CULTURE AND HISTORY

These interviews explore the cultural traditions of Tibet and the elders' lives as the children of farmers, herders and traders or as young monks and nuns in monasteries.

ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS

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Bylakuppe, India (2007)
1. Kalsang Yangchen (#24)
2. Tsering Palden (#15)
3. Pasang Dolkar (#23)
4. Pema Wangdu (#64)
5. Ngodup Lhamo (#88)
6. Lobsang Tashi (#72)
7. Choekyi (#21)
8. Dhondup (#62)
9. Dawa Dolma (#77)
10. Tsering (#79)
11. Apey (#1)
12. Paljor (#4)
13. Tsering Methok (#19)
14. Tenzin Lhagyal (#20)
15. Tashi Phuntsok (#14)
16. Tsering Wangmo (#74)
17. Dorji Phuntsok (#27)
18. Ngawang Chomphel (#33)
19. Samdup (#60)

Mundgod, India (2010)
1. Tenpa Chonphel (#2M)
2. Penpa (#4M)
3. Sochoe (#7M)
4. Lhamo (#11M)
5. Sonam Tso (#13M)
6. Dolma Yangzom (#42M)
7. Dukha (#48M)
8. Palden Chonphel (#49M)
9. Dechen Lhamo (#57M)
10. Tsondue Gyaltsen (#15M)
11. Sonam (#25M)
12. Dekyi (#26M)
13. Norsang (#37M)
14. Gursang Damdul (#38M)
15. Khiku Luku (#40M)
16. Jigme Paljor (#47M)
17. Tendol (#58M)
18. Sither (#61M)
19. Pasang Tsering (#67M)
20. Tashi Gyaltsen (#69M)
21. Lhundup (#12M)
22. Kelsang Dorjee (#59M)

Dharamsala, India (2012)
1. Kunchok Tsewang (#12D)
2. Kunchok Tashi (#13D)
3. Tsering Norbu (#14D)
4. Dolma Choezom (#15D)
5. Kunchok (#20D)
6. Sueshap Phuntsok Tsering (#22D)
7. Tading Choekyi Aduk (#26D)
8. Tsering Chonphel (#35D)
9. Tashi Samphel (#39D)
10. Phari Wangdu (#45D)
11. Gonpo Dorjee (#47D)
12. Norga (#48D)
13. Urgen Tsering (#50D)
14. Jamphel Dorjee (#51D)

USA/Canada (2013-2014)
1. Lobsang K. Dongretsang (#12C)
2. Dekyi K. Dongretsang (#11C)
3. Ama Kalden Chama (#10C)
4. Dhundup Tsering (#5C)
5. Tashi Sonam (#4C)
6. Tsering Choephel (#16C)
7. Thinlay Chogyal (#18C)
8. Tsewang Tenzin (#19C)
9. Hrithar Depom (#20C)
10. Dra Kyam (#21C)
11. Lama Wangchuk Gyaltsen (#23C)
12. T.G. Dhongthog Rinpoche (#24C)
13. Tsering Choden (#25C)
14. Ngawang Gyurmey Chagzoetsang (#26C)
15. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, His Holiness (#27C)
16. Jamyang D. Sakya (#28C)
17. Thupten (#29C)
18. Chimey Luding, Jetsun Kushok (#31C)

Bylakuppe (2013-14)
1. Yeshi Tinlay (#7B)
2. Ngawang Soepa (#21B)
3. Dawa Tsering (#28B)

 


© 2009-2015 Tibet Oral History Project. These translations and transcripts are provided for individual research purposes only. For all other uses, including publication, reproduction and quotation beyond fair use, permission must be obtained in writing from: Tibet Oral History Project, P.O. Box 6464, Moraga, CA 94570-6464.




Kalsang Yangchen (#24)

Kalsang Yangchen played tug-of-war and wrestled with boys as a child, but most of the time she was busy with household chores. After she married a lama from the Ngagpa tradition, she traveled to pilgrimage sites, and received the Kalachakra blessing given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Norbulingka Palace.

Kalsang Yangchen’s husband was a traditional doctor as well as a Ngagpa, who are believed to possess special tantric powers, such as controlling rainfall, taming and vanquishing souls which have risen after their death, and curing mental and physical illness. Kalsang Yangchen describes a few of these practices in detail.

Kalsang Yangchen’s husband joined the Chushi Gangdrug Volunteer Force and shot a Chinese army leader. To avenge their leader’s death the Chinese planned to capture and disembowel Kalsang Yangchen if they could not find her husband. After the Dalai Lama escaped to India, the Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas began to flee and took Kalsang Yangchen with them. She was separated from her husband, who went off to battle the Chinese again, and she continued on to India. She was later reunited with her husband in Missamari.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, religious festivals, Ngagpa tradition, life under Chinese rule, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, Chinese oppression, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Tsering Palden (#15)

Tsering Palden’s large family lived as nomads in a remote area, who exchanged animal products for rice, wheat and other goods in Bhutan and among Tibetans. He explains why his village, Doomba, is highly respected by the Tibetans and he describes the legend behind the hills and mountain near his village. In exchange for guarding the border with Bhutan, the people of his village were given the right to sell incense “at any distance the white bird could fly for 18 days.”

Tsering Palden gives many details about marriage customs. He says, “Here [in India] you have something called falling in love, in Tibet it was in the parents’ hands.” When Tsering Palden was 19, his family brought a girl from another place and told him she was his bride. He explains how parents matched the zodiac signs for each couple and consulted lamas for divination and astrological calculations before a marriage is decided.

The Chinese did not arrive in Tsering Palden’s region until around 1958. Daily life was disrupted as the Chinese began giving silver coins to the poor and appointing them to leadership positions while subjecting the original village leaders to thamzing ‘struggles sessions.’  He provides an account of his return to Tibet in 1994 to visit his relatives and describes the changes that have taken place in Tibet.

Topics Discussed:

Nomadic life, trade, customs/traditions, escape experiences.

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Pasang Dolkar (#23)

"There is a saying that goes, ‘In summer you may want to purchase Phari, while in winter you may want to sell it off,’ ” says Pasang Dolkar about her beloved birth place. She describes her beautiful town in summer and names the variety of flowers that covered the fields. Phari is also a cosmopolitan center where people traveled to trade goods from all over Tibet, as well as from Nepal, India, Bhutan and China. She tells of her childhood chores and describes her home.

Pasang Dolkar has fond memories of the annual horse-racing festival. She also explains the Tibetan practice of sky burial of the dead and the significance of this unusual ritual. She recounts the local myth of a romance between the mountain gods and the legend surrounding the story. She also describes the hot springs of Khambu, where people went to be cured of every kind of ailment.

