English | Dutch
Hello, I am Tibetan
Manali (India), August 22nd 2007
Hello, my name is Hank. I am Tibetan”. Tibetan? But you look so western. “That is correct. I am born in The Netherlands, but I know already for eighteen years that I am Tibetan”. But how did you come to know that you are Tibetan? “As a child I had a very strange laugh that I had to unlearn from my parents, under pressure of some spanking”. When I visited Tibet for the first time, eighteen years ago, I heard my own laugh everywhere on the streets. That was the moment I knew it. I am Tibetan”.

Hank is just an example of the kind of people you will meet in McLeod Ganj, a small village in the Northwest of India. Hank did go all the way. He officially left The Netherlands at retirement and emigrated to this little village in India, to live between the Tibetans. McLeod Ganj is famous for the fact that it is the residence of the 14th Dalai Lama (spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people), after he fled out of Tibet in 1959, as result of the occupation of Tibet by China. Also the official Tibetan Parliament (in exile) is located here and for that reason, McLeod Ganj is grown to the worldwide centre of resistance against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. You will see a high concentration of “Free Tibet” T-shirts in this village. McLeod Ganj is nowadays more Tibetan than Indian.

McLeod Ganj had the last fifty years also a high allure on people like Hank. People that are on a crossing in their lives and are looking for the real meaning of life, or the real “I”. Of course, there are many levels. The most extreme form is the people like Hank. They said goodbye to their life in the west, and decided to spend the rest of their life here. The second group is the group that comes and lives here for 6-12 months. The biggest group is the group that comes here for up to 4 weeks (holiday), but often many years in a row.

The group of “spiritual” people is easy recognizable. They said goodbye to their western clothes and wear massively striped “tree quarter” trousers, flip-flops with toe-socks, self knitted sweaters and colourful shawls that look like imported from the Inca culture. You can still see young western women knitting over here! The men have beards and on the size of the beard you can see how long they abided already in McLeod Ganj. Also the number of Rastafarian hairstyles is high here, both at men and women. And we thought that this was already long behind us.

If you want to see this “alternative” culture, or if you want to be part of it, you have to be here. A complete business is developed around this culture. You will find here many cheap hostels, restaurants, “green” shops, traditional herbal doctors and a huge choice of “spiritual” courses. Name it, and you will find it. From Reiki and Shakra, to traditional Tibetan dance and painting, and everything in between. Some courses are very pretentious. They say to cure Hepatitis-A and even cancer, just by meditation. It is not difficult to find a course. The whole village is glued with colourful pieces of paper, announcing the courses that are available. Also the use of soft drugs is quite common in McLeod Ganj. How do you else expect to leave the earthly reality and enter the spiritual level?

The courses have little or nothing to do with the local Tibetan society. It is a complete business by and for westerners. The courses are given by people with names like Cindy or Peter. Undoubtedly people that arrived in McLeod Ganj some time ago, and finally found out that you can not live of love and meditation alone. Now they try to sell their courses to the freshmen that still want to pay a lot of money for a broad range of “spiritual” courses.

Nowadays, McLeod Ganj is also a tourist highlight for local Indian people. Every day, a lot of Indian people find their way to the village, armed with their photo cameras to make pictures of the “spiritual” westerners with their funny hairstyles and clothes. Also as commonsense westerner it is nice to spend a couple of days in McLeod Ganj. But after a while, you have seen enough, and is it time to move on. We hope that Hank will have a good life in McLeod Ganj, and that he will find his place as “real” Tibetan in the Tibetan society.

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