagement in
separatist activities in any country under
whatever capacity and under whatever name." So a
meeting between the elderly Tibetan and the young
American remains up in the air.

In Dharamsala, meanwhile, the Tibetan exile
community waits. It has created a new Tibet away
from Tibet -- a Tibet 2.0 -- that aims to be more
modern and more internationally connected than
the real, existing Tibet over the border.

Saransh Sehgal, a contributor to Foreign Policy
In Focus based in Dharamsala, India, also writes
for Asia Times Online. He can be reached at: .
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