Where Lhasa and Tel Aviv co-exist!

June 25th, 2008 - 1:39 pm ICT by IANS  

By Jaideep Sarin
Dharamkot (Himachal Pradesh), June 25 (IANS) It takes just Rs.50 ($1) and a 10-minute auto-rickshaw ride to travel from Lhasa to Tel Aviv! Geographically, the two cities in Tibet and Israel are thousands of kilometres apart but under the towering Dhauladhar range in this Himalayan state, smaller versions of both co-exist.

Located near Mcleodganj, the abode-in-exile of the Dalai Lama that is often called Little Lhasa, Dharamkot looks like any other Indian hill village but is also known as mini-Tel Aviv.

Locating Dharamkot on a tourist map may be a difficult, even impossible, task for Indians but hundreds of backpacker Israelis easily find their way to the place. Today the village is more Israeli in character than Indian.

Dharamkot and its surrounding areas have a population of only some 1,200 Indians. However, the number of Israelis in the area at any given time is nearly 5,000.

Walking along the uneven track in the village brings one face to face with more foreigners, mostly Israelis, than Indians. Not surprisingly, hearing more of Hebrew than the local dialect is not uncommon.

The village, set among the lush green hills from where the trek to Triund and the Dhauladhar snowline starts, boasts of Internet phones, Bistros and massage parlours. Payphone booths have clocks displaying the time in Tel Aviv.

Most of the foreigners here are hooked on drugs and seem to be in a trance most of the time. Indian visitors giving them more than a glance would, in most cases, invite angry stares.

A prominent building at the entrance to the village houses a kind of prayer house of the Chabad thought system that relies on the teachings of Kabbalah as a means of dealing with one’s daily life and psyche.

It is here that the Israelis offer prayers and then set out for their trance parties that involve drugs and loud music and which run through the night. The tranquillity of the village is often broken in the dead of the night by these parties.

“We enjoy here so much. Life is hard back in Israel. We come here to relax. Also, it is very cheap in India,” said an Israeli backpacker, who identified himself as Jonep.

The villagers admit that their lifestyle has been disturbed in recent years with the Israeli influx and the late night parties but are not complaining as the visitors provide them with a substantial livelihood.

Nearly 60 guesthouses running from private homes offer lodging to the foreigners for as little as Rs.200.

“These Israelis, and also visitors from Europe and even the US, give us good business,” said Krishna, who runs a makeshift eatery in the village.

“Of course, they are not bothered about the local people and culture. At times they are a nuisance because of drugs and their parties, but people don’t mind because of the money coming from them,” he added.

Towards this end, it’s not surprising to find eateries in the village serving dishes like ‘Falafal’ and ‘Humus’, while others like the ‘Laffing Buddha’ offer a variety of cuisines.

Some of the Israelis, who came here 5 to 10 years ago, have now settled down in the village. Some of them have even got married to the locals to extend their stay. For others, this is a place worth visiting again and again and again!

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