I came to Pokhara for the stunning Annapurna mountain range but what stole my heart was The Tibetan Encounter, a tour highlighting Tibetan culture, their struggles as refugees in Nepal and an introduction to Buddhist philosophy.
Note: the cover photo is of a Tibetan woman spinning wool. It is an arduous process and pays little but the elderly women in the community do it to keep themselves busy and socialise whilst doing so.
At 9am I was greeted by Thupten, a small Tibetan man in his 40s. He welcomed me with a smile and wrapped a scarf around my neck, a Tibetan gift offering. I was later told that Nepalese tour companies had adopted this tradition as it was easier/cheaper than offering the traditional Nepalese flower lays.
We visited several gated Tibetan communities and learnt about the history of Tibetans in Nepal and how they built the communities from the group up. I visited the museum and looked at photographs from the 60s. What was once a few tents, grass and a mountain backup, now exists whole communities and buildings. Many Tibetans had risked their lives fleeing Tibet to Nepal, walking for days on end through the mountains to reach Pokhara. Surviving the journey through the mountains was only the beginning of their struggles. Tibetan people had lived in high elevation in the mountain regions and when they reached Pokhara they were not used to the heat and bathing regularly. Many had died as a result of poor sanitation and disease.
There are restricted rights for Tibetans in Nepal, they are seen as second class citizens. The Nepali government refuses to give identity cards and legal documentation for the Tibetan refugees if they arrived after 1989. Due to the lack of identification and legal status in Nepal, their work opportunities are limited. They are not allowed to own anything of significant value (a car, a house, a large profitable business). This stems from the influence of the Chinese government on the Nepali government to suppress the Tibetans. Celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday, a joyous occasion for Tibetan people, is prohibited.
Although the Tibetans have lived a hard life filled with suffering, they choose to focus on the positives. The Dalai Lama taught Tibetan people to not hate the Chinese, but rather to practice kindness and forgiveness as he trusts that this will foster a relationship of understanding.
Attending this tour was incredibly humbling. It made me appreciate my own life and the opportunities I’ve been given living in a free democratic country.
We visited a Buddhist monastery and I was able to talk to a monk and ask him questions freely about his own personal experiences and thoughts about living a happier, more fulfilling life.
In one of the temples, they had elaborate and colourful Tibetan Buddhist sculptures made mostly from butter.
The large prayer wheel in the monastery.
Monks use these two idols, which represent compassion and wisdom, to pray.
If you are ever headed to Pokhara, I recommend the Tibetan Encounter tour, quite possible the best cultural tour I have ever attended. (Note: I am in no way affiliated with the company).