Little Lhasa
Home of the Dalai Lama




Perched on the heights of the famous Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh, among the dazzling snow peaks of the lower Himalayas, are the Upper Dharmsala headquarters of the Dalai Lama, symbol of hope for the Tibetan people in exile.

Described as "Little Lhasa in India" by Tibetans residing there, Dharmsala boasts a number of impressive institutions that nurture Tibetan culture, knowledge, religion and confidence in the future. These include a newly-constructed Library and Archives Building, a cathedral and monastery and the Tibetan Children's village, where seven hundred children receive educational and health care.

Dharmsala is imbued with an unmistable Tibetan atmosphere. This is traceable in part to its Himalayan altitude and climate, but mostly to the indomitable courage of the people and the physical changes they have generated in Dharmsala since they fled Tibet at the time of the uprising against the Chinese Communist troops in 1959.
There is an intriguing montage of lamas, reverent Tibetans fingering prayer beads, flags and a gleaming white Buddhist stupa bracketed by rows of prayer wheels. The tourist has easy access to Tibetan handicrafts, with curios and products fashioned in local homes and shops.

The focal point of the enduring spirit of these Tibetan people is the gentle Dalai Lama, a frail and ascetic-looking lama. His deep regard for his people is reciprocated by a profound love, reverence and awe on their part.
Interviewing His Holiness, it soon becomes evident that his interests and energies are concentrated upon Buddhist teachings and his people, both those across the border in Tibet and those who have fled to India and elsewhere from across the roof of the world. His Holiness makes clear his long-term goal is to preserve not only the Tibetan nation but the identity of its people from Chinese encroachment.

Among Tibetans, he explains, "the feeling of our own nation, our own race, is very strong."

The Dalai Lama says, "The present situation is not beneficial for us." He talks wistfully-and some say unrealistically-of a plebiscite in Tibet in which Tibetans could decided their own future, a proposal for which the Chinese have shown no interest.

"If the Chinese treat Tibetans as human beings," he adds, "and treat them as brothers-if they really practice that; if the Tibetan people get sufficient education, food and clothing, necessities of life and all-around prosperity, then Tibetans will appreciate (such actions."

Where has most of the assistance for the Tibetan refugees come from?

The slight figure in the maroon robes of a lama listens to the question carefully, hesitates, then replies in halting but lucid English.

His Holiness stresses gratitude for assistance from many nations: Nepal, Bhutan, Switzerland, Canada. Also the United Nations.

He adds, "The government of India has been very generous and helpful, taking the main burden for education and settlement."

The Dalai Lama says New Delhi has shown "great sympathy for the suffering of the Tibetan people."

According to figures compiled at Dharmsala, about 80,000 Tibetans have fled Tibet, some 60,000 of them taking refuge in India.

A shy demeanor reflecting Buddhist humility is virtually the only response from Dalai Lama to inquiries about his general leadership. He does express belief that the Tibetan people in his homeland look to him for guidance despite his 13-year exile. Other monks in Dharmsala describe him as the spiritual and temporal leader of all Tibetans.

His Holiness is emphatic in his belief that a free Tibet will eventually emerge and is just as convinced that violence is not the answer.
"I have always believed in non-violence," he says, continuing, "The human mind is very strong...power that is not based on justice but is based on weapons or suppression-such power cannot remain."

Describing the plight of his Tibetan followers, the features of the Dalai Lama take on a grave cast. But the interview is occasionally brightened by a warming change of pace: a quick smile followed by an infectious laugh.

"His Holiness has a fine sense of humor, says Tenzing Geyche, secretary to the Dalai Lama. "Without that he would be unable to face all the serious problems of the Tibetan people."

Support for the Tibetan cause, once engendered by front-page news, seems to be waning on the international front. But the Dalai Lama expresses hope for the future.

At a ceremony in Dhamsala last March marking the 13th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising, the Dalai Lama said:

"When we see the determination of the people; the national awareness of the youth and the growing support for our cause, we can see the future of Tibet is not dark." As long as these trends continue, His Holiness told a gathering of his exiled followers, "there is hope for Tibet."

Meantime, the tasks of cultural preservation, resettlement, employment, education and health services remain.
A National Library and Archives Building, with Tibetan-style architecture, was completed in 1971. Now the goal is to build up a stock of books and publications and convert it into a center for Buddhist and Tibetan studies. A number of archaic manuscripts are already under study by monk scholars at the Namgyal Monastery in Upper Dharmsala.

Proportions of the resettlement problem are not quite as monumental as in the early sixties because the flow of refugees has slowed. Still, improved health care and the expanding population it helps generate mean continuing requirements in the fields of education and vocational training for the young, along with placement services and the creation of job opportunities.

A chain of handicraft centers has been established in various locations with cooperation from the Indian government. Tibetan goods such as carpets and clothing are on display in shops and stands in Dharmsala and other Himalayan towns, as well as major cities such as New Delhi.

Those interested in Tibetan youngsters are attracted to Tibetan Children's Village. Husky children excitedly encircle the stranger, grasping his hand and laughing and babbling in the Tibetan tongue. Some of these children are orphans. Others have working parents who are poor and must spend long periods away from Dharmsala on road-building projects and other jobs.

The children carouse on swings, play games and seem perfectly happy. One reason for their contentment is the kinship and genuine regard of a staff of some one hundred fifty ayahs, doctors, nurses, teachers and others.
There are also foreign staffers, such as Dr. Elsa Cornier of Zurich, Switzerland. She retired from Swiss government service only to come to distant India to devote her medical skills to the cause of Tibetan children at the Tibetan Children's Village. Dr. Cornier spends much of her time at the clinic ministering to the needs of babies and children struck down by illness or injuries.

Nearly recovered from a broken hip suffered in dodging an uneasy cow, Dr. Cornier demonstrates a major element of care at the clinic--affection for her small charges-as she sweeps a Tibetan boy into her arms and holds him close.
Dr. Cornier describes the Tibetan people as "industrious and hardworking." She says some of the children at the nursery are sponsored by funds from abroad, a portion coming from Tibetan refugees in other countries.

"As far as they can, they help each other," the kindly doctor observes. "But they have not much to give."

The gray-haired physician describes Tibetans as basically healthy. However, there are cases of tuberculosis. And even children who seem as agile as Himalayan goats fall off mountain paths often enough to cause an inordinate number of broken bones, contusions and lacerations.

The hubbub dies down as the visitors reluctantly depart from Tibetan Children's Village and turn for a final wave from well down the road. The smiling youngsters merrily weave as they continue to chant, "Tashi dalay"-"Good luck."