After the 14th Dalai Lama was forced into exile following the Tibetan uprising of 1959, more than 150,000 Tibetan refugees have undertaken long and dangerous journeys through the Himalayans of Nepal and India to follow their leader.
Approximately 2,500 Tibetans make their illegal crossing through the Himalayas each year. Many do so by hiring guides who transport them in over-packed clandestine trucks that travel only at night and make their final stop 100 km from the border. They continue by foot and walk for more than a week through the treacherous conditions of the mountains only to be met by Chinese border patrols who hold the right to fire at will.
Yet, thousands of Tibetans make it to Nepal and India each year. The voyage is a pilgrimage to many. They visit Lumbini, birthplace of the Buddha in Nepal, and continue on to the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, India.
The "Temple of the Great Awakening" is particularly important to Buddhists since it hosts the sacred fig tree that sheltered Siddartha Gautama while he obtained enlightenment. Pilgrims spend days meditating by the Boddhi tree and over Buddha's first 7 weeks of enlightenment before heading to McLeod Ganj, a town also known as "Little Lhasa".
As the native people of Tibet and their history continues to be systematically eradicated by Chinese policies, their only hope is to preserve their culture through their language and traditions. So, the people of McLeod Ganj welcome and encourage them to protect and share their culture. It is here, by the new home of the Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Administration, that Tibetan Buddhists may find peace and community; a venue to continue to develop their philosophical debates and practices.