“We do not perceive the Chinese as our enemies. They are our brothers and our sisters. They are our teachers. They teach us patience. This is our teaching from the time we are young. This is what we teach these children.” –Jigme, administrator and guide at the Tibetan Children’s Village, McCleod Ganj, India.
The journey from Delhi to the Tibetan settlement of McCleod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh is not an easy one as travel-faring goes. A twelve-hour overnight train (and anyone who has had the fortitude to brave one of India’s overnight trains knows it’s not for the faint of heart…) drops you off at a depot some three and a half hours’ drive away from your destination, and that road is a challenging ride by most standards through monsoon-washed, treacherous roads that twist and climb around the first peaks of the Himalayas to the small settlement of Dharamsala and, finally, McCleod Ganj.
I was only there for a few days, but just being there changed me in some way. Waking to mist drowning the mountains, the echoes of bronze gongs inviting people to meditation, following old goat-paths under webs of Tibetan prayer-flags, the aroma of incense mingling with mouldering earth, the clarity and warmth of Thentuk (vegetable dumpling soup), the smile-from-the-bottom-of-his-shoes owner of a quaint Espresso café who greeted me every morning, and other sensory inputs too numerous to name linger with me like resonances from a sweet, sweet dream.
My favorite memory, though, is of a soft-spoken, infinitely kind and intelligent man who took great pains to lead my sister and me through the Tibetan Children’s Village, a center for the children of refugees. Compassion was in his eyes, his smile, his posture, his laugh. The compassion that he extended to the children around him who had suffered tremendously he extended to the very people who had caused that suffering.
I want to thank you, Jigme, for your words. They changed me.