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12-december-2011-1Dharamshala, India: - About halfway down Temple Road in McLeodganj, northern India, with about seven clothes shops on one side and countless street merchants on the other, you can find a small and irresistibly trendy café called Coffee Talk.

It is especially inviting to foreign tourists, with outside seating and stunning views of the Himalayan Dhauladhar range above and Kangra valley below.

Inside, customers are met with vibrant orange walls, bright lights, and a hip mixture of Indian, Tibetan and Western pop music - not to mention a tempting selection of fresh pastries.

Pema Guyaltsang, a 28-year old waiter at Coffee Talk, greets customers with a smile and a menu, having begun his shift early in the morning.

Guyaltsang is one of many Tibetan refugees who have made the long journey Dharamshala - the collection of small towns and villages to which McLeodganj belongs.

In his former life in Tibet, he was a Buddhist monk, and he came to India in search of a better life.

This entailed a 19-day journey on foot across Nepal before finally reaching the Tibetan Reception Centre in Kathmandu, where he registered to move to India.

"It was very difficult at first to adjust," said Guyaltsand, "because I first came to work in Bangalore, which does not have a substantial Tibetan community."

His main reasons for leaving Tibet were the opportunities to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to secure his own personal freedom.

"I left Tibet in 2007, which was a good time to leave. By 2008, it was very disastrous and many monks participated in demonstrations for human rights."

After three months working in Bangalore, Guyaltsang decided to move to Dharamshala. Since then, his life has revolved around working half days in the café then studying English and reading Tibetan poetry.

He sayes he enjoys the strong, visible presence of Tibetan culture in Dharamsala, and also enjoys connecting with foreign tourists.

As for Tibet's political future, Guyaltsang has confidence in His Holiness the Dalai Lama. "I don't know what the future looks like for Tibet, but if the Dalai Lama's Middle Path approach and negotiations are successful, I think people will be happy."

His own hopes and goals are, he said, much like everyone else's - to find a better place to live.

12-december-2011-2Pema Dorjee, aged 28, also works at Coffee Talk. He relieves his co-worker at 2pm and works until the café closes at 7pm in winter, or 10pm in summer.

Sporting a black vest and camouflage pants, he is quick to greet foreign customers using his excellent English.

Dorjee's reasons for coming to India differ from Guyaltang's. He came to Dharamshala in 2005, but not out of a desire to escape the political situation in Tibet.

Rather, after 12 years of schooling in Tibet, he decided he wanted to see the world and experience how other people live. He also wanted to learn English and other languages, and find better work.

Upon his arrival, Dorjee joined the Tibetan Transit School near lower Dharamshala. There he learnt English, and three years later he moved to McLeodganj to work at Coffee Talk. Outside of work, he attends a German-language class and also enjoys roller skating.

His favorite subject at school in Tibet was math, which he would like to study again if he can go back to school.

Dorje comes from a family of nomads and has two brothers, who still live in Tibet with his parents.

Though he finds things less difficult after six years in India, Dorjee still misses his family and hopes to be able to visit them one day. To this end, he recently applied for re-entry into Tibet, but he acknowledges that it is very hard to acquire the proper permission.

Despite his difficulties when he first arrived in Dharamsala - such as adjusting to the different accent of Tibetan speakers here - Dorjee said he is happy in McLeod Ganj.

Like Guyaltsang, he has faith that His Holiness the Dalai Lama's idea of a Middle Path is the best course for now, pointing out that complete independence would be difficult at present, especially as the Tibet issue is one problem in a world full of problems.

"Nothing, no living thing," he said, "can stand completely alone."

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