A harrowing escape from Tibet to settling in New Zealand | ELPNZ

A harrowing escape from Tibet to settling in New Zealand

23 May 2016

The first time I saw a Tibetan flag was in that reception centre. I had a very special feeling and I thought: ‘I am a free man’.

I left Tibet at the end of 2007 when I was 21 years old with two ambitions.

My first was to visit His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and my second was to go to school and learn something, as I never got a good chance to go to school in Tibet, but I knew how important education was.

First, I went with some of my village mates from the capital Lhasa to Shigatse, a city about 280 kilometres to the southwest.

There we met some Tibetan people in a hotel. They were from different parts of Tibet. Then one night we left from Shigatse for Nepal. There were 48 of us altogether, accompanied by some guides.

We spent the whole night in the bus, until about 5 or 6 am. After that, we walked for half an hour and then found a hiding place under some big rocks. We hid there from morning to evening until it became dark, and then we started to walk. Each person carried a big bag full of clothes and food. We made meals with tsampa, which is roasted barley flour mixed with cold water.

Two days later we arrived at the border of Nepal and Tibet. That night we needed to cross the border into Nepal, so we hid the whole day, when there was lots of snow. Really, I was so afraid and felt so cold.

That night we began to walk. It was so difficult to walk in the snow as we couldn't see ahead because the snow covered our path. One child got lost. Maybe he was sleeping when we got up. Later that day, we were walking in the snow when some Chinese soldiers saw us and shot at us, so we ran in different directions. Some people ran up and some people ran down, but we couldn't run well in the snow while we carried our bags, so we threw our bags away.

Some of my village mates and I tried to cross the border and were able to cross into Nepal, but we didn't have any food to eat and not enough warm clothes. Everything had gone with our bags. So we walked and walked.

The next day our group met up again in a small restaurant in a Nepalese village. Some of our group came one day late because they had hidden for a whole day in the snow. They saw many Chinese soldiers there and some people got caught.

Thirty-eight people made it there. That means nine got caught and one child got lost. We stayed there for two days to rest. Then we began to walk by day, but one morning we met some Nepalese soldiers on the other side of a bridge. They said: "Go back to Tibet; we won't let you guys come to Nepal.” So we went back half a kilometre, then we paid money for a guide to take us through a forest, over a mountain and across the border back into Nepal.

Two days later we arrived at a Tibetan reception centre at a town in Nepal. We stayed there for three months. The first time I saw a Tibetan flag was in that reception centre. I had a very special feeling and I thought: “I am a free man”, and I knew that the Tibetan Government would not die. At that time lots of Tibetan people escaped from Tibet. Really, I was so happy to be one of them.

I made many new friends from different parts of Tibet, but one thing, it was very difficult to understand when we spoke to each other. That was the main problem between friends.

The food was very good at the reception centre, so I became fat, but not only me! After three months, the reception centre sent to us to India by bus.

Two days later we arrived at the Tibetan Government Reception Centre in Delhi. The weather was so hot and also the food was very bad. Fortunately, they sent to us to Dharamsala that night.

The next morning we reached the Dharamsala Tibetan Reception Centre. Really, the weather was so beautiful. It was the same as Tibetan weather. I missed Tibet so much. The Dharamsala Tibetan Reception Centre fed us well. I ate eggs for the first time in the Dharamsala Reception Centre because I was a pure vegetarian before this. But many people there said: "Eggs are not meat”, so that was why I ate eggs. We stayed in Dharamsala for one week.

The Reception Centre sent me to a Tibetan school in the village of Vellige Suja. My friends and I went different ways from the Dharamsala Reception Centre. Some went to different monasteries and some went to different schools, so we felt sad, but, even today, we still keep in contact with each other.

In my eight years in India I learned some English and did some training as a mechanic in a Toyota workshop.

Sadly, during that time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was not in India, so we couldn't visit him. Perhaps I will have the chance to meet him if he comes to New Zealand again. 

What has happened to Thupten since he arrived in New Zealand. 

Story: Thupten Tsering | Photo: Dawn Dutton