When the Chinese came to Phari, they arrested the four wealthiest families. Pasang Dolkar’s father-in-law worked for the Tibetan government so the Chinese army considered her husband’s family to be “rebels” and was going to arrested them. She and her husband abruptly left their cherished homeland and all their possession in order to flee to Bhutan.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, religious festivals, trade, life under Chinese rule, Chinese oppression, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Pema Wangdu (#64)

Pema Wangdu is from Powo in eastern Tibet. He gives a detailed account of how Powo was an independent state since the time of the Chogyal ‘religious kings.’ Pema Wangdu explains that these historical chronicles are handed down by oral transmission from generation to generation.

Pema Wangdu recounts details about how people in his region raised their livestock for special breeds with unique feature. He explains how the animals were named and how they grazed on their own and returned home to be milked. Traditional natural methods such as bled-letting were used for treating diseases in animals. He also describes the marriage customs in Powo, which involved many community members and elaborate rituals. Pema Wangdu explains traditional clothing, weapons, and funerals.

Pema Wangdu fled Tibet with his family after the Chinese began to inflict hardships on the Tibetans. During their escape, Chinese soldiers killed some of the people in his group, including his wife, leaving Pema Wangdu to care for his 7-month-old son. He arrived in India in 1960 and married a woman from his village who had also fled from Tibet and helped him care for his son.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, herding, customs/traditions, life under Chinese rule, escape experiences.

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Ngodup Lhamo (#88) (alias)

Ngodup Lhamo comes from Powo Yikong and belonged to a farming family. She recalls the problems faced by Tibetan women during childbirth. Since there were no hospitals or trained medical personnel, the majority of the births took place at home. Birth-related problems were viewed as the result of evil spells so rituals and prayers were performed to promote an easy birth.

Ngodup Lhamo also recalls fond memories of typical childhood games she played and discusses enjoyable festivals such as Losar ‘Tibetan New Year’ when her family drank home-brewed beer from silver bowls and told stories of ancient kings.

After the Chinese invasion, the Chinese began arresting people in Ngodup Lhamo’s village, falsely accusing them of helping the Defend Tibet Volunteer Force. She, along with five other families, escaped through Pema Koe and reached Tuting in India. Although they faced many problems as refugees, gradually the settlements in India improved, just as His Holiness the Dalai Lama assured them when he visited Bylakuppe in the early days.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, childbirth, religious festivals, life under Chinese rule, escape experiences, early life in Bylakuppe.

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Lobsang Tashi (#72)

As prosperous nomads in the Ngari Dhargayling region of Tibet, Lobsang Tashi’s family held the title Tsorpon because they owned the most cattle in the region. Lobsang Tashi describes his family’s work of caring for their domestic animals and traveling to Jang Tsakha to gather salt, which they bartered for grains in Bhutan. Lobsang Tashi also explains the annual horse races that took place in his village, detailing how the Tibetans trained the horses to race and prepared them for the event. 

When Lobsang Tashi was only 16 his father died, making him responsible for the family, including tending the livestock and paying taxes. Living far from Lhasa, he and others in Ngari Dhargayling did not experience harsh treatment from the Chinese. Nonetheless, Lobsang Tashi was aware of the Chinese oppression in Lhasa and the subsequent escape of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to India.

Anticipating hardships imposed by the Chinese to eventually reach his village, Lobsang Tashi and his family fled to India via Nepal. He describes his life as a refugee in Nepal and India.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, nomadic life, religious festivals, customs/traditions, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Choekyi (#21) (alias)

Choekyi is the eldest of 16 children. Her family worked as pastoral farmers who both farmed and raised animals. They lived a very isolated life with no schools or doctors. Choekyi says, “It was all work, and playing was out of the question.” Helping her parents during sowing season and tending animals were her chores, but she had no complaints.

Choekyi provides a vivid description of various aspects of farming activity and her simple life. She describes how she slept with sheep and goat droppings in winter because they acted as insulation. She explains the complete process of making butter and cheese, including how the fresh milk was poured in leather pouches and kept in river water to cool it.

Choekyi’s encounter with the Chinese first occurred when they came to her region looking for grasslands for the animals they had procured. A month after hearing that His Holiness the Dalai Lama escaped to India, she and her family left Tibet. From Phari it was a night’s journey to Bhutan and they travelled with their belongings and the small children on 14 yaks.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, herding, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Dhondup (#62) (alias)

Dhondup fondly recalls the beautiful landscape of his childhood village, Dik, nestled among the snow-capped mountains of Tibet’s Re District. He describes a special type of grass on the plains called jaktsa and the life of his pastoral Tibetan farming family. Dhondup explains Tibetan farming policy, which distinguished between telpa ‘farmers who paid taxes’ and dhuechung ‘farmers who did not.’ He also describes the custom of telpa families sending one of their sons to become a monk at the local monastery. Dhondup explains the relationship of labor and payment between the poor and wealthy families and the legal system available to address disputes.

Since Dhondup’s village was located in a remote place near the mountain pass to India, he and other villagers escaped soon after His Holiness the Dalai Lama fled to India in order to avoid the horror of the thamzing ‘struggle sessions’ the Chinese inflicted on Tibetans in other locations. Dhondup holds some Tibetan officials responsible for the sufferings of his people, explaining how the Chinese bribed them with dhayen ‘silver coins.’ Dhondup also expresses his view that the farmers were not interested in the “liberation” that the Chinese claimed to bring to Tibet.

Topics Discussed:

Farm life, nomadic life, customs/traditions, first appearance of the Chinese, life under Chinese rule, escape experiences.

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Dawa Dolma (#77)

Dawa Dolma and her childhood friend, Tsamchoe, now in their eighties, recount their life experiences in Tibet. In summer, their village became a trading ground for a thousand traders who exchanged salt and grain. Nomads came with their goods, tents were set up, and Dawa’s village became a lively market place for two weeks each year. The local people sold their wares such as woven carpets and clothes. A tax officer would come from Lhasa to collect taxes from the traders.

The lives of Dawa Dolma and Tsamchoe began to change after they both married and had to cope with the challenges of raising a family while earning a livelihood. The friends separated when Dawa Dolma left Tibet with her husband and child soon after the Chinese arrived in their village, fearing that her daughter would be taken to school in China. Tsamchoe witnessed villagers being subjected to thamzing ‘struggle sessions’ inflicted by the Chinese.

