Visit to Dalai Lama's abode is tourists' nightmare

Mcleodganj (Himachal Pradesh), The road to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama's abode passes through hell.

Foreigners and domestic tourists coming to this north Indian hill town, in the state of Himachal Pradesh, for an audience with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate find the road disappearing under the wheels of the vehicle they are travelling in.

They also complain of repelling garbage dumps, refuse-littered lanes and poor hygienic conditions of McLeodganj, the uphill quaint town which has gained prominence for attracting a steady stream of Tibet enthusiasts, Buddhist scholars, backpackers and even Hollywood stars like Richard Gere and Pierce Brosnan.

"The bumpy and uncomfortable drive through eight kilometres of narrow, steep road from Dharamsala to McLeodganj is a motorist's nightmare," tourist Joe Allen from the Netherlands told IANS.

He said the entire stretch has given way to a strip of cobbled stones.

"As one tries to drive towards McLeodganj, the potholed road makes for such a bumpy ride that it really tests the driving skills of a motorist," Allen's friend Chelsea said.

McLeodganj is the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile and the town and its suburbs support around 16,000 exiled Tibetans and an equal number of Indians.

Tenzin Tsering, who has been living in McLeodganj with the snow-clad Dhauladhar ranges in the backdrop, said it's now been over a year that both roads connecting McLeodganj with Dharamsala are dotted with potholes and are virtually non-existent at a number of points.

"Heavy vehicles like buses move like seesaws as they cross big craters, some even up to the size of a shallow grave," he added.

Bus driver Ramesh Kumar said a number of motorists reported pothole-related damage to their vehicles. Accidents are frequent.
Eleven tourists were injured July 31 when a private bus going from McLeodganj skidded off the road and rolled down a hill due to the bad road.

And, once you reach McLeodganj, the poor condition of its streets will greet you, a reflection of the complete apathy and callousness of town's municipal authorities. Garbage is strewn everywhere and the drains are clogged with loads of rubbish. Stray dogs and the cattle menace are driving tourists away.

"Often tourists, especially foreigners, complain of poor hygienic conditions in the streets," Pankaj Chadha, owner of the McLio restaurant in McLeodganj, told IANS. He and others said the complete civic neglect of the area was a bad advertisement for not only Himachal Pradesh - a state that tries to attract tourists - but India for the hundreds of foreigners who visit here every year.

Members of the hospitality industry say hundreds of foreigners, mainly Westerners and Asians, reach this town three to four times in a year to lend their ear to the teachings and sermons of the Dalai Lama.

State public works department executive engineer Vijay Kumar said widening and re-laying of the road stretch from Dharamsala to McLeodganj would be done by December. The project of the ministry of road transport and highways for widening the 22-km road from Gaggal, where the airport is located, to McLeodganj via Dharamsala is on, Vijay Kumar told IANS.

"Half of the road construction work is over. Now heavy rainfall is hampering the work. Once the monsoon season is over, the work on the left over stretch would be done," he added.

Vijay Kumar said concreting of the 4-km Khara-Danda road, the shortest and second route linking Dharamsala with McLeodganj, which is also currently in bad shape, for Rs.20.94 crore has been approved under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.

But the project is yet to take off and will take at least three years to complete.

Also known as Little Lhasa, McLeodganj has lured hundreds of thousands of Westerners since Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama settled here in 1960 after fleeing from Chinese persecution with his followers. His teachings on ethics, non-violence, peace and religious harmony have made him one of the most popular and revered figures.

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