Dhondenling Refugee Settlement

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In  the mid 1960s, the Indian Government offered several areas throughout India where the Tibetan refugees could settle together and protect their distinct culture and way of life. The people began to leave their temporary homes in the Himalayan region, where many had been employed in some of the worst possible conditions to build roads. Karnataka State in the South formed the largest concentration of Tibetan refugees worldwide, today totaling around fifty thousand.


The Dzogchen Monastery and the  Dhondeling
Tibetan Refugee Settlements around the
monastery, were carved out of the Karnataka jungle

In 1974, a group of five hundred  or so took the long journey to the South, headed for a mountainous area 40kms from the small town of Kollegal. To their disappointment, they arrived to find what was described as a jungle. When the Dalai Lama visited they begged him to find somewhere else, but there was no other choice and they resigned to the arduous job of clearing the land for agriculture. The hard conditions and the change in climate took their toll with many falling seriously ill from tuberculosis and typhoid. The area was quite heavily inhabited by wild elephants, tigers, bears and snakes and a number of people were killed. The land was divided among the families and twenty-two small villages were established, each named by a letter of the alphabet and having an average population of two hundred and fifty.


A view of 'H' Village, a typical example of one of the
twenty-two  villages in the Dhondenling refugee settlements

The people were mostly grouped together according to the areas of Tibet which they had come from.

Today, Dhondenling encompasses an area of three thousand acres with a population of more than six thousand. At the center lies a small hill, on top of which is the private residence of the Dalai Lama. Nearby to the East is Dzogchen Monastery, and to the West, administration offices, a school and a bank. There is also a Tibetan medical clinic; a small allopathic hospital; a shopping bazaar; three kindergartens; a post office; and an engineering workshop. The main income is from a yearly monsoon crop of corn a cooperative society was formed to facilitate the farming. It is the youngest and most remote of the five settlements in South India, thus having the poorest transport and communication facilities. It does, however, enjoy a cordial relationship with the surrounding Indian community and has quickly developed, to a great extent solving the problems of drinking water and internal link roads.

Poverty, ill health, poor education and lack of development, motivation and care are among the main problems within the Tibetan refugee community in India. Widespread illness from tuberculosis and cancer linked with large families and overcrowded homes lead to many hardships.

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