In 2009, following a long-term IT contract in London, I decided to take time out. After months of job insecurity, I needed to de-stress. I went mountain-biking and ate healthier food. Gradually, I realised I could live a totally different existence.
In September 2011, early morning, I got off the bus in the McLeod Ganj bus station. It was just hours after a late monsoon downpour and the town was grey, damp and dismally deserted. I thought to myself, “Oh my God, what have I done?” This was the first step on my travels.
I came here attracted by things I loved: mountaineering, English language studies, photography and an affinity with Buddhist places. I had been drawn to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his peaceful philosophy, endless laughing and sense of humour, and his wisdom. Previously, when I managed to escape my IT job, there was a natural draw to Asian mountains and I grew to love all things Tibetan in rugged and remote places, high up, away from city life – and my office.
Encounters with Tibetan people in McLeod Ganj brought a mix of emotions and impressions. I gained new friends such as young people who had made the epic journey across the mountains from Tibet, via Nepal, to Dharamshala to fulfil their dreams, first of meeting the Dalai Lama, and then of receiving an education, by whatever means possible. These Tibetans were at times the gentlest, most generous and naturally appreciative people I could imagine. They were in a world of harsh realities, after abandoning their families and loved ones back home, unable to communicate with them freely. It is sad when a daughter is afraid to phone her distant mother for fear of getting her into trouble. They were often quite poor.
Some were still affected by the trauma they had experienced back home, and on their journey. I sometimes heard about incarceration and torture from people, still quiet and troubled, with few hopes of decent work – and they severely missed their families. Hence their need to self-improve and build themselves up for a better life.
Lha provides for such people so that their prospects improve. I have been helping Contact magazine, the Lha publication, mostly with proof reading. When I was checking the Annual Report, I realized how much this organisation actually does. The long list was impressive. What an amazing support for this community!