Tsamchoe and her family soon followed Dawa Dolma into exile, taking the same route through Nepal. Today, they are still friends and neighbors living in the same refugee settlement.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, festivals, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, thamzing, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Tsering (#79) (alias)

Tsering is a nomad from the Thoe Ngari region in Utsang. He become a salt-trader at the age of fifteen and Tsering describes step-by-step how Tibetans gathered salt and took it to Ladakh, where they traded it for barley, rice and wheat. From start to finish, the process of salt trading—including removing salt from the lakes, filling the saddle bags, loading them on the yaks and sheep, traveling to Ladakh, and returning home—took the traders around two months.

Tsering then explains how the salt trade came to an end when the Chinese suddenly barred Tibetan salt traders from traveling to Ladakh. With their livelihoods threatened and with no means to challenge the Chinese on their own, all of Tsering’s fellow villagers left to join the Chushi Gangdrug Volunteer Force in Dhoporang.

The journey took several days and before the villagers could reach Dhoporang, Chinese soldiers intercepted and captured around 300 of them, including Tsering. Some villagers were arrested and the remainder, after months of indoctrination by the Chinese, were sent back to their village.

Topics Discussed:

Nomadic life, salt trading, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Apey (#1)

Apey is the fourth child of seven. He became a monk at Sama Datsang at the age of eight and remained there until the age of 18. He was forced to leave the monastery and return home to support his family, who had become poor due to the unfair actions of Apey’s uncle. Apey helped his family pay taxes to the Tibetan government. Later he went to serve Dapon ‘Colonel’ Mogya, the highest Tibetan military officer.

When the Chinese arrived in Tibet, Apey fought as part of the Tibetan army against the Chinese even though he was not a Tibetan government soldier. After the fall of Chamdo and capture of Dapon Mogya, Apey went to Lhasa and warned people about the invasion of the Chinese, but at that time, they did not believe the Chinese would come to Lhasa.

Apey took up work as a wool trader for an aristocratic family in Lhasa. When Apey learned that His Holiness the Dalai Lama had left Tibet, Apey escaped by crossing over a mountain pass to Sikkim and ultimately he reached Kalimpong. He later joined the Indian army and remained there for seven or eight years.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, monastic life, taxes, invasion by Chinese army, trade, escape experiences, early life in Bylakuppe, life as a refugee in India.

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Paljor (#4)

Paljor’s village, Changdong, is a day’s journey from Lhasa. His family worked as farmers and grew different types of crops and flowers. The village Changdong was an estate of Sera Mey Nyetsang. His family was poor and life was made more difficult due to the high taxes paid to the government. His sister was given to the estate in lieu of tax payment. After the disintegration of his family due to his father’s death and the inability to pay all their taxes, Paljor became a servant of the abbot of Gyumed Monastery and served on his estate in Tsang.

Paljor is one of the fortunate Tibetans who received the first Kalachakra initiation given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Norbulingka in Tibet. He also witnessed the Dalai Lama when he was escorted from Amdo to Lhasa as a little child. He gives a vivid account of the official ceremonies and arrangements for His Holiness’ journey to Lhasa.

Paljor escaped to India in 1959 amid growing apprehension that he would be arrested by the Chinese. He nearly made the fatal mistake of returning to Tibet after reaching India, thinking the situation would have improved after a short time.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, farm life, taxes, invasion by Chinese army, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, Kalachakra in Tibet, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Tsering Methok (#19)

Tsering Methok comes from the village of Tsona, which is very close to the Indian border. As a young girl, she played games, helped her mother in weaving and did household chores. She describes Losar ‘Tibetan New Year’ celebrations and cham, special dances performed by monks.

Tsering Methok’s life changed when her family witnessed many Tibetans escaping through their village, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Tsering Methok remembers working with the other villagers to clear a path for His Holiness by digging earth and covering the snow with soil.

Tsering Methok’s parents decided to also flee their homeland with her and her four siblings. When they reached India, her family begged for food and worked on road constructions at Mon Tawang. Tsering Methok’s younger brother joins the interview and describes the dangers of road construction and how they cleared thick forests to build the Tibetan refugee settlement in Bylakuppe, India.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, herding, religious festivals, first appearance of Chinese, Dalai Lama’s escape, early life in Bylakuppe, life as a refugee in India.

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Tenzin Lhagyal (#20)

Tenzin Lhagyal is from a village called Nyapso. He demonstrates and describes how, as a child, he used to play different games with stones and yak horns. Usually the prize would be chang ‘home-brewed beer,’ which everyone, winner and losers, drank together, debating and analyzing the game.

The land in Tenzin Lhagyal’s village was placed under the control of the estate of Ling Rinpoche, senior tutor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Having been a servant to the previous land owner, Tenzin Lhagyal was called to Lhasa to look after the horses of the estate.

Tenzin Lhagyal did not face many problems after the Chinese invasion although he worked on a road crew when tax was imposed on Ling Rinpoche’s estate by the Chinese. Tenzin Lhagyal remained in Lhasa until the Chinese took control of the city in 1959. When he heard the news that His Holiness the Dalai Lama had escaped from Tibet, he decided to leave as well. He felt fortunate to join some soldiers of the Chushi Gangdrug Volunteer Force who were also fleeing Tibet. He came to India through Bhutan and worked on a road crew before moving to Bylakuppe.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, forced labor, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Tashi Phuntsok (#14)

Tashi Phuntsok was born in Gyangtse to a farming family. As a child, he enjoyed loving parents and the opportunity to learn how to read and write. His education ended abruptly with the death of his teacher and his parents had him learn tailoring instead. Tashi Phuntsok’s story reveals different aspects of the Tibetan way of life, including the Tibetans’ concept of marriage and the marriage ceremony. He explains, for example, that when he married, rather than bring home his bride, he became a makpa ‘man living with his wife’s family after marriage.’ Tashi Phuntsok shares other views on agricultural practices, weaving, and birth control in Tibetan society.

Tashi Phuntsok describes how his life changed when the Chinese arrived in Tsang after annexing Chamdo sometime in 1954 or 1955. He gives a vivid account of how, in the name of helping poor Tibetans, the Chinese forced wealthier Tibetans to hand over their possessions, including clothes, grains, and grass for their horses. If they did not comply Tashi Phuntsok’s family might have been beaten or imprisoned. His family escaped one night to Bhutan and Tashi Phuntsok says he was extremely sad to leave his country. From there they traveled to Missamari in Assam and eventually settled in Bylakuppe, India.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, Chinese oppression, escape experiences.

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Tsering Wangmo (#74)

Tsering Wangmo is from Toe Zonkar in Utsang and lived a typical nomadic life, which began early in the morning with milking, churning curd and making dry cheese. Her regular chores also included raising animals and weaving woolen dresses. She describes the food eaten in daily meals.

Tsering Wangmo still fondly recalls those days when the people in her village used to sing and dance during festivals, weddings and even while performing their normal daily tasks. She was often selected to dance at weddings and used to teach traditional songs and dances.

