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Hippies kick back in Dharamsala

Home to the Tibetan government in exile, global travelers have headed to the Indian hill town, a cosmopolis of yoga practitioners, espresso drinkers, and Web-surfing monks.

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GLOBAL ENTREPRENEURS: Michael Ginguld (l.) and business partner Yahel Ben-David (r.) founded a wireless Internet network in Dharamsala.

MARK SAPPENFIELD

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Emily Scott sits at one of many roadside cafes along the steep ascent into Upper Dharamsala, preparing for her two-week yoga retreat – two-hour sessions, occasionally three times a day.

Fuzz-headed Buddhist monks in magenta robes and Converse All-Star high-tops amble by, chatting animatedly on their mobile phones. At a nearby table, Israeli Ofra Gan remarks on how much the village feels like her kibbutz – intimate and friendly.

This Himalayan hill town, home of the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan government in exile, is a global node of the counterculture diaspora that blends its Tibetan heritage with pilgrims, hippies, and backpackers.

Drawn here by the inscrutable wisdom of the Dalai Lama and scenery straight from the leaves of fantasy, the eclectic crowd that throngs Upper Dharamsala has made this town a unique ecosystem – a cosmopolitan town of espressos and Web-surfing monks, condensed into two streets along a Himalayan ridgeline.

As with many others, Michael Ginguild was originally lured here by the idea of doing good. An Israeli backpacker tripping through Tibet in 1989, he became an accidental eyewitness to the last major riots in the region and was later invited to Dharamsala to brief the Dalai Lama on what he saw.

Mr. Ginguild's initial motivation in moving here to help the government in exile has in recent years morphed into a quixotic quest to build the largest wireless Internet network in South Asia – in a town of 20,000. He and his business partner want to bring the Internet to rural areas worldwide, and Dharamsala is an ideal laboratory for rural research and design, while offering the character of a city, he explains.

Ginguild's partner begs to differ. It is revisionist history, he says. The desire to come to Dharamsala came first, and everything else has emerged from that impulse.

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