Newsflash: In a shocking new twist, sources have confirmed that Backpacking Badger has been spied (poorly) attempting to peform some gravity defying yoga positions while simultaenously following in the footsteps of The Beatles...
So folks, time for another missive, and you know what that means: time for another list. Having spent a week in lovely Mcleod Ganj, home of the Tibetan governent in exile, I was exposed to many remarkable and shocking stories and spoke to many refugees who have fled their homeland since the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Apologies to any of you who may already know this stuff, but this time my list will take the form of some facts about Tibet:
- Since the Chinese Army occupied Tibet in 1949, 1.2 million Tibetans have lost their lives and every year thousands continue to risk their lives by fleeing the repression they face in China.
- The Chinese Government's policy is to dilute and suffocate Tibetan culture, hence the destruction of more than 6000 monasteries and temples since the occupation.
- The Tibetans do not have the basic human rights of freedom of speech and religious practice: In Tibet protesters are imprisoned (or worse) and worship of the Dalai Lama is prohibited.
- The Panchen Lama, the second most revered figure for Tibetan Buddhists was named by the current Dalai Lama in 1995 at the age of 6. Since that time he and his family have 'disappeared' and his whereabouts is unknown.
- I was fortunate enough to hear the fascinating story of Tsewang Dhondup. He participated in protests in 2008, was shot and escaped to India. You can read his story here: http://www.thetibetpost.com/en/news/tibet/177-a-wounded-tibetan-appealing-to-world-media-tears-for-the-unbearable-suffering-endured-by-the-tibetan-people
A rather sobering list, I admit, but hopefully an informative one... Being in Mcleod Ganj while the Dalai Lama was teaching there was a real pleasure and he is just as happy and fun-loving as gentle as he appears. He also has an insanely infectious laugh... Days in McLeod Ganj were spent relaxing in the cool mountain air, resisting the temptation to buy copius amounts of beautiful jewellery and frolicking in turquoise blue pools and waterfalls (ok, the latter was a slight embellishment: the water was bloody freezing and I just about managed to immerse my right toe in it... but it WAS beautifully blue...)
Leaving Buddhism behind, Amritsar was our next destination and it certainly packed some punches. It's home to the Golden Temple, the equivalent of Mecca for Sikhs, a beautifully ornate temple which sits proudly reflecting itself in a placid square pool, constantly surrounded by colourful pilgrims and temple guards with worryingly large spears... Sikhs have a real tradition and culture of hospitality for all, so we were fed and housed and generally treated like royalty for the duration of our stay.
In Amritsar I also saw what may win the prize as the most bizarre event I have seen in India to date (although trust me, there are a few contenders) - the ceremony which marks the closing of the border between India and Pakistan. Indian families come in droves, armed with popcorn, picnics and all manner of Indian nationalistic paraphenalia, to Attari, the border town, where they get all patriotic and start shouting and screaming and waving and dancing in an uncontrolled manner. The Pakistanis on the other side follow a similar pattern of patriotic fervour, while military men from each side engage in what can only be described as 'The battle of the high kick'. Very, very, very bizarre.
In Rishikesh I managed to get scammed by a fake yoga teacher who persistently shouted at me and bullied me to 'bend further down', even though I was pretty sure that my body had already passed its peak of flexibility... I was also publically humiliated by a Hindu saint, interviewed for a documentary on Spiritualism (I faked and bluffed my way through that one) and hung around in the ashram where the Beatles allegedly wrote the White Album...
Currently chilling In Bodhgaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, off to Darjeeling next for a nice cup of tea... Toodlepip!