The idea of transit is so real in Dharamsala. In Hindi, the word ‘dharamsala’ loosely translates to rest house for  pilgrims. There is this sense amongst all the Tibetans i met while in Dharamsala, that they are now taking a break in this rest house, but before long, they will head back home.

I took a very close look at refugee life and living. I went inside homes, kitchens, dorms. They are tiny spaces with entire families living in them. Or a bed, just a bed,  for dumping all of life’s treasures.  And then the busy spaces are intermittently broken by one solitary teenager living all alone, with family back in Tibet. I asked one girl if she ever felt scared to live all by herself. And she said she has no reason to be scared because she has the Dalai Lama. These intense spaces tell you so much about the people who inhabit them and as one would imagine, there is a common thread, a central flow of thought, binding them. Time and again i saw and felt that this lot of people  believe so absolutely, that they will indeed go back. Very soon.

(I have not used names because anonymity is good for them. For most, families are still back in Tibet and they fear persecution from the Chinese government. Also those who requested, i obliterated parts of their faces)


The girls dorm at a Tibetan Refugee Reception Center. Most refugees who arrive from Tibet spend weeks on the harsh Himalayan terrain. They come practically without any belongings because they disguise themselves as Nepalese sherpas. The Reception Center is for refugees who have just arrived.


A boy at the Reception Center.


Girls lie on a tiny makeshift bed.


At the Tibetan Refugee Center.


A teenage boy at his home in a village in Dharamsala, India.


A teenage boy paints at the Tibetan Refugee Center.


Nawang Gelek shows how the Chinese came with their guns and eventually brutally injured him. He fled to India in 1991

and worked as a janitor.


Nawang Gelek’s possessions.



At the refugee center. Teenagers and children who just arrive from Tibet are meant to stay for a few months before they accustomed to this new land.


At the refugee center. Little boys and girls arrive without their parents mainly to get a good education and childhood. Most end up not seeing their parents for years. (This picture has been blurred because the boys family could be at risk if his face is identifiable).

2 thoughts on “IN TRANSIT

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