The Himalayas have an aura untouched by any other range, partly because they contain the highest peaks on Earth and partly because they contain such a diversity of cultures. I would love to someday travel across these mountains, from the India to China, and witness the gradual cultural evolution. On this trip we made it only into the foothills, to Dharamsala, but the shift was evident.
Tibet sounds like one of the most beautiful and fascinating places on the planet, but unfortunately suffers under one of the most brutally repressive governments in existence. China invaded Tibet over 50 years ago and has sought to systematically destroy all independent political, religious and historical evidence of this society. Millions have died in this persecution and, to preserve their identity, many have fled to this region of India. The spiritual leader of the Buddhist people, The Dalai Lama, currently resides in the small town of McLeod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh and this has spawned a Tibetan expat community that dominates the area, giving it a very different feel from anywhere else we visited. Momos and noodles filled the menus and we took a cooking class to learn the inspiringly simple method of this regional cuisine. The class was led by a man named Sangye, who showed us the basics and let us prepare our own dumplings and noodle soups. It was delicious and fun, but the real pleasure was meeting this man and hearing his story. He escaped from Tibet 13 years ago by trekking over snowcapped peaks and wading through frigid rivers with a group of refugees, first to Nepal and eventually to India. He came with nothing, begging for food along the journey, and has since built himself a nice business where he can share his love of food and culture with foreigners, an opportunity he sadly could never have in his homeland. We met another refugee who had been imprisoned for three years because he was a monk who refused to denounce The Dalai Lama. His stories from prison were painfully shocking and confirmed that China is a persistent human rights abuser; it is terrifying to think that such an enormous population lives under this tyrannical shroud. All of the Tibetans living in McLeod Ganj had endured life-threatening escapes for freedom and it was a humbling and inspiring experience to consider what is truly important in life and to appreciate how fortunate we are to be citizens of a country that may be fraught with problems, but respects individual and human rights as a foundation for a free society.