The Lives of Tibetans in Exile
With the 2008 Olympic games hosted in China, Tibet seems to be the center of attraction, the Chinese have been occupying Tibet after the invasion in 1951 just how America invaded Iraq in 2003 and are still occupying it.
The Chinese coincidentally also say the same as the Americans said about Iraq, that pre-liberation Tibet was a medieval, oppressive society consisting of landowners, serfs and slaves. We know that propaganda is one of the most important aspects of winning peoples favour. Enough of the talk about occupying Tibet and Iraq, for now that is and lets move on to something brighter.
Recently a blog called Unseen Dharamsala featured in the blogs of note, now what is Dharamsala? Dharamsala is a beautiful placed nestled high up north of India, in Himachal Pradesh, the northern part of Dharamsala was given to the Dalai Lama when he left Tibet, the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru offered to permit him and his followers to establish a “government-in-exile” in Dharamsala in 1960.Since then, many Tibetan exiles have settled in the town, numbering several thousand. Most of these exiles live in McLeod Ganj, where they established monasteries, temples and schools. The town is sometimes known as “Little Lhasa”, after the Tibetan capital city, and has become an important tourist destination with many hotels and restaurants, creating a resurgence in tourism and commerce.Unseen Dharamsala, brings to life a vibrating Tibetan culture that could have completely wiped out by the Chinese, the Refugees who live in Dharamsala were not allowed to study about Tibetan culture when their country was occupied, they were not allowed to study and learn their religious roots of Tibetan Buddhism.
Chacha Nehru, was a wonderful understanding person, we are in dire need of politicians, if we can call him one, who are compassionate to another of the same race. Unfortunately I cannot say the same about America and its immigration history, but I don’t even need to look that far, right here in Bombay, Indians from Uttar Pradesh were beaten up, stoned and man handled because they were from another state.
Tenzin escaped to India in 2000 by dressing as a Nepali shepherd and walking across the Friendship Bridge.
“It was quite funny because as a monk I am very pale from being inside all the time and all of the real Nepali shepherds could tell I was a fraud. I was very lucky to make it. I have been an ordained Buddhist monk for 17 years,” says Tenzin whos main expertise is Buddhist art, such as Thangka paintings, but is interested in other art forms as well.
Woser is a 32 year old monk from eastern Tibet, who as a child witnessed many changes in his region imposed by the Chinese government. As part of these changes he was not allowed to learn about Tibetan history or culture.
“In 1992 I fled, I had to come to India to really learn about Tibet. Fortunately under the good grace of my root lama, his holiness the Dalai Lama, I have been able to study Buddhism, specializing in Buddhist Tantra, Mantra and Dzogchen, as well as Tibetan linguistics and grammar. Last year I graduated from the Tibetan Academy of Philosophy where I earned my PhD in Buddhist philosophy.”
“While attending the university I wrote many articles about ancient Tibetan culture and the current Tibetan situation. In 2005, I published a book about love and modern society. Since then I have prepared 3 more books for publication and I am currently researching Tibetan women who spent their lives practicing Buddhism,” added Woser.
Yongdon was born 25 years ago in a small village in Tibet and grew up in a nomadic family spending his days looking after our animals. In 1999, he left Tibet in hopes of meeting our exiled leader his holiness the Dalai Lama.
“I escaped by walking through the mountains with 25 people, most of whom were monks from Amdo. The journey was difficult because we ran out of food and were extremely hungry. At one point the snow and ice got in my eyes blinding me for three days. One monk carried my bag while another helped me walk.
When they finally reached Dharamsala Yongdon immediately signed up for school. He is also grateful for the opportunity to learn, and this experience has taught him that without education we are truly blind. In the future, Yongdon hopes to return to his village as a teacher where he will be able to share his knowledge and provide the children with the opportunities he did not have.
Khamsum is a nomad from Kham who as a child went to school intermittently for three years but could not continue because my family needed help with our animals. When he turned 17 Khamsum left his house on a pilgrimage to Lhasa. While in Lhasa he found a pin with a photo of the Dalai Lama.
“At that time I didn’t know about the Dalai Lama. When I was born the Chinese army had already collected all the photos of the Dalai Lama and our elders were too afraid to teach us about him. Even though I didn’t know who he was I loved this man’s smile and always wore the pin. Once the police stopped me and asked me many confusing questions about politics.
