August 31, 2001 Features & Images » Feature Story


The long road home

Devotees, including a Whistler woman, come from around the world to pay their respects to the Dalai Lama, while Tibetans wait to return to their land

"I?d rather live in Tibet, than be a refugee." ? Tenpa Gyaltsen.

By Janet Love Morrison

Tenpa Gyaltsen fled over the Himalayas when he was 12 years old. He was the youngest in a group of 24. It was October 1992, and it was one of the most harrowing experiences in his young life.

Tenpa was raised in Eastern Tibet. Chinese law allows only a few Tibetans to enter Chinese government colleges, and universities, hence Tenpa?s parents sent him to live with his uncle in southern India.

In 1949 the People?s Republic of China invaded and occupied Tibet ? in violation of international law. This resulted in the flight of His Holiness the Honourable 14th Dalai Lama, and 87,000 refugees to Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and India. The Chinese assaulted the Tibetan traditional way of life. Public executions and mass starvation resulted in 1.2 million deaths. Since then the world has embraced the peaceful Tibetans, while imperialist Beijing continues to ignore human rights.

Tenpa?s parents attempted to obtain a legal passport for their son, however, the Chinese Government strictly opposed education of Tibetan Chinese Nationals in India. Therefore, to go to school, Tenpa was going to have to walk over the highest mountains on Earth to Nepal, and eventually to India. His parents were extremely worried. It was wintertime ? the best time to avoid the Chinese police, but of course also the time of harshest travel conditions.

Tenpa, and his older brother, travelled five days in the back of a truck to Lhasa. It was there where they said good-bye.

"I cried when I said good-bye to my mother, and again when I was separated from my brother. He was very emotional, he pleaded with each member of our group to help me over the mountains," Tempa recalls.

It took them 18 days to walk from Lhasa to Kathmandu.

"We crossed rivers, and climbed steep rocky mountains. We were constantly worried about being caught by the Chinese police. Many Tibetans had been caught, they were beaten, all their belongings and money were confiscated. Many were imprisoned, or forced into labour camps."

They safely reached the border, but had to wait until midnight before attempting to climb the last rock face and cross the bridge that lay between them and freedom. The bridge was located in a strategic pass guarded by the Nepal Border Security. It was the only way into Nepal.

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