Tsering Wangmo performs mo ‘divination,’ which is a type of fortune telling done with rosary beads. She now spends her time praying and feeding birds outside her home. At age 87, she lives an independent life, away from her daughter and grandchildren, one of whom is a reincarnate lama.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, nomadic life.

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Dorji Phuntsok (#27)

Dorji Phuntsok describes his childhood days as very happy because they had plenty of tsampa ‘roasted barley flour’ to eat and chang ‘home-brewed beer’ to drink. His family was a tenant and tilled the land belonging to Nyazong Monastery. His father was a blacksmith who made agricultural tools. Dorji Phuntsok traveled with his father from village to village and helped him with his work. He explains how the barter system was used because they did not use money.

When Dorji Phuntsok was around 28 years old, the Chinese came to his area of Tibet. They attempted to bribe him to report on the movements of his landlord. Rather than be an informant for the Chinese, Dorji Phuntsok remained loyal to his landlord and told him the Chinese were planning to capture him and suggested that he flee. Later, Dorji Phuntsok helped five Khampa men and women escape by showing them the way to India. He also eventually escaped from Tibet with his wife and two young children.

Dorji Phuntsok and his family came to Bylakuppe, India,, where he worked extremely hard during the initial years of the settlement. He tells a story of how the braying of his donkey, which he put in his field, would frighten away the elephants that came to eat his crops.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, first appearance of Chinese, escape experiences, early life in Bylakuppe, life as a refugee in India.

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Ngawang Chomphel (#33)

Ngawang Chomphel spent his early years living in a monastery, where his father was the head lama’s business manager, and roaming the plains of Tibet as a nomad. He recalls his childhood was filled with “happiness, plenty of milk and [I was] physically healthy.” As a boy he grazed the animals in the fields with large dogs to protect from the livestock from wolves.

Before seeing them himself, Ngawang Chomphel heard rumors about the sufferings imposed by the Chinese. When the Chinese did come to his region, some of the neighbors reported his father to the Chinese saying that he had repressed them. Fearing for his life, Ngawang Chomphel’s father escaped to India a day before he was to be subjected to thamzing ‘struggle session.’ At that time, Ngawang Chomphel and his wife were harvesting crops in a nearby village and did not know his family had fled. He soon felt compelled to also escape after hearing people say, “The tree may be gone but the branch is here. So we will thamzing the son.”

Traveling to Bhutan was not difficult because Ngawang Chomphel had frequently taken that route as a trader. Starting new life in exile in Bylakuppe was challenging— Ngawang Chomphel helped to build the settlement which was threatened by dangerous elephants.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, nomadic life, life under Chinese rule, escape experiences, early life in Bylakuppe.

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Samdup (#60)

Samdup gives a vivid account of his early idyllic life in Porang, a land surrounded by Tibet’s snow-capped Himalayas. The traditions in Porang differed somewhat from the rest of Tibet, such as celebrating Losar, the Tibetan New Year, two months ahead of the official date. The celebrations lasted for many days with Tibetans from the whole district coming together for songs, dances and horse races.

Samdup recites a story that has been passed orally from generation to generation about the Khochar Jowo. It is the tale of how the Jowo [icons] of Jamphelyang, Chenrezig and Chakna Dorji were created. Samdup also describes the custom in his region of sky burials—leaving the corpses to be eaten by vultures.

When the Chinese arrived in Porang, they labeled Samdup a rebel because he worked for the monastery. Fearing capture, his family fled from their village, hiding some of their possessions with the hope that they would return to Tibet in a year or two.

Topics Discussed:

Trade, herding, religious festivals, first appearance of Chinese, life as a refugee in India.

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Tenpa Chonphel (#2M)

At the young age of 7 or 8, Tenpa Chonphel herded lambs, yaks and sheep and protected the animals from wolves and tigers. Later he worked in the fields. Both his parents lived separately, not because they had divorced, but because they had different tax services to render. He tells how he, as a little child lived with his mother and from the age of 8, went to live with his father. His life gives us an insight into social customs prevalent at that time in Tibet.

A significant part of his narration details how administration was carried out in Tibet and the different tax systems imposed by the government and monasteries. Through his life story, Tenpa Chonphel gives us an understanding of the plight of the common Tibetan people and their feelings towards their tax obligations.

Tenpa Chonphel lived under Chinese occupation until 1966. He gives an account of how the Chinese came to his village and secured people's confidence by luring them with money and false promises. He also explains how the oppression came about gradually through the categorization of families, division of wealth and finally, by forcing the people to destroy their monasteries. 

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, herding, taxes, first appearance of Chinese, invasion by Chinese army, life under Chinese rule, oppression under Chinese, escape experiences.

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Penpa (#4M)

Penpa was originally from Dayab in the Kham region. His mother passed away when he was just 6 or 7 months old and his father moved to Kongpo in Utsang. There he was brought up by another family for whom his father worked after his father was sent to join the army as a form of taxation. He explains the three different types of taxes and payments required.

Penpa herded the family’s animals when he was young and performed other chores as he got older. He gives a very detailed account about grazing the animals and protecting them from predators. He describes the various kinds of dogs and the grazing laws in effect before the crops are harvested.

Penpa recalls the news about the fall of Chamdo and the appearance of the Chinese in his region. He narrates the circumstances that led to him working on the road construction begun by the Chinese. He was paid with Chinese silver coins and Penpa also explains the different denominations of Tibetan currencies. Later Penpa went on pilgrimage to Lhasa and was privileged to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the Monlam festival. He also talks about the role played by the guerrillas of the Chushi Gangdrug Defend Tibet Volunteer Force in combating the Chinese army with poor quality weapons.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, taxes, herding, invasion by Chinese army, life under Chinese rule, forced labor, thamzing, pilgrimage, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, escape experiences.

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Sochoe (#7M)

Sochoe was born in a nomadic family. His family possessed sheep, horses, yaks, dri 'female yak' and dzomo 'animal bred from a yak and a cow.' Ba and nagtsang were two kinds of tents that nomads used as living quarters. Sochoe gives a vivid account of how a ba is made from tsipa 'yak hair' and stoves are built inside from stone and clay. He also gives a clear profile of the social and religious life of the nomads. He remembers with nostalgia how it was a big challenge to protect their herd from bandits who came in groups with guns and drove away their cattle.

Sochoe describes the multitude of people from different regions of Kham fleeing from the Chinese army through his nomadic region. Thousands of Chinese pursued them, shooting guns and dropping bombs on villages. Sochoe’s family joined the escapees heading to Lhasa, which took four to five months. They avoided the Chinese soldiers by hiding during the day and travelling at night.

