Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Tibet Your Bottom Dollar

MacLeod Ganj, India

We have been in a number of places that can best be described as "traveller ghettos". Good examples are Yangshuo in China and Ko Tao in Thailand. In these honkey hoods you can be sure to find French fries, cheap hotels, internet access, and signs advertising classes in the local form of massage. Traveller ghettos are little nuggets of the West built up around some local attractions. In the case of India's MacLeod Ganj, the attractions are: 1) easy access to mountain trekking and 2) the presence of the Tibetan government in exhile.

MG has been the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his ministers since they fled Chinese occupation after WWII Tibetan refugees that make it into India are brought here and given an audience with the DL. Many settle in the area. The presence of a refugee government, population, and a widely-recognized Buddhist spiritual leader has had predictable effects. The place is over-run with shops that sell Tibetan crafts, serve Tibetan food, and teach Tibetan massage. There is a similar infestation of Western hippies that consume the crafts, food, and massage by the steamy, self-satisfying bowlful. I wonder if Tibetans feel the same way about white Buddhists the same way the Irish feel about "Irish-Americans".

The Tibetan government's compound is comprised of some unremarkable concrete buildings, an underwhelming temple complex, and a small but very well-assembled museum detailing the history of the Tibetan occupation. Although I have only heard the Tibetan side of the story, some facts of the matter seem to be clear. After the communist pushed the nationalists offshore, Chinese troops forcibly occupied Tibet. The justification for occupation is historical. Tibet and Han China were once both part of the Mongol Empire (Yuan dynasty in China). The occupation was not (and is not) silently accepted by the Tibetans. There have been (and are) street demonstrators, guerilla fighters, brutal prisons, deprivation of rights to free speech and movement, and intentional efforts to "sinify" the area. I would like to give the Chinese a chance to tell their side of the story, but in the meantime I have heard enough to develop a strong preference for non-Chinese goods.

Politics and spirituality were not our purpose in MacLeod Ganj. We had come north for the other main attraction - trekking. Fortunately, It was not too hard to escape the odor of incense and hacky sack and get out into the mountains.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I would like to give the Chinese a chance to tell there side of the story..."

I think you meant "their," uh, there.

10/19/2005 5:24 PM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"tibet your bottom dollar..." That's fuckin funny.

11/08/2005 9:34 AM gmt


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