Dharamshala- The Tibetan exile community of Mc Leod Ganj has witnessed changes on an unimaginable scale since His Holiness the Dalai Lama's first arrival on 30th April 1960. It has moved from being an abandoned, remote British hill station, to a highly developed tourism juggernaut; a sanctuary for Tibetan-exiles, and the locus of co-coordinating the Tibetan struggle. The town has been changing at a breakneck speed.
I wanted to know what the Gaddi thought of Tibet's most vital exile community; first-hand. I intended to live as they lived, to better understand the issues this nomadic culture faced; and to grasp what it is like to be the receiving community for Tibetan refugees. For a few days, I would see the world through the eyes of nomads.
With the aid of my translator and friend Lalu- who is a Gaddi himself, and work as a trekking guide form Mc Leod Ganj, we would be living in the local houses and huts, sharing food and trekking the same routes the Gaddi use to get from village to village- paths which enable then to move thier enormous herds of goats to fresh pastures.
Our first stop, the village of Naddi, is practically joined to the Tibetan Childrens Village in upper Dharamshala - North India. The two communities are closely nestled in the Himalayan foothills. However the differences between the two are at times quite stark. Naddi has developed from a rural farming village, into a tourist destination geared for Indian holidaymakers who visit the Tibetan community. It is filled with modern hotels and has an expensive new road linking it to the wider community. TCV on the other hand is a home for exiled Tibetan youths; a community of children who live in exile. The two settlements are worlds apart. Aside from using the local shops in Naddi, the Tibetans have little to do with the Gaddi village, and in turn the Gaddi appear have interest in the new arrivals.
As we trekked up to the next village on the journey; Norah, Lalu explained to me the highs and lows of the Tibetan community- as the Gaddi saw it.
"Everyone loves the Dalai Lama-everyone thinks he is a great man and leader", he stated, adding that he felt the tourism aspect was also a great benefit to the Indian community.
"I have many Tibetan friends, but sometimes the two groups do not get along" he said as we walked. Lalu was also very aware that as a trekking guide, he was more aware and western than most Gaddi, who he admitted did not usually have many Tibetan friends or contacts.
There were some downsides for the Gaddi community however, who live around Dharamsala. Occasionally - as in any migration situation, fights have broken out between the Tibetans and the Gaddi; particularity with the taxi drivers who work late shifts. There seemed to be a deep frustration with the lack of respect some of the Tibetan youth showed towards the Indian community; particularly as many could be seen out drinking late at night and occasionally hassling or damaging taxi drivers and their vehicles.
As we reached our first stop for the night; Kareri village, Lalu recounted one incident two years ago when some Tibetans damaged a taxi late one night. The drivers rounded on the Tibetans and a large fight broke out. Lalu claims that the two Tibetans fled, and escaped imprisonment, and that two Indians involved were subsequently jailed. He claims that the outcry caused by the Tibetan community from local NGOs to the international community made the authorities act heavy-handed towards the Indian men, and this has caused much resentment in the Gaddi community.
We sat and drank chai with the Gaddi family of the house we were to stay in. Below sat The Tibetan Childrens village, and behind the hill was the pinnacled roof of the main temple in Mc Leod Ganj.
Such incidents do not ease the difficult situation faced by the Dharamshala community, and it is worth bearing in mind to anyone in the town that the way they behave and present themselves often represents their entire people, not just themselves. Although the Tibetan struggle is enormous, and under the gaze of the international community, on a local level in exile, there are many challenges to be addressed.