Sochoe joined the Chushi Gangdrug [Defend Tibet Volunteer Force] upon reaching Lhasa. He describes the encounters between the Chinese soldiers and Tibetan resistance group. After hearing about His Holiness the Dalai Lama's escape, Sochoe decided to flee also. 

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, nomadic life, customs/traditions, invasion by Chinese army, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, escape experiences.

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Lhamo (#11M)

Lhamo was born in a nomadic family. As a child she grazed lambs and spent her time playing with other children. She recalls life as happy with plenty of good food to eat. She explains how the villagers elect their leader and the leader’s responsibilities to the community. Marriages in those days were arranged by the parents and there was strict division of labor between men and women. Lhamo tells about nomadic village life including birthing, birth control, education and taxes.

Lhamo goes on to describe the sudden appearance in her village of Chinese on horseback, who “fired indiscriminately killing people and dogs.” Then the village received the alarming news about children in Lhasa being taken away by the Chinese in vehicles. Subsequently the children of her village fled to the hills and were hidden there in bears' dens.

Fearing capture, a large group of people from the village escaped and struggled to reach Mustang in Nepal. Later they were taken to Dharamsala where she describes in detail her experience of her first audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She constructed roads in Manali, Himachal Pradesh as a refugee and later was sent to Mundgod.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, herding, customs/traditions, first appearance of Chinese, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Sonam Tso (#13M)

Sonam Tso's family engaged in farming growing wheat, barley and peas. The surroundings of her village were abundant in various types of flowers and fruits, which grew wild in the forests. She talks about how the villagers helped each other during farming and constructing houses as there were no workers for hire. She describes the food of the people of her region, their way of building houses by using local materials, preserving the wild pear for the winter and an account of death rituals and sky burial.

The Chinese came to Sonam Tso's region when she was around 18 or 19 and she describes how the Tibetan people were first deceived and then subjected to torture and starvation. She reveals that all of the young men and women of her village were forcibly sterilized by the Chinese.  Feeling unsafe there, Sonam Tso sold all her jewelry and fine clothes to travel to Lhasa with her husband. She also traveled to India on pilgrimage and returned to Tibet for only a year until Lhasa was occupied. After her husband joined the resistance army in Lhasa, Sonam Tso escaped to India and was fortunate to meet her husband later while working on a road construction crew.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, religious festivals, customs/traditions, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, oppression under Chinese, sterilization, pilgrimage, escape experience, life as a refugee in India.

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Dolma Yangzom (#42M)

Dolma Yangzom had a very special childhood. She spent most of her early years working in the Norbulingka, summer palace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Lhasa. Her father was a tailor for His Holiness’ family and she helped to stitch clothes and clean for Gyalyum Chenmo, His Holiness’ mother, and for his elder sister. She narrates a vivid picture of life at the Norbulingka and her relationship with Gyalyum Chenmo and other family members.

Dolma Yangzom describes the gradual worsening situation in Lhasa and the tumultuous event in March 1959 when the population of the city came out to guard His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Dolma Yangzom was a witness to this event that culminated in the stoning to death of a Tibetan man who was believed to be a spy for the Chinese.

Dolma Yangzom was among His Holiness' entourage during his escape to India. She describes His Holiness' attire, the convoy and the hardships experienced during the journey. In India she and her father took up work in a carpet factory established by the Tibetan-Government-in-Exile.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, Dalai Lama, first appearance of Chinese, Norbulingka, invasion by Chinese army, life under Chinese rule, March 10th Uprising, Dalai Lama's escape, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Dukha (#48M)

Dukha hails from Shungru village which consists of about 50 families. They were nomads and reared sheep and yaks. He talks about the system of khathak in which 10 families were entrusted with 200 animals each by the government. Certain families faced hardship due to their inability to pay taxes in the form of butter and cheese meant for the Monlam Prayer Festival in Lhasa. Besides dairying, the people of Dukha’s village also gathered salt and exchanged it for grains.

Dukha gives details of the working of the justice system in his village: the powers and responsibilities of the district administrator and the types of punishment awarded to offenders. Another unique custom he recounts is that of not allowing animals and women to enter pilgrimage places in his village.

Dukha remembers that the Chinese first appeared in 1945-46, but they were killed in a nearby region and it is believed this kept the Chinese from returning until they once again appeared in 1959. He narrates how the influential people of his region were killed or imprisoned. After escaping he worked on a road crew for two years and arrived in Dharamsala in 1961. He describes the conditions when he first arrived in Mundgod.

Topics Discussed:

Nomadic life, trade, taxes, first appearance of Chinese, invasion by Chinese army, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Palden Chonphel (#49M)

Palden Chonphel's family consisted of nine members. They were farmers called samadok, who cultivated grains as well as reared animals. The family owned about 300 yaks and over 1,000 goats and sheep. Besides these two occupations, his father was engaged in salt trade. He fondly describes how his family and others traveled far north to buy salt and bartered for grains.

Palden Chonphel gives a rendition of songs sung on various occasions such as the milking and harvesting and songs about religion and love. He gives a description of a strange and unique custom followed in his village, which banned the entry of women, monks and yaks in the later half of the day after the crops were sown. It was believed that their entering the village would bring about hailstorms which would destroy the crops. He describes in great detail the ngagpa 'shaman' who possesses the power to ward off hailstorms with his magical instrument and mantra.

Palden Chonphel escaped from Tibet in 1959 with almost his entire village after the Chinese began conscripting villagers to construct roads nearby.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, herding, trade, religious festivals, customs/traditions, shaman/healers, forced labor, escape experiences.

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Dechen Lhamo (#57M)

Dechen Lhamo was born in Gyangtse, a large town in central Tibet. Her family worked as farmers and her father was also employed to distribute offerings to the monasteries of Gyangtse. She describes how the offering contribution is distributed to the monasteries.

Dechen Lhamo was given away as a bride to a family in Phari by her father at the age of 21. She gives a detailed description of how marriages are arranged by the bride and groom’s families, the clothing and jewelry provided and the delivery of the bride to the groom’s house.

Dechen Lhamo remembers the Chinese arrived a year after her marriage. Her husband was sent by the local Tibetan administration many times to Kalimpong [West Bengal, India] to deliver letters. This had serious repercussions on her life when the Chinese labeled her husband “running dog of the Dalai.” She recounts her suffering under Chinese rule after her husband and father-in-law were arrested and her she and her daughters labeled as “rebels.” Her husband escaped first, leaving her with a nearly blind father-in-law and two young children. She managed to flee with her family to Bhutan five years after his escape. They were later reunited in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, customs/traditions, invasion by Chinese army, life under Chinese rule, forced labor, imprisonment, oppression under Chinese, thamzing, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Tsondue Gyaltsen (#15M)

Tsondue Gyaltsen's birthplace Digung Thashoe was a distance of three to four hours by vehicle from Lhasa. The most unique part of his village was that it was surrounded by a fence with gates in the east and west. His family was engaged in farming and paid taxes to the Digung Monastery and the Tibetan government based on the family’s wealth. He elaborates on the two types of taxes and how they were paid.

