A Travellerspoint blog

India

Incredible India

How to feel welcome in McLeod Ganj

sunny 26 °C

All you have to do is smile and be friendly and you are part of the community here. But it wouldn't be fair to neglect Delhi. Arriving in the middle of the night only allowed us to imagine how green Delhi was. We wouldn't actually realize how many trees and flowering shrubs there were until the daytime. Well, not right in downtown Delhi where we stayed of course but leaving that area it becomes greener and greener. The people in Delhi couldn't have been more friendly and helpful. Everywhere there were people pointing us in the right direction and giving us tips for a better stay. We rated our hotel as one of the best on the trip. We decided to fly to Dharamshala instead of taking the train or overnight bus. Even though we wanted to see the countryside between Delhi and the north we are just getting tired of long journies. Landing at Dharamshala airport we were both amazed at the mountainous terrain surrounding us. Very beautiful place. Our taxi ride to McLeod Ganj was a stunning and exciting experience. Single lane switchbacks for almost 40 minutes took us higher and higher into the mountains with occasional vistas into the valley below. We were excited to see free flying Indian ringnecked parakeets with their signature long green tail feathers. We arrived at our hotel and dropped our bags, heading out to explore the very narrow streets shared by vendors, vehicles, cows, dogs, people and baboons. We were in search of the gems of India - rubies, emeralds, sapphires and amethysts. Lots of these in various forms - raw, polished, cut, set, loose. Very fun. We had two days to explore this amazing place before we started our volunteering.

On Monday morning we arrived at Lha, only a ten minute walk from our hotel. Rabsel the volunteer coordinator is a welcoming and funny Tibetan man who also cooks at a great local restaurant. Since the organization is inundated with volunteers this week and next, we were only needed for conversational English for an hour each late afternoon. We asked if we could do more so Rabsel called another Charitable Trust in Dharamshala called Tong-Len and set us up to meet with them the following day. Dharamshala is a community below where were we were staying so we were informed to catch a jeep, which is the most reasonable form of transportation down the steep and winding road. We were also advised to purchase an extra seat so that we wouldn't be squished given they will not leave unless there are three people plus the driver in the front, four people in the back seat (which comfortably fits three), and across the very back there are two small bench seats facing each other awaiting three passengers each. So, in total this very small vehicle transports 13 people. Needless to say I (Kellie) purchased an extra seat so Shelley and I and one other person shared the middle bench seat.

After arriving at the Tong-Len office, which was on the third floor of an old building, we emerged from a steep stairway to the most amazing view of the mountains. Shelley and I both commented on this vista. We were then graciously met by a man named Tenzin, who was our connection to this charitable organization. He explained a bit about Tong-Len's history and what they are working on, and Shelley and I both instinctively knew that we were going to be humbled and grateful to be connected to this special place. Tong-Len is an organization that was originally started by a Tibetian monk named Jamsang who was moved by the plight of the numerous Indian children who were homeless, living in slums, eating garbage, and learning the skills of begging. In 2002 he attempted to provide schooling for these children. Given his initial attempts to help these children were not very successful, he did not give up and redesigned the organization to more fully meet the needs of these individual children. Over time the organization has transformed into what we would call a group home setting, containing dorm rooms, classrooms, learning centers and space for overall development. Shelley and I were taken there to meet with the director Jamyang (or Guruji to the children) to find out what we could do to help. Upon arriving at the "hostel" as they call it, the grounds were a flurry of activity. Some of the older children were outside painting new panels to express some relevant ideas they were being taught, others were playing cricket in a makeshift cricket pitch, while others were spending time with volunteers and visitors. Immediately we felt that we were in a special place that was contributing to change the lives of many children.

We met Jamyang who appeared very happy to meet us and had a definite plan regarding how we could help. He proceeded to provide an overview of Tong-Len and we were both touched by hearing his story. At this time, he was hoping that we could assist a former student of Tong-Len's, who was currently attending university. She would be arriving the following day and was tasked with writing an article and creating a promotional video on a key concept that Tong-Len is trying to generate, the concept of Secular Ethics. Given that this young woman's success was due in part to secular ethics (we will provide link to video for explanation), her story was important to Tong-Len.

