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Experiences of a Dutch Journalist




Dharamsala, 8 August - 5 September 2008

I figured the Olympic Games are not only a good time to visit Beijing, but also to go to the Tibetan community in exile in Dharamsala, Northern India. With daily protests, it was an interesting period. I applied for a voluntary position as a contributing writer and edited the August 2008 issue of Contact Magazine, a Dharamsala community publication.


This is Manju-ka-tilla, the Tibetan Colony in Delhi. Here, you already get a taste of Tibetan culture.


But Manju-ka-tilla is India too. Poor people living next to a dirty river in the middle of Delhi.


This so-called Deluxe bus takes you straight from Manju-ka-tilla to McLeod Ganj, near Dharamsala, Northern India, the home of the Dalai Lama. It takes 12 hours and it was not that luxurious. No airconditioning and hardly any stops on the way.


The heart of McLeod Ganj.


When the Indian government allowed the Dalai Lama to live here in the sixties, McLeod Ganj only consisted of a few houses. Now it is home to some 8,000 Tibetan refugees.


I visited McLeod Ganj during the Monsoon, the rainy season. That means it practically rains all day in July and August. The first purchase was an umbrella...


Damage caused by the Monsoon.


Although it rains all the time during the Monsoon in McLeod Ganj, the place has got a water problem. Water pipes are are small and the system has got lots of leaks.


More damage is caused by these creatures. These monkeys look so sweet, but when they have been in your house it looks like a burglar has been there: they make a big mess in their search for food.


During the Olympic Games from 8 to 25 August 2008 in Beijing, candle light protest were being held in McLeod Ganj every day.


More than 3,000 Tibetan exiles and their supporters packed the Tsuglagkhang Temple in McLeod Ganj on August 30, for a 12-hour fast and prayer service to draw attention to the suffering in Tibet. I was one of them as I followed a Belgian girl who joined the fasting for Dutch national radio. It was the first time I have been fasting for 12 hours. Not eating wasn't that difficult. Most difficult was dealing with boredom, the cold, listnessness and a sore ass. It was great to be part of this act of solidarity.


This is a picture of the Panchen Lama in front of the  Tsuglagkhang Temple in McLeod Ganj. He is the second highest ranking Lama after the Dalai Lama. He disappeared soon after he was named the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. He is named Tibet's youngest political prisoner. Chinese authorities state that he has been taken into protective custody, but there is no reference to what, or whom he must be protected from.


Unfortunately I didn't get to see more of the Dalai Lama than his car. Most of the time I was in McLeod Ganj he was in France. I had a press accreditation to make pictures of him during the 12-hour fast and prayer service, but he left for a medical check-up to Mumbai the evening before the event. He joined the fasting from his hospital bed and cancelled all his meetings for the next few weeks to recover from exhaustion.


Luckily the Karmapa (the head of a major school of Tibetan Buddhism) in Norbulinka, close to Dharamsala, receives visitors twice a week. I had to wait in line for about half an hour to receive a blessing. He put a red string around my neck which I was not supposed to ever remove.


Lobsang Rabsel with his daughter. For ten years, he has been publishing Contact Magazine, a Dharamsala community publication. He can't write himself, that's why he is working with volunteers like me. I was editor of the August 2008 issue (find a link to articles below).


I imagined I was in the Middle Ages when visiting the printing house where Contact Magazine is printed. You see the type case in the back? No, they don't use that any more. But the equipment is still there. If the copy is bad, they don't print it again. You just have bad luck then...


Apart from working there was plenty of time for other things such as an Indian Cooking Course. Nisha, who gave the course, is selected by National Geographic to participate in a documentary on Indian food. I'm glad she did the cooking and we didn't have to cook ourselves: I could never surpass her cooking talent. She cooked the most wonderful Indian food I have ever tasted.


There were beautiful mountains but I couldn't climb them because of the Monsoon. At the end of August it was dry for almost a complete day. From McLeod Ganj (2,000 metres) we climbed to Triund on 3,350 metres. Great views and just back in time before it started raining again. On the left Annie from Los Angeles and on the right Lobsang Rabsel from Contact Magazine.


There are crazy Dutch everywhere. To the right is Tenzin Sangmo, a Dutch nun who started an international nunnery in Norbulinka, close to Dharamsala ( On the left side Tenzin Chodron, another Dutch nun who has been living there since December 2007.


And this is the temple of the nunnery, which was actually donated by the Dalai Lama.


The surroundings of the nunnery are the most quiet I have experienced in India. There is no road leading to Thosamling. Nepalese workers brought all the building material to the location by foot.


Tourist for one day. I had to see the most magnificent building of the country, the Taj Mahal. My camera had broken down, so I had pictures made, which are printed with lovely kitsch edges.


Read a selection of articles from the August issue of Contact magazine:

Read the impressions on my visit to Dharamsala (Dutch):