Tsondue Gyaltsen describes the monks called tsam-pa 'meditators' and their role in the life of the local villagers. Tsondue Gyaltsen became a monk at the age of 13 and joined Gaden Monastery near Lhasa. He provides a vivid description of an epidemic which claimed the lives of many young people, including a large number of monks. He was able to escape death during the epidemic as a result of an unusual remedy provided by his teacher.

Tsondue Gyaltsen explains in length about the death ritual of chadhor in which dead bodies were dissected and fed to the vultures. This was the preferred method of burial except in the case of death by disease when bodies were buried instead of sky burial during the epidemic.

Tsondue Gyaltsen witnessed the bombing of Lhasa by the Chinese in 1959. He wanted to join the Chushi Gangdrug [Defend Tibet Volunteer Force] but was too late and escaped into India.

Topics Discussed:

Taxes, monastic life, religious festivals, customs/traditions.

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Sonam (#25M)

Sonam was born in Gerze near Changthang ‘Northern Plateau’ in the Ngari region. He was the eldest of seven children of his parents. His family was nomadic and reared yaks and sheep. They also engaged in salt trade. He talks about the mountains of salt and how salt was gathered and packed in woolen bags called luka. The bags were loaded on to the sheep to be transported to the trading locations. Sonam describes accompanying his father many times on these trade missions to places such as Gya Nyima, Sharlo and Kotey near the Indian border. He also recalls the long and arduous journey which took about 30 days. Sonam explains the tax system and why they did not remit salt tax.

Sonam recounts how the people of nearby Gerge chose to resist the Chinese occupation while the leader of Gerze instead agreed to surrender the villagers’ arms to the Chinese. All automatic weapons were given up, but Tibetan-made guns were kept until a later time when even those had to be surrendered. Sonam’s uncle, a deputy leader of Gerze, was arrested simply for a being a leader and the rest of the family awaited his release before planning their escape to India. His uncle was released after three years. Although they tried to take their herds with them as they fled, most of the animals died before reaching the border.

Topics Discussed:

Trade, taxes, life under Chinese rule, imprisonment, oppression under Chinese, escape experiences.

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Dekyi (#26M)

Dekyi was the youngest of four children. The family’s occupation was farming and herding animals and they lived near to the Indian border. They faced severe water shortage during winter due to freezing temperatures and traveled far to fetch water. They used the wood of apricot trees and dung cakes as fuel. There was much work to be done all year and she had considered running away from home.

Dekyi visited India on a pilgrimage when she was 18 years old. She recounts her experience during this journey to Buddhist holy places and of seeing the disfigured people in Bodh Gaya, which many believes was the result of destroying Buddhism in their previous lives. She wished to become a nun and nearly stayed back at Varanasi instead of returning to Tibet. She thought that the Indian people seemed happier and that life was easier there.

Just 15 days after returning home from the pilgrimage, her family decided to make their escape to India. They had heard stories about Chinese atrocities in other regions and also the Chinese requested their children be sent away. After reaching Punjab in India, she worked as a coolie and then later settled in Mundgod.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, pilgrimage, first appearance of Chinese, trade, customs/traditions, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Norsang (#37M)

Norsang was born in a nomadic family where a child was sent to graze yaks and sheep when he turned 7 or 8. His family lived in a ba 'tent made of yak hair' and possessed around 1,000 sheep and 100-200 yaks. He talks about wild animals like the wild asses, antelopes, gazelles and brown bears found in the region. He recalls an incident where a Tibetan brown bear along with its two cubs attacked an uncle, but the uncle was able to kill the bear in defense.

Norsang describes the social customs during those days, such as death rituals, people's superstitious beliefs regarding certain birds, and sick people treated by ngagpa 'shaman' and lhawa 'medium' in the absence of doctors and hospitals. He speaks in length about the mediums—their dress, rituals invoking protective deities which entered their bodies, and various methods used by the lhawa to treat the sick and the results.

Norsang's village since was located in an isolated place so they were not initially effected by the Chinese invasion. Later the villagers were ordered to surrender their weapons to the Chinese, which the elders in his family did not want to. They chose instead to escape to India through the Ladakh region.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, environment/wildlife, nomadic life, customs/traditions, trade, shaman/healers, life under Chinese rule, escape experiences.

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Gursang Damdul (#38M)

Gursang Damdul was the only son among four children. His family owned a large number of sheep, goats, yaks and horses which were looked after by the family and their servants. Gursang Damdul recounts his experiences of salt trade to Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh,India. Either sheep or yaks were used to transport goods for trade depending on the trail conditions. Salt was traded mainly for grains, but sweets, soap and fabric were also brought back to Tibet.

A popular sport in Gursang Damdul’s region was horse racing, target shooting and performing acrobatic acts while riding on a horse. He gives a vivid description of the competitions that took place once a year. The annual affair was also a time to pay tax, chant prayers and for settling any disputes. He also gives a glimpse of various social customs be describing his arranged marriage and wedding ceremony. He talks about the villagers’ reactions to pre-marital sex, pregnancy outside of wedlock and infidelity as well as the punishments for such acts.

Gursang Damdul narrates the appearance of Chinese in his village in 1959. They were asked to give up their weapons and the entire village fled, but were captured. He relates the arrests and the thamzing ‘struggle session’ unleashed on the villagers. The poor were misled by the Chinese to execute the thamzing on the wealthy people. Eventually his family escaped to Ladakh.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, nomadic life, customs/traditions, festivals, trade, taxes, resistance fighters, life under Chinese rule, thamzing, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Khiku Luku (#40M)

Khiku Luku's real name was Karma Wangchuk Gyaltsen. He was given the name Khiku 'puppy' Luku 'lamb' after he nearly died of an illness as a baby. Two older siblings had died and the family wanted to prevent his death by calling him this name to indicate that he was not a human child, which should protect him from evil spirits. As a nomadic family, Khiku Luku's family owned about 160-180 yaks and 1,200 sheep. They lived in a large tent made from yak hair. He describes the atung who traveled from place to place to deliver letters.

Khiku Luku speaks about the origin of his family, which was the Kham Province, and how they came to live in Gerge in Thoe Ngari in the late 1800s or early 1900s. His ancestors and several others were travelling home from a pilgrimage when they assisted the local army in defeating the Nepalese in a battle. In gratitude for their efforts, the group of travelers were offered grazing land and special tax exemptions so they decided to start a new community there.

