Naomi Baes - India Study Tour 2015

Dharamsala

The moment our taxis started struggling up the steep climb to Dharamsala I felt my pollution beaten body being rejuvenated. One deep breath in, one deep breath out and the sweet mountain air began to detox any remnants of Delhi and Amritsar from my lungs. Don’t get me wrong I loved the hustle and bustle of Old Delhi and the institutions we had the privilege to visit, but sometimes all you need is a change of scenery to fully appreciate the unique qualities of each city.

We’ve been here for almost two days and I still marvel at the fact that everywhere we go, the Dhauladhar mountains of the outer Himalayan range tower above us like majestic jewels fringed with several layers of snow. After being in Delhi for a week I was beginning to forget what clear blue sky, being able to see 100m in front or walk a flight of stairs without struggling to breathe felt like. You also feel safer walking up the mountain roads as a lone female here considering the male to female ratio isn’t 100:1 like in Delhi!

The start of Day 8 found us visiting the ‘Church of St. John in the Wilderness’ which is one of the oldest cathedrals in North India built in 1852 AD, known for its unique gothic character and memorial of Lord Elgin, the British Viceroy of India. It is one of the many signs of British colonisation in India which brings me to the point that although a remote mountain village, Dharamsala is quite well off and the quality of life here seems to be excellent. Apart from the health benefits which come from living by the Himalayas in the fresh mountain air, there are private schools and universities up here where past UN officials were sent, and the locals specialise in agriculture. Now you can be the judge of whether the disadvantages of colonisation outweigh the advantages, however another stark difference I observed was the humble (or soft spoken?) character of people living up here, which brings me to our next activity…

Dharamsala is inhabited by quite a lot of Tibetan people which is why they built the Norbulingka Institute, a foundation to promote and preserve Tibetan culture where you are able to experience their ancient way of painting, woodcarving and more. Surrounded by the green fields of the Kangra Valley the institute (meaning Jewel Park) was built in traditional Tibetan style following a design based on the proportions of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. There are three main sects of Buddhism and the Tibetans are red hats which is said to have been at the heart of the conflict between them and China, who are yellow hats and still do not recognise Tibet as a country, having tightened their control over them to the point that they aren’t allowed any form of technology and limited contact with the outside world. This display of greedy power just blows my mind, but who wants to mess with China the superpower hey?

We then went on to visit the Dalai Lama temple before losing ourselves in the market stalls running up the mountain roads where quality jewellery, ponchos and Tibetan style jackets are many to be found. Heaven knows I need them as I am currently sleeping with 6 blankets as the temperature drops to -3 degrees at night. One final observation I’ll make is that even near the Himalayan mountains globalisation is evident with Dominoes pizza available. This is due to Dharamsala being a popular honeymoon destination during on-season, yet it makes you wonder what kind of future we’re building?