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Day 38: Dharamsala and McLeodganj

Michael Palin - HimalayaOur audience with the Dalai Lama is at 2.15 this afternoon. We arrive early and film in the streets of McLeodganj. It's Ghandi's birthday and a public holiday, but no day off for the desperate figures in vests and cotton trousers trying to mend roads as cars continue to drive along them, or for the limbless beggars squatting beneath a Western Union sign, or the bundles of rags with hands protruding outside the cyber café. I've never seen so many mutilated and deformed people in one place, and there's not much you can do but walk on and try to avoid eye contact. Their own people, I notice, ignore them completely.

I stop to make some notes leaning up against a metal post crowned with a thick mesh of unprotected electric cabling. A boy, not more than five or six, holds out his hand.

'Hello,' he repeats softly, 'Hello.'

An older man with a stick simply stands there with a small pail, whimpering soundlessly. Passing these wraith-like figures are the substantial, muscular, Western backpackers who home in on these places, looking for cheap accommodation while sporting designer shades that would cost a street mender six months' wages.

Poverty is corrosive, but it's always worse when it is found side by side with wealth. Occupants of shanty towns in the Philippines or South America are as poor as this but they have their own, fierce, communal pride, and (apart from BBC film crews) they don't have rich foreigners walking their streets every day.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 38: Dharamsala and McLeodganj
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: McLeodganj
  • Book page no: 84

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