They asked me if I knew who the man on the pin was. I honestly said no. Another time while I was in a tea shop minding my own business a stranger sat next to me. He told me all about the Chinese invasion, how the Dalai Lama fled Tibet and set up a community in Dharamsala. He told me he could help me go to India if I wanted.
We only have one precious life and need to use it properly so I found the courage to escape. I wanted to learn to read and write in Tibetan and Dharamsala is the best place to do that. I have been in India for several years and have learned so much. However living conditions are not good for us refugees. As nomads we had a good way of life so I hope to return to Tibet soon,” said Khamsum.
In the 1990s Choedon’s older brother escaped from Tibet and came to Dharamsala. He was so impressed with the Tibetan community in exile that he sneaked back into Tibet to bring her sister and Choedon to India. He was very brave to secretly cross the border 3 times!
Choedon belonged to a nomadic family from Kham and before coming to India she spent her days herding yak, goats and sheep. She had to wake up at 4am to bring them to the hills to graze. In the summer we lived in big black tents made by her father.
“Summer was the best time of year because the animals were happy and gave us so much milk. Life in India is totally different. Here we live in houses all year round, become pale and have stomach problems. Many Tibetans have health issues because of the strange weather and food. However as nomads we are comfortable moving around and learning from different environments so we know how to make the best of this situation.”
“Thanks to the Dalai Lama I have had the marvelous opportunity to receive a good education. In Dharamsala we can go to school for free and learn Tibetan history and language as well as English and computers. Here we can also learn about the real situation in Tibet.”
In 1982 Sopa was born into a large family in the Amdo province of Tibet. When he was 10 years old a local lama came to my father and suggested one of his sons become a monk. The same year Sopa joined the monastery and was trained in many Buddhist rituals such as sand mandalas, butter sculptures, tsampa offerings and religious music.
“I escaped to learn more about Buddhism, here in Dharamsala under the Dalai Lama I learn Buddhist philosophy as well as Tibetan history and language. Now I use my mind and I still use the skills I developed in Tibet to make ritual offerings or play religious horns and drums for my monastery. I am happy with life in exile. I also study English and hope to become fluent so I can teach Buddhism and the real situation of Tibet to those who are curious.”
Dolma is 24 years old and from the U-Tsang region in central Tibet. She escaped to India in 1999 with a guide and 20 strangers. The only people she knew in her group was her sister and two nuns who had been in jail for many years as political prisoners.
“There were many children in our group. The youngest child was 6 years old. We walked for 3 weeks through the Himalayas before we finally crossed the border in secret. The journey was expensive and dangerous.
I came to India for an eduction. In Tibet, Chinese school fees were very high and the schools were not good. I wanted to learn about the world and the real history of Tibet. In Dharamsala I have had the phenomenal opportunity to study. I have realized that without education one’s brain is like a bird without wings. Life is full of ups, downs and challenges that education helps me overcome,” said Dolma.
“When I was a young girl my loving parents sent me to look after our animals. While I heard stories about schools I never saw one. I don’t blame my parents because they lacked an education and resources. When I turned 17 I had a new idea. I decided to go to India to study and to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I escaped with 38 people by walking across the Himalayas.”
“The journey took several months and was the most difficult experience of my life. When I arrived in Dharamsala I went to school but after only one year I stopped because I became very sick. I had no relatives here and missed my caring family. When I thought of them tears flooded my eyes. Gradually my health and homesickness became better.”
Lhamo too thanks the Dalai Lama for the facilities and opportunities to study. Lhamo studies Tibetan history and English, while English has become her main focus because it is a universal language. I am also now learning to read and write in Tibetan which was something that I could not learn in Tibet.
You can read more about Tibet and the history at Students for a free Tibet,
I would like to thanks to Unseen World for starting the Unseen Dharamsala project, you should also read up on what Justin & Zoe who travelled to Dharamsala have to say about now being the chance for Tibet.
People are calling for an Olympic Boycott, China’s response to America stated that the Americans cannot talk about Human Rights because the Iraq war is the biggest Human Rights disaster. I agree with them on that one, but none the less its time to free Tibet!
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