23 November 2008

Dharamsala (Traveler's Resting Place)

I really thought that the mystical sadhus in Varanasi and Pushkar would have attracted all of the major neo-hippy douche bag freaky deaky Europeans (mostly) searching for enlightenment in India. I was there - I saw crackers with bindis and robes meditating on the rotting banks of the Ganges, searching for something surely not found while surrounded by corpses and sewage. I saw the dreadlocked girls in Ali Baba pants swaying to the beats of Hindu drum festivals, praying "Krishna Krishna" and eagerly anticipating all of the authenticity kudos she'd get from fellow travelers. I even saw those Westerners so incredibly devoid of anything interesting in their own lives that they truly felt the need to fully immerse themselves in the septic waters of the Mother Ganga, all the while eyes darting around to be sure that other Westerners were watching them and regarding them with a sufficient amount of horror - us being the unenlightened ones.

But they were nothing.

Imagine what I described - but times ten - and you have the quality of Westerners found in Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama in exile and the seat of the Tibetan government. All of the backpacker action is actually 8 km uphill, at McLeod Ganj, and boy is it a spectacular example of why I hate hippies. Apparently Tibetan Buddhism has a larger draw than Hinduism for these types, and the place is literally crawling with the palest motherfuckers ever, draped in 4 layers of irregularly hemmed and vibrantly coloured tourist crap, finished off with pointy elf shoes. I saw a dude in a jester's hat. A. Jester's. Hat. They won't even make eye contact with each other - each wanting desperately to believe that they and they alone are the only white person to ever come this far North in India. It is a spectacular display of ego - like watching two peacocks try to out-dance one another for the chance to mate.

And don't even get me started about the Europeans in monks robes.

But, unexpectedly, are you ready for me to get tender? Alright. I'll admit that this is a special place - I feel very happy here - the air is clean and cold (below zero at night,) the Tibetans are gracious and sweet and the light food is a nice change from the heavy creamy buttery Indian fare I have been gorging on every day since landing in Delhi. There are crimson swathed monks everywhere, and I went to the home of the Dalai Lama (who had a landmark press conference here today - the town is buzzing with video cameras and news crews) and spun all of the large prayer wheels - praying for an end to the horrible occupation of Tibet by China.

I didn't know. I really didn't know - and I feel shameful that I ignored it. The suffering in Tibet is something that we in the West made trendy for a few years (Thanks Adam Yauch) and then forgot like any other fad or cause of the moment. But it is not fixed. It is not over, and I have to stop pretending that China is A-OK, or getting better. The persecution in Tibet is getting worse.

I complain everyday in India - all travelers do. We complain for a few minutes that the open sewers smell. The next day we get served something that bares little resemblance to what we ordered and we sigh and shake our heads. I bitch about the spitting, burping and constant staring. But imagine how small I felt today when Sangye, the Tibetan man that taught me how to make momos (Tibetan dumplings) in a private cooking class, said to me "You have no fighting in Canada. You are very lucky." That was all it took to make me realize that we are unimaginably lucky in the West. All of us won a giant lottery. I am starting to realize that everyday.

I see children in India daily who are deformed from polio. Old women begging in the street who fall down at your feet to ask for 10 rupees. Entire families who literally live on the sidewalk. But at least in India they are free. They have a voice. They may not have clean water every day, life can be dirty and difficult and tiresome, and their "democratic" elections are corrupt, but they can worship anything they want. They can speak out, even if no one will listen. They can have hope for their children and expect that things will be better for them. In Tibet - they don't even have that.

Sangye walked to Nepal from Lhasa - over the Himalayas as the crow flies. It took him 28 days and when he arrived he was starving and had severe frostbite - he left behind his entire family and has not spoken to them since. Two years ago a Canadian couple took a photo of him and a letter to Lhasa and searched for his uncle - through them he found out that his father had died. He told me of how his grandparents were murdered by the Chinese government in the 50's, as well as most of his village. As a child he was responsible for collecting the Dalai Lama photos and prayer wheels and beads from around his families small house and spiriting them away to a cave in the forest when word got out that the Chinese were raiding people's homes to search for the clandestine religious items. He wanted no pity from me - and told me that he dreams of moving to Canada - specifically the Tibetan community in Toronto. He praised us in a way that I almost felt embarrassed about - I wanted to say "no - we have problems too!" But of course I didn't - because we don't. It would have been cruel to suggest to him that we do when in comparison we are, like I said, unimaginably lucky.

So that's that. Maybe I hate those hippies so much because I am fucking turning into one. :(