Indian Premier League 2010, Dharmasala April 17, 2010

A little global village

A visit to McLeodganj, where the Dalai Lama has set up his permanent home after being exiled in 1959

It's rare that cricket coverage takes you to a place like McLeodganj, a popular tourist village tucked 6,800 feet above sea level in the vast Himalayan hill range. It's also rare to be in India and not feel like it's all that Indian.

McLeodganj -in what is also known as upper Dharamsala - is famous for being the town where the Dalai Lama set up his permanent home and monastery after he was exiled from Tibet over 50 years ago. So prominent is the Tibetan influence that McLeodganj has been dubbed "Little Lhasa" after the capital of the region of Tibet.

The majority of the town's population is Tibetan, much like Dharamsala, and noticeable all around are the monasteries, handicraft stores, Tibetan eateries, prayer flags, monks and spa/reiki/past-life regression/holistic healing centers. Many of the signs are written or painted in Tibetan. Walking up the main street that winds up the tourist area of the town, there are many Pro-Tibet posters, flyers and activists. Hardly 20 feet from the hotel where I am put up is the rather nondescript headquarters of the Tibetan Youth Congress.

Yeshe, who along with his brother runs a small handicraft store, says that there is a strong sense of belonging for Tibetans here and that almost the entire community is involved in fighting for Tibet's freedom. He tells me that the older generation of Tibetans holds prayers and peaceful demonstrations, while the youth are more active in rallies.

McLeodganj is a popular destination, more than Dharamsala and other north Indian towns I've been to, largely because of the cultural importance it holds for pilgrims. McLeodganj is a spiritual base, showcasing a peaceful Buddhist culture. Many of the foreigners here are passing by, but so many more are based here for much of the year seeking to learn about Buddhism.

Within one trip to a nearby cyber café and back I heard a dozen different languages and saw tourists from several countries. There are more than a handful of foreigners whose heads were shaved and who were dressed in monk-like robes. Every shop and cyber café is filled with tourists. There are hardly any Indian tourists here. The two I noticed were here on documentary work. The others in a small restaurant were here for the weekend's IPL matches. A few more were journalists also here for the cricket.

Like most north Indian hill stations McLeodganj is quaint and scenic but it's far more active than others at night. And it's got a reputation of being very safe. Returning home from the game between Kings XI Punjab and Deccan Chargers well past midnight, the main square was abuzz with locals and tourists and honking cars. Even later into the night, a few local and outstation journalists met at a popular eatery. It's rare to see such nocturnal activity in such small towns in the north. Above the hotel is a bar cum rooftop cafe from which, at nearly 1 am, the sounds of Jim Morrison, Jon Bon Jovi and Michael Learns to Rock filter through the cool air. All this makes for a little global village.

Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo

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