Tibetan refugees and Dipawali Bhai Tika

We are almost half way through our trip and I am still having trouble interpreting things I see. As I have said before things are not good or bad, but rather different and at times I really feel like an intruder into someone else’s culture.

This morning we visited the Tibetan Refugee Settlement where our guide and many other Tibetan refugees live. Hearing first hand about the fleeing that started in 1959 and how some people walked weeks and weeks in order to seek refuge in Nepal and how these people live exiled in their own community, however are not Nepalese and do not receive the same rights as Nepalese citizens, even though many were born here was really quite disheartening. I am trying to steer clear of news from home whilst away, and really am trying to avoid politics, however comparing the stories of these Tibetan people and thinking of the dreadful laws Australia has for those seeking asylum really highlighted my privilege in being an Australian citizen.


We were joined for lunch with over 25 older Tibetan men and women who live at the settlement. For those asking for food pictures…


After lunch, we distributed some of the woollen items I had collected from around Australia. The smiles and thanks from these people were so beautiful. One of the ladies at our table talked of her 5 children and we were able to give her beanies for each of her children. We will distribute more woollens at the Health Camp this weekend.

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After returning from the Settlement Camp, we dressed in cultural dress in order to attend the Dipawali Bhai Tika festivities put on by the local hotel association at a local orphanage.


Here is where I am conflicted. I really enjoyed dressing in a Kurta and actually purchased two here and plan to wear them at home. The ceremony of Bhai Tika was something I probably would have preferred to watch rather than take part in as it was not my cultural beliefs. Bhai Tika celebrates one’s brothers as a sister prayed for her brother and gave him flowers and told the god that they could only take him once the flowers wilted and the flowers didn’t wilt. Now sisters venerate their brothers today by annointing their ears and head with oil, giving them a multicoloured tika on their forehead, laying a garland of flowers around the neck and giving them a present. We sat in a circle and participated in the ceremony. Whilst this ceremony was technically a ‘mock’ ceremony it just didn’t sit well participating in it knowing it was not part of my belief system and I question how I am respecting someone else’s beliefs by taking part in it.

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The flowers and shawl they gave us are lovely and the shawl will remind me of my trip. Again I am not sure if because these people were so willing to have us participate (we paid a small fee) we should accept their hospitality. This is something I will continue to reflect upon.

Date: Tuesday, 1. November 2016 22:25
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  1. 1

    Thank you for sharing your journey. It is quite interesting. I look forward to more.

  2. 2

    Thank you for sharing!
    Having lived in communities with belief systems different from mine I’ve often been asked to partake in ceremonies such as this. So have my parents and my sister and so has my daughter while with me. We often talked about this. Over the years we’ve come to the conclusion that in our own eyes, it was a show of respect and a way to learn more about things and belief systems we wouldn’t have known about. As in my family respect is one of the highest priorities, and ignorance one of the things we try to fight, we decided that as long as we weren’t hurting other living creatures or the environment, oartaking was just that: a leaning experience, an opportunity to share, and a show of respect.

  3. 3

    Great post and interesting insight. I see a lot of tourists here with tikas and I often find it odd. Nepalis are very spiritual people and live their lives in accordance with their religion, mostly Hindu. There is much less spiritual agnosticism and atheism here. So I find it odd when people who clearly aren’t Hindu take Hindu blessings and then wear the tikas around all day in the same way I might wear a tourist tshirt. I don’t have an objection to people taking blessings but I sort of feel odd about people selling them.

  4. 4

    I’ve really enjoyed your pictures of your trip. I also struggle with the issues of cultural appropriation and finding a balance between respect for culture and participation.

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