Community Engagement & Service

Tibet, Buddhist Ethics and the Environment: Dharamsala and Ladakh, India

Alternative Break Tibet 2013

About the Trip

The Chinese invaded Tibet in 1949 with intentions of developing the “backward” nation. From that moment on, the Chinese began a crusade against everything Tibetan. The Sino-Tibetan conflict is generally focused on atrocious human rights violations and the cultural genocide committed by the Chinese, but this year’s trip returning to Dharamsala and Ladakh, India will focus on a facet of the conflict that is generally overlooked: the environment. Unsustainable development and global warming has begun to create a slew of environmental issues for the Tibetan Plateau. Tibet is a crucial ecosystem which is sometimes called the third pole, or the water tower of Asia because of the numerous glaciers and rivers that come off the Tibetan Plateau. Because of its global importance, degradation of the Tibetan Plateau’s environment is an issue of global concern.

Neglect of the environment stands in direct conflict with Tibetan Buddhist beliefs and therefore, Tibetan culture. However, with the imposition of Chinese infrastructure and culture, this respect for the natural world has fallen by the wayside.

This trip will focus on the environmental plight of the Tibetan Plateau, the Tibetan community in exile, and the connections between the environment, the Sino-Tibetan conflict and Tibetan Buddhism.

First we will travel to Dharamsala to learn about the current situation in Tibet, environmentally and politically. Then we will travel to Ladakh, also known as “Little Tibet” in order to see the contrast in the environmental conditions, and examples of environmentally conscious development.

The trip will engage with local NGOs, participate in service learning projects, meet with many prominent activists and scholars, and live with Tibetan and Domkhar village families in homestays. Participants will learn about the aspects of the Sino-Tibetan conflict, Tibetan Buddhism and the environment as they live and work alongside the community in exile. Upon the return to the U.S., participants will learn ways to get involved with solidarity movements surrounding Tibet such as AU students for a Free Tibet.

Special note on high altitude and village homestays: Ladakh is in the Himalayas and at 11,562 ft, is challenging to acclimate to. Living in homestays will also be a challenging situation, though immensely rewarding if you are able to adapt for a few weeks without the material comforts of the U.S. Each student will need to make a personal decision if this is the right experience for you based on your own mental and physical condition.

Trip Leaders:

Rianna Eckel is a sophomore double majoring in International Studies and Environmental Studies. She participated in the North India trip during the summer of 2012. On campus, she is involved with the AU Students for a Free Tibet club as well as the Buddhist Exploration Group.

Luke Ramsey
is a sophomore majoring in philosophy focusing on Eastern religion and environmental philosophy. He has taken classes on the Tibetan conflict as well as is involved with AU Students for a Free Tibet.

Trip Itinerary (Subject to change):

Day 1: Leave US
Day 2: Arrive in Delhi
Day 3: Drive to, and arrive in Dharamsala
Day 4: Speaker Tenzin Norbu of the Environment and Development desk. Service with Tibet Hope Center. Homestay Orientation.
Day 5: Speaker Kelsang Wangmo, German nun who earned a Geshe degree. Speaker Tenzin Norbu of the Government in Exile. Service with Tibet Hope Center.
Day 6: Speaker Ama Adhe, ex political prisoner. Service with Tibet Hope Center.
Day 7: Speaker Tenzin Tsundue, political activist. Service with Tibet Hope Center.
Day 8: Speaker Palden Gyatso, ex political prisoner and activist. Service with Tibet Hope Center.
Day 9: Speaker Lhasang Tsering, ex CIA operative for the Tibetan Resistance Force. Service with Mountain Cleaners.
Day 10: Bhagsu waterfall trash clean up. Hear from Mountain Cleaners representative.
Day 11: Meet with HH Karmapa, high incarnate rinpoche, spiritual leader and environmentalist. Speaker Ani Tenzin Palmo, advocate of Buddhism and social change.
Day 12: Leave Dharamsala, drive to Jammu Airport, fly to Ladakh. Rest upon arrival to Mahabodhi.
Day 13: Meet with Venerable Sanghasena, Buddhist monk and founder of Mahabodhi. tour Mahabodhi campus. Mahabodhi International Meditation Center is an organization that teaches meditation to tourists in order to fund their hospital, old age home, school, boys, girls, monks and nuns dormitories and care for the mentally disabled.
Day 14: Learning about the flood in Ladakh and Temple tour.
Day 15-17: Service at Mahabodi’s campus.
Day 18: Service at Mahabodhi’s campus. Hear from Gen Tenzin La, monk who served as a representative on the 1980 envoy to Tibet.
Day 19: Domkhar Village Service and Homestay Orientation.
Day 20: Domkhar Village Service and Homestay.
Day 21: Domkhar Village Service and Homestay.
Day 22-24: Five hour drive to Pangong Lake: Camping, Eco-tour, meet with park ranger, final action planning.
Day 25: Fly to Delhi
Day 26: Fly to Washington, DC


Location: Dharamsala and Leh, Ladakh, India

Dates of Trip: July 17-August 13, 2013

Student Trip Leaders: Luke Ramsey and Rianna Eckel

Faculty Advisor: Professor Susan McDonic, Sociology

Cost: $3,500 (in three installments)
Cost Includes: airfare, transportation, travel insurance, room and board, meals, and all activities. Does not include Indian visa and immunizations.