Once we left the center we returned to the town to meet Sarju, our friend Jenny's dear friend. Sarju is a warm, kind and quick to laugh man who delighted us with stories during a delicious lunch. He then was happy to escort us into the bazaar to buy fabric and find a tailor to have day suits made (kameez shalwar). This was a whirlwind of activity with fabric flying and Sarju snapping pictures and translating! Kellie and I decided on fabric and then went across the street to the tailor. We were late for our conversation class in McLeod Ganj but I joined a group anyway. Kellie went for a nice cold beer as all the rooms were full. The next morning we grabbed a jeep and made our way to Dharamshala. We met the delightful Nisha and got down to work. It was an exciting day interacting with the staff and children, many of whom had gone home for Diwali. Yes, we inadvertently planned well as Diwali was occurring while we were visiting India! Nisha Kumari was born in the slum community of Dharamshala. And yes for the politically correct among us, they call themselves slum people. Nisha was taken to Tong-Len as a child and is now almost finished university. She is delightful to be with and loves her family of origin dearly. Over the next three days we worked with Nisha on three articles for publication in various media, an interview with Nisha and I (Shelley) and a promotional video. We also worked with Tenzin who is struggling to develop social emotional curriculum. Since this is Kellie's and my forte and a subject close to our hearts we were very happy to support with this project. Diwali was certainly celebrated loudly with more firecrackers than fireworks so Kellie and I got to take it all in. Oh, I haven't mentioned the food! The healthiest we have eaten so far and yummy beyond our expectations. We have been spoiled at Tong-Len with delicious lunches each day that come with smiles, hugs and hand holding by the children. No lack of affection here.

Our conversational English classes at Lha are reciprocal learning as Kellie and I are getting an education on Tibetan culture, Buddhism, political issues and the persevering yet gentle nature of Tibetan refugees. It seems an unfair exchange when all we have to do is speak our native language! Again we are given a gift when we expected to be the givers. A great lesson for us. We participated in a garbage clean up morning on the Saturday. After two hours of picking up trash along three roadsides, we were treated to lunch at the soup kitchen. Kellie elected to give the lunch a miss to sort out some job application technical issues. I had a date after the lunch to go to a special monastery south of Dharamshala with one of my students. She had asked me at the beginning of the week if we could go together. She is in India for one year to learn English. She is living with her uncle who is a bodyguard and translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since the Dalai Lama's first name is Tenzin, there are many Tibetans, both male and female, with this name. My young lady was no exception! On Sunday we went to Dharamshala to pick up our shameez kalwar and have lunch with a group of Kellie's students who had also arranged this with us on the first dpromotKellie was excited to learn how to make momos (Tibetan dumplings) and the other dishes being prepared. With six cooks in the kitchen we made quick work of a meal that takes a long time to prepare.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we worked with Nisha on a promotional video for Tong-Len, videoing faces of people from all over each saying one word describing a common value we all share. If you go to www.Tong-Len.org you will see the two videos we worked on there. These should be available the first week of November. Wednesday, was our last day at Tong-Len and Shelley's birthday! At Tong -Len we said our goodbyes, exchanged contact info and expressed how grateful we both were to have met everyone there, and if even for a short time, been a small part of this organization which is playing such a large role in changing people's lives. That night we had a lovely birthday dinner and returned to our room to strategically pack our bags. This experience here has touched both of us and we have spoken about one day returning.

Bhagsu falls hike

Bhagsu falls hike

Bhagsu falls hike

Bhagsu falls hike

Bhagsu falls hike

Bhagsu falls hike

Shelley in front of Bhagsu falls

Shelley in front of Bhagsu falls

All relaxing for the day

All relaxing for the day

View from our hotel restaurant

View from our hotel restaurant

More mountain shots from Mcleod Ganj

More mountain shots from Mcleod Ganj

Shelley at temple prayer wheel in McLeod Ganj

Shelley at temple prayer wheel in McLeod Ganj

Interesting sign at monastery

Interesting sign at monastery

Kellie being hennaed by one of the students at Tong-Len

Kellie being hennaed by one of the students at Tong-Len

Amazing vista at office for Tong-Len

Amazing vista at office for Tong-Len

Streetscape in lower Dharamshala

Streetscape in lower Dharamshala

Sneaking in a smooch with Nisha

Sneaking in a smooch with Nisha

Working with students from Tong-Len

Working with students from Tong-Len

Shelley and Nisha

Shelley and Nisha

Sign for LHA, one of the organization we volunteered with

Sign for LHA, one of the organization we volunteered with

One of the students at Tong-Len taking a selfie

One of the students at Tong-Len taking a selfie

Picking fabrics for our Indian suits

Picking fabrics for our Indian suits

Picking fabrics with Sarju

Picking fabrics with Sarju

The Tong-Len crew

The Tong-Len crew


Nisha is tired

Nisha is tired


Parade of children at TCV celebration

Parade of children at TCV celebration

Chalk artistry at TCV

Chalk artistry at TCV

Selfie with Tenzin and Nowa

Selfie with Tenzin and Nowa

Lunch with some of the LHA students

Lunch with some of the LHA students

Lunch at Tenzin's

Lunch at Tenzin's

Banners at TCV celebration

Banners at TCV celebration

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNgfZNx6s3A
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MWtiA4tzO0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3RmCW4J8qs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4n0Tw8TJ_Y
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYcHsglHcgY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvocFkQgqhk

Posted by kelshell 12:51 Archived in India Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 1 of 1) Page [1]