Khiku Luku's first experience of Chinese occurred in 1958. His father had been elected as community leader, but before he could take office, the Chinese arrested him. Khiku Luku describes the villagers failed resistance, capture, imprisonment and forced labor. He paints a vivid picture of the suffering undergone by his father and other prisoners.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, nomadic life, taxes, invasion by Chinese army, resistance fighters, life under Chinese rule, forced labor, imprisonment, escape experiences.

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Jigme Paljor (#47M)

Jigme Paljor’s village of Panam is located between Shigatse and Gyangtse in Utsang Province. At the age of 6 he joined Narongshar, which was the biggest school in Lhasa. He was among one of the lucky few who got the opportunity to go to school. He fondly talks about his school life and the overall education system of that time. Reading and writing were taught in school, but other subjects such as math required private tutors. He describes the kite flying festival that was popular with the children in Lhasa.

Jigme Paljor’s father had been educated in a British school in Lhasa and served as District Administrator of Gyangtse. They also owned farmland in Shigatse. Jigme Paljor left school at age 16 and went to help on the family’s farm. The Chinese entered the region and handed out coins and gifts, but Jigme Paljor’s father was suspicious of their motives. Promoted as the Chief Minister of Lhoka in 1959, his father could not take charge of office on account of the fighting between the Chinese and Tibetan resistance.

Jigme Paljor’s family escaped to India as soon as they heard about His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s escape in 1959. They reached India after a 10-day journey along with thousands of other soldiers, monks, and government officials. Jigme Paljor was selected as one of the first batch of 50 students to study at a Tibetan school in Mussoorie. He then served as a teacher for 30 years.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, education, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Tendol (#58M)

Tendol was the second youngest child in a family of 13 children. She grew up grazing cows and sheep from the age of 10. She learned to milk, make cow dung cakes, spin wool and weave woolen cloth. She talks about how she spent her days fetching water, performing various household chores and reciting a few prayers learned from her mother. 

Tendol shares the story about her marriage at the age of 21. Both her parents had passed away by then and her brother arranged a marriage for her. With one day’s notice she was married to a man she had never seen before. She moved into his house and performed similar chores as she had done in her parents’ home. She relates her experience of her first child birth and the social customs related to the birth of a child.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, nomadic life, customs/traditions.

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Sither (#61M)

Sither belonged to a humble family and his father passed away when he was 10 years old. His family was kyangkyang meaning they did not own land and cared for goats and sheep belonging to a wealthy family. He recounts in detail how the system worked, the wages they received in the form of provisions and animals. They owned a small number of animals from which to get milk and wool; their animals grazed in the grasslands of the wealthy family.

Sither talks about his life as a servant of the Dagthon family, his duties and wages, how he was treated and the kind of relation he shared with his master and the two sons. He was privileged to attend school for a while with the Dagthon’s two sons. Sither recalls the Reformation Committee initiated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to bring about changes in the tax system. Sither’s master Dagthon Chogyal Dorjee was the District Administrator of Kyerong and Sither helped with the trade in salt, rice and grains.

Once the Chinese arrived Sither’s master was arrested and as a form of tax, Sither was selected along with many other villagers to construct roads for the Chinese. The workers lived in large tents and were paid wages based on the length of road constructed. He witnessed thamzing ‘struggle sessions’ perpetrated on two men at the road construction site.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, nomadic life, taxes, education, invasion by Chinese army, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, forced labor, oppression under Chinese, thamzing.

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Pasang Tsering (#67M)

Pasang Tsering's family engaged in farming as well as rearing animals. He talks about ri-lung tsatsik 'law of the environment' passed by the Tibetan government, which prohibited hunting of wild animals with the exception of rats and wolves. Domestic animals were killed for meat by a special caste of Tibetans and prayers were offered for the animals at the time of slaughter.

Pasang Tsering gives a glimpse of some of the festivals which were related to agriculture and he fondly remembers horse racing and target shooting. The important roles of the monks and ngagpa 'shaman' in the life of the community are outlined. He describes how religious idols prevented hailstorms from destroying crops and illnesses from infecting villagers.  He also explains two different groups of taxpayers called chueshi and shungpa.

Pasang Tsering recalls when the Chinese first appearance in his village looking very poor and assisting the Tibetans. Later the army came in vehicles with propaganda films and a large photo of Mao Zedong. They imprisoned local leaders and forced them to do hard labor. Fearing that their eight sons would be recruited by the Chinese to fight the “Tibetan rebels,” Pasang Tsering’s family with made their escape.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, environment/wildlife, religious festivals, customs/traditions, taxes, shaman/healers, first appearance of Chinese, forced labor, escape experiences.

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Tashi Gyaltsen (#69M)

Tashi Gyaltsen was born in Tsakhalowa village in the Ba region. He was 3 years old when three out of his five family members died due to a mysterious disease. His grandmother was the other survivor and she took care of him until she too succumbed to the disease. A monk relative found him two days later with the body of his grandmother. He was placed in the charge of a neighbor who was also a lone survivor of the illness until the age of 7.

At the age of 7 Tashi Gyaltsen was admitted to the local Kandha Monastery and was taught to read and write by his uncle, a monk. He describes his life in the local monastery until he left for Drepung Monastery in Lhasa at age 15. He gives a vivid account of crossing the Mekong River by being tied onto bamboo contraption called a ding. Tashi Gyaltsen appreciated the educational opportunities now available to him at Drepung Monastery and learned how to debate.

Tashi Gyaltsen served as an assistant to one of the monk business managers. He explains the system of collecting the harvest from villagers who farm the monasteries lands. When the Chinese occupied Lhasa they tried to restrict the number of monks and prompted Tashi Gyaltsen to join the Chushi Gangdrug [Defend Tibet Volunteer Force] in 1958.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, monastic life, taxes, life under Chinese rule, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas.

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Lhundup (#12M)

Lhundup was the oldest of his parents' six children. Besides farming a plot of fertile land and rearing a small number of animals, Lhundup’s father engaged in trading salt. He recalls that his father’s almost ruined his family by drinking and gambling away their property. His mother had to work very hard to sustain the family and also pay off the debts incurred by his father.

Lhundup provides a vivid description of his family’s three-storied house, explaining the purposes of each room and type of construction. He also talks about religious festivals which were celebrated in the village at the local monastery. Traders passing through the village began spreading news of their trips to China, where they witnessed thamzing ‘struggle sessions’ during which Chinese people were shot and dumped in a large pit. Later Tibetans fleeing from the thanzing occurring in the Kham region came to Lhundup’s district and many local men joined the resistance movement to fight against Chinese occupation.

