Travel is the best time to educate yourself about what’s going on in the rest of the world, it’s often enough to simply keep an open mind and look at all the options out there. When I learned that it was OK to visit the Tibetan nuns in McLeod Ganj, India, I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of this unique opportunity. I was eager to get to know the women there and find out more about their difficult pilgrimage from Tibet, across the Himalayas, a journey I can not even imagine doing, let alone do it without any of the appropriate gear. Since the invasion of the Chinese in 1950 Tibet has been under the control of the people’s republic of China. There is much controversy between reports of the Chinese and the Tibetans as to how the Chinese occupation affects Tibet and its inhabitants and a number of Tibetans flee the country in the hope of a better life in India. Going into the monastery I asked at the office which woman might be interested in sharing her story with me for travelettes and who spoke enough english to actually do so. That’s how I met Ngawang…


Ngawang, 35,  Mcleod Ganj

Ngawang came to India 12 years ago as a political refugee from Tibet.  Now she is a nun in the Buddhist temple in Dharamsala.

Travelettes: How and why did you come to India?
Ngawang: I came together with a group of 14 other people through the himalayas. It was a 3 month journey. 7 of the others got caught by the Chinese police and kept as political prisoners but 8 of us made it in the end. We were all nuns from 3 different nunneries in Tibet. We came to be able to get education which is not available in Tibet to those who can not afford it.

Travelettes: Tell us about the trip to India.
Ngawang: It was very cold and often rough. We would sleep during the day and walk at night to decrease our chances of the Chinese finding us. I had flower with me that I used to make bread. Of course I could only eat very little every day since I didn’t know when we would arrive.

Travelettes: What about your family, do you know how they are?
Ngawang: It’s very difficult to have contact with my family in Tibet but I do know that everyone is well off and my siblings have children of their own.

Travelettes: Why did you chose to become a nun?
Ngawang: I come from a family with 9 children. My parents are farmers and have very little money. I always liked nuns and I knew it would be easier for my family to have one less mouth to feed so I entered the nunnery at the age of 13.

Travelettes: Tell us about your daily routine as a nun.
Ngwang: I wake up at 5am and pray for reincarnation and good karma. Then we have breakfast – bread and butter tea. At 8am we have Tibetan language class and at 9am English class. At 10.30 we meet to debate. At 12.30 we read and memorize and then we have lunch which consists of rice and dhal. After lunch people are invited to come to us with their health problems and we pray for them in exchange for donations. After prayer is finished at 4.20 I come home and clean. Dinner starts at 6, we usually have noodles. Afterwards we have debate again discussing the contents of the holy book. When debate finishes at 9 I pray and study the teachings of the Dalai Lama before going to bed.

Travelettes: What are your hopes for the future?
Ngawang: I pray for peace and freedom for Tibet. I also hope to be a good nun and help many poor people.


Ngawang standing outside her room she shares with 2 other women

Ngawang’s bed

Ngawang has few belongings. A few books, a cup, a tea can.

To make food, Ngawang and her roommates have a small cooking station set up.