In the rains of McLeod Ganj

By Lidis Garbovan, PhD student.

I am writing this at the end of my third week in the Himalayas, conducting fieldwork for my PhD research and volunteering with the Tibetan Community Center. The research is an inquiry into the shifting political identities of Tibetans living in exile in India.

My hotel is at the foot of the Himalayas, in the small town of McLeod Ganj, upper Dharamsala, with an elevation of 2,082 m (6,831 feet), in the state of Himachal Pradesh, northern India. McLeod Ganj has a mixed population of more than 10,000 people with a large number of Tibetans born and living here, along with thousands of foreigners visiting every year. It is also the headquarters of the Tibetan Government in Exile and the residence of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, since 1960.

While sitting out on the balcony today, a few wild monkeys were walking on the roof of my hotel, attracting the looks of the people around. Knowing that these wild monkeys might jump on the balcony and, apart from looking cute, they might snatch anything, including my laptop, I went back inside the hotel room, keeping an eye on the balcony.

During the monsoon, from July to September, McLeod Ganj is immersed in clouds and fog, and heavy rains fall every day, the average rainfall is 100 inches (254 cm) in July. For the first few days I was fascinated by the view of the mountains and the ceaseless rains, especially since I was happy to have escaped the 39°C and extremely high humidity in New Delhi. After some time, however, I started being worried as I could not organise meetings and interviews, the Internet went off every other day and there seemed to be no end to the rain, sometimes lasting for 10 hours.

Going for an interview to the Tibetan Government in Exile headquarters, situated between McLeod Ganj and Dharamsala, last Friday was a very risky initiative. There were heavy clouds above my head throughout the 4km walk down and up to McLeod Ganj. Luckily, it seemed the torrential rain God was on my side waiting for my interview to finish and for me to reach back my hotel before heavy rains took over the valley and the mountains, continuing for the whole weekend. It never crossed my mind that the weather might play such a big role in one’s fieldwork.

In another interview conducted few days ago I had the privilege of meeting an acclaimed Tibetan author who writes and talks about political identity as rather a debatable concept that we could do away with and simply talk about voice. The voice of every Tibetan person is a symbol of power, the power to create memories, to create the present and the right to exist. According to him, getting to know the Tibetan people and their daily lives, their joys and struggles, is more important than reading books and historical accounts. Maybe he is right – or maybe he just helped me understand better the use of doing fieldwork.



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