By Kari Herbert, Sep 15 2016 12:52PM
I recognised them as new arrivals by the look in their eyes. Frightened and wide-eyed, they absorbed everything with a kind of hunger. I had seen this look several times during my few months in Dharamsala. In the distance, the snow-capped Dhauladhar mountains rose out of the wide, verdant Kangra valley, the steep valley sides lined with rhododendron, pine and Himalayan oak. For these travellers from Tibet, pressed into an old bus labouring up the Himalayan foothills, this was the last step towards refuge.
The woman next to me had a baby strapped to her back. She was beautiful, her face open and smooth, her cheeks red from exposure. A rosary moved slowly and methodically in and out of her sleeve, each dark turquoise bead acting as an abacus for time and prayer. Suddenly exhausted, she leaned against my shoulder and gripped my knee for support, and eventually fell asleep against the seat in front.
As the bus lurched into McLeod Ganj, the family were overwhelmed with relief. The woman placed her hand on the grubby window as tears coursed down her face. She paid no attention to the Indian beggar children running alongside us with their matted hair and eager grins; her eyes were fixed on the scattered groups of Tibetans beyond. Once a popular summer retreat for British colonists working or living in Delhi, the hill station, otherwise known as Upper Dharamsala or "Little Lhasa", is now home to several thousand Tibetan exiles and their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.