Lhundup left his village in 1957 to escort his brother, a monk, to Drepung Monastery near Lhasa. At the advice of a friend he became a muleteer and traveled to India, transporting goods such as wool, flour, sugar and gasoline between Kalimpong [West Bengal, India] and Phari [Tibet]. In March 1959, after one of his trips to India, he could not return to Tibet.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, trade, religious festivals, first appearance of Chinese, invasion by Chinese army, thamzing.

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Kelsang Dorjee (#59M)

Kelsang Dorjee’s hailed from a nomadic family, who owned about 100 yaks and 600-700 sheep. His was the wealthiest family in the village. He gives a detailed account of grazing the animals in a systematic manner and describes the differences between summer and winter grazing lands. He also describes how the herds were guarded by dogs to protect them from wolves. Grasslands were leased from the gyero who owned the lands and payment was in the form of sheep and bags of salt. He describes how the tax was calculated and felt that the payments were fairly made for use of the land.

Kelsang Dorjee’s village was not directly affected by the Chinese invasion. He witnessed the conditions of a prison in Gytangtse, where wealthy Tibetan were interned by the Chinese, when he tried to deliver food and tea to his wife’s uncle. The prisoners endured forced labor and a shortage of food causing them to eat rats, dead horses and leather. Kelsang Dorjee also witnessed a thamzing ‘struggle session’ during his visit to Gyangtse and the shocking impact it had on him.

Unable to bear the terrible sufferings he saw being meted out to the wealthy Tibetans and fearing his own capture, he chose to escape. He and his family escaped in the night and successfully reached Indian territory. Many of his family members passed away after making the journey.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, herding, taxes, oppression under Chinese, thamzing, imprisonment, forced labor, escape experiences.

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Kunchok Tsewang (#12D)

Kunchok Tsewang is from Tsari, which he describes as a pilgrimage site. He hails from a nomadic background and started herding animals at the age of 5 or 6. He enjoyed riding horses and shares his experience about the various types of horses and types of saddles. He also liked playing with knives and slingshots with other boys in the forest.

Kunchok Tsewang explains that Tsari was a region where cultivation was forbidden because of the many holy mountains called lari and lakes known as lamtso that were dedicated to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama and other high lamas. He also talks about tsikor, bakor and rongkor, the three types of circumambulations performed during special times of the year at a sacred mountain called the nayri 'pilgrim mountain.' He speaks about the migoe 'ape/gorilla/yeti' whose huge and wet footprints he saw in the forests.

Kunchok Tsewang notes that the Chinese first appeared when he was around 15 or 16 years. He describes the suffering Tibetan people endured such as thamzing 'struggle session,' imprisonment and torture under the Chinese. Kunchok Tewang and his father fled to India after learning that the Chinese were going to subject his father to thamzing. They witnessed the death of many other refugees who could not survive the harsh climate in India.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, nomadic life, pilgrimage, life under Chinese rule, thamzing, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Kunchok Tashi (alias) (#13D)

Kunchok Tashi used to herd sheep along with his grandfather, who chanted prayers and made Tibetan boots while they grazed the animals. His family owned around 150-160 sheep and his grandfather knew the names of each one. Kunchok Tashi gives a detailed insight into the life of a herder—how they spent their time and how the sheep were named and identified. The herders also spun wool while walking with the sheep that was used to make the nomads' tents.

Kunchok Tashi also talks about the kinds of dogs the shepherds owned: the ferocious dhoyi that was tied near the gate of the home and the zikhyi that accompanied the shepherd and helped keep away predators like wolves. He describes the wurdho 'slingshot' that a shepherd used to chase away wolves and how the zikhyi were trained to follow commands.

Kunchok Tashi and his father decided to escape from their village once they received news about the imminent arrest of his father by the Chinese. They had no time to make plans or take anything with them. When they reached Nepal, they worked as coolies for four years and then reached India in 1963, where Kunchok Tashi continued to work as a coolie on construction projects.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, herding, taxes, Tibetan army, Buddhist beliefs, pilgrimage, invasion by Chinese army, escape experiences, Dalai Lama, life as a refugee in Nepal, life as a refugee in India.

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Tsering Norbu (#14D)

Tsering Norbu is from a very small family from Phenpo in Utsang Province. His family engaged in farming and also raised animals. At the age of 18, Tsering Norbu came to Lhasa as a servant to a monastery called Gyurmey Datsang.

Tsering Norbu talks about his life at the monastery where he served for 15-16 years of service. He had a huge range of duties and responsibilities, as he was required to do whatever was asked of him. He received no wages, but was provided with a room, food and clothing. He was able to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama several times while living in Lhasa.

Tsering Norbu escaped to India along with the monks of Gyurmey Monastery after the Chinese attacked. He recalls their journey in the footsteps of the Dalai Lama through different regions in Tibet and finally arriving in Mon Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, India. After first serving as a coolie, he then joined a special unit of the Indian Army and spent 12 years stationed as a secret soldier at the border between India and Nepal.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, servitude, first appearance of Chinese, Dalai Lama's escape, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Dolma Choezom (#15D)

Dolma Choezom was born in Ganzi in Kham Province. This region was under Chinese rule and taxes were paid to the Chinese rather than Tibetan government. Her father was a trader and traveled to nearby Chinese cities to buy tea in the form of bricks, which he then sold in Tibet. She fondly remembers awaiting his return because he brought candy for the children. She talks about games she played and festivals that she enjoyed as a small child.

Communist Chinese first appeared in Ganzi when Dolma Choezom was 12 years old and she recalls people fleeing to the mountains, though the Chinese did not do anything oppressive during their first arrival. Her mother died when it snowed heavily on the mountain where they were hiding. Dolma Choezom was then cared for by her grandmother and aunts. She decided to run away to Lhasa when she was 20 years old. She describes the difficult journey on foot that took two months and her embarrassment begging for food. Dolma Choezom visited pilgrim sites around Lhasa and Shigatse.

Dolma Choezom then met her husband, a soldier in the Tibetan Government army, and lived in the army camp passing time by knitting sweaters. She describes the birthing process of her seven children, which was done at home often without help. She and her husband chose to visit Kolkata, India, but they instead ended up in other parts of India and never returned to Tibet because in the meantime the Dalai Lama had fled to India in exile.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, customs/traditions, first appearance of Chinese, pilgrimage.

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Kunchok (alias) (#20D)

Kunchok's birthplace is Chushul, which he describes as one of the biggest towns in Utsang Province. He speaks about his family occupation working for the Tibetan Government in the Telephone Department. Kunchok gives a detailