McleodGanj.Dharamsala.Kangra valley

"Close to Heaven"


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Tibetan Dreams

Since the creation of the Tibetan government-in-exile in 1960, the Dalai Lama has done a fine job in creating a solid foundation for its refugees. The establishment of Tibetan museums, schools, organizations, monasteries, vocational training, and financial support is outstanding, and wouldn't have been possible without the freedom of speech. Being able to speak the truth about the Chinese government, as well as the freedom to practice their religion are probably the most liberating aspects for Tibetans in leaving their homeland.

Upon arriving in Dharamsala, this town may look more like a Tibetan vacation destination than a refugee area. Monks can be seen eating at tourist restaurants, shopping, and walking merrily on the streets. As for other Tibetans, more and more are adopting the Western look. Traditional attire is being replaced by jeans and a T-shirt; long braided hair and hair accessories of jewelry and cloth are rarely seen; and cell phones are spinning in their hands instead of prayer wheels. The peaceful streets of Lhasa (as well as other Tibetan towns) are a distant memory to the discordance of roaring motorcycle engines, blaring car horns, and barking dogs on the streets of McLeod Ganj. In fact, it is the Tibetans who own the majority of restaurants, shops, and hotels here, and the Indians are the ones who work for them. Even more peculiar is the presence of Indian beggars who specifically moved here to beg from the Tibetans (thinking that it is their land, their right) or from tourists. The Indians tend to be jealous of the success of Tibetan refugees and the support organizations available to them. Not surprisingly, occurences of racial tension are not uncommon. At what sacrifice has the traditional Tibetan lifestyle cost them in order to achieve success? Is this the 'Tibetan Dream' or the American Dream?

In present day Tibet, the effects of the so-called Cultural Revolution continue to violate the lives of Tibetans. Tibetan-owned establishments are currently being torn down by the Chinese government and being replaced by Chinese owned hotels, restaurants, and shops. Furthermore, the immigration of Han Chinese into the Tibetan borders and main towns is widely encouraged. This is a deliberate attempt by the Chinese government of a population takeover. Not only will Tibetans soon be a minority in their own country, but their chances of economic survival will also be diminished.

With the control of the Chinese government over Tibet's population, economics, religion, and freedom of speech (with defiance resulting in imprisonment or death), it is no wonder that every year, thousands of Tibetans flee from their homeland. By leaving Tibet, however, this aids China in achieving its ultimate goal; ethnic cleansing, exploiting the land (ie., deforestation, or using it as nuclear test sites), and expanding Chinese power. As a Tibetan, then, do you stay in allegiance to your own country, your people and your culture? Or do you escape Chinese oppression, cross dangerous mountain passes, and hope for a better life in a different country?

How to Greet the Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama is the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetans in exile. He has become famous across the world in his quest to regain Tibetan independence from China.


  • STEP 1: Visit Dharamsala, India - a small mountain town in northern India - where the Dalai Lama resides. Or you can try to see him elsewhere, as he travels frequently.
  • STEP 2: Go to the Tibetan Welfare Office in Upper Dharamsala to find out if any public audiences with the Dalai Lama are scheduled. If no public audiences are being given, you can bring a written request for a private audience to the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his temple/residence area. But keep in mind that these are rarely granted.
  • STEP 3: If no public audiences are scheduled, keep your ears open while you are in town; these audiences are often given with less than a day's notice, and news of the audience is typically spread by word of mouth.
  • STEP 4: Bring a white scarf, which can be purchased on your way to the Dalai Lama's residence for a few rupees. It is a tradition that the Dalai Lama blesses this scarf when he greets you. Also, there is often a table set up where you can leave other items you want blessed (prayer beads, statues, extra scarves). The Dalai Lama will bless these items and you will be able to pick them up afterwards.
  • STEP 5: Arrive at least 15 minutes early for the audience and be prepared to stand in line for a long time. You'll encounter tight security, so don't bring anything that can be construed as a weapon or a camera.
  • STEP 6: Go through security and get in the proper line as instructed by the security personnel. Then wait to meet the Dalai Lama.
  • STEP 7: Be aware that your encounter with him will be brief; have your silk scarf ready to be blessed.
  • STEP 8: Bow your head to greet him. Some Westerners like to peek while bowing to gain eye contact with this charismatic leader. Most Tibetans, however, prostrate in front of him and do not make eye contact.
  • STEP 9: Receive a red cord thread from one of his assistants after you meet him - something you can wear around your neck in remembrance of your encounter with him.

Tips & Warnings

  • Non-Tibetans are allowed to meet the Dalai Lama once a year as part of his international outreach to raise awareness about Chinese occupation of Tibet. Tibetans are essentially allowed to meet him once in a lifetime - he greets Tibetans who have recently fled Tibet.
  • The Dalai Lama has written several wonderful books, including his autobiography, and this special moment is even more enriched if you are familiar with his writings and teachings.
  • March is a wonderful time of year to visit Dharamsala. There are several Tibetan cultural events in March, and the weather is pleasant.

A Wireless Network for 'Little Lhasa'

Inside the Gyuto Ramoche temple in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala, the scene is timeless, seemingly centuries old: Rows of scarlet-robed young monks from Tibet, hunched over prayer scrolls in mediation.

But outside, an antenna sits on a rooftop not far away. It's one of 30 connection points in a wireless network that's bringing the Internet to this remote region where communication technology has been expensive, unreliable and hard to come by -- until now.

The monks in meditation over those scrolls are a key inspiration for creating the wireless network. They are refugees from Tibet and part of a community of hundreds of thousands of refugees. Web access promises better communication, a path to preserve Tibetan culture and a way to tell their stories to the outside world.

Much of the so-called mesh network taking root in Dharamsala is the work of Yahel Ben-David. The Israeli engineer earned his technology chops in Silicon Valley and his survival skills in the Israeli military. The community wireless network, he says, is funded so far by his own credit cards. He faces unique maintenance challenges -- like figuring out the best way to monkey-proof an antenna.

Each antenna links with others to form what's called a wireless mesh that provides Internet access. Connection points that are spread out over an area "mesh" together, so if one or two antennas are down, network users can connect with another in the mesh.

But don't expect to be able to whip out your laptop and log on if you visit Dharamsala -- for now, the network is mostly for Tibetan organizations and schools, who agree to host equipment and pay a nominal fee to access the Internet and make Web-based phone calls.

Ben-David and his colleagues -- whom locals refer to as "computer-wallas" in Hindi slang -- are getting remote assistance from a global hacker activist group called Cult of the Dead Cow. The crew also recycles networking hardware parts from the West, and uses free, open-source software run the network and keep costs down.

Because Buddhist temples in the area are often built on the highest possible hilltops, Ben-David and his team use them to mount antennas. Sometimes they paint religious symbols on the devices so they'll blend in. Most of the antennas are solar-powered -- you can't depend on electricity working all the time in this part of the world, but you can depend on the sun.

All the hard work is beginning to pay off. About 2,000 computers are connected to the Dharamsala network, and the Tibetan Technology Center has attracted the attention of tech activists throughout India and the world. In October, the group will host a community wireless summit to bring all of those organizations together.

A Routine Day of HH The Dalai Lama

When asked by people how His Holiness the Dalai Lama sees himself, he replies that he is a “simple Buddhist monk”.  Even in his daily life, His Holiness remarks that he spends 80% of his time on spiritual activities and the other 20% on Tibet. 

His Holiness is often out of Dharamsala on travels both within India and abroad.  During these travels, His Holiness’ daily routine varies depending on his engagement schedule.  However, His Holiness is an early riser and tries as far as possible to retire early in the evening.  

When His Holiness is at home in Dharamsala, he wakes up at 3.30 a.m.  After his morning shower, His Holiness begins the day with prayers, meditations and prostrations until 5.00 a.m.  From 5.00 a.m. His Holiness takes a short morning walk around the residential premises.  If it is raining outside, His Holiness has a treadmill to use for his walk.  Breakfast is served at 5.30 a.m.  For breakfast, His Holiness typically has hot porridge, tsampa (barley powder), bread with preservatives, and tea.  Regularly during breakfast, His Holiness tunes his radio to the BBC World News in English.  From 6 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. His Holiness continues his morning meditation and prayers.  From around 9.00 a.m. until 11.30 a.m. he studies various Buddhist texts written by the great Buddhist masters.  Lunch is served from 11.30 a.m. until 12.30 p.m.  His Holiness’ kitchen in Dharamsala is vegetarian.  However, during visits outside of Dharamsala, His Holiness is not necessarily vegetarian.  As an ordained Buddhist monk, His Holiness does not have dinner.  Should there be a need to discuss some work with his staff or hold some audiences and interviews, His Holiness will visit his office from 12.30 p.m. until around 4.30 p.m.  Typically, during an afternoon at the office one interview is scheduled along with several audiences, both Tibetan and non-Tibetan.  Upon his return to his residence, His Holiness has evening tea at 6 p.m.  He then has time for his evening prayers and meditation from 6.30 p.m. until 8.30 p.m.  Finally, after a long 17-hour day His Holiness retires for bed at 8.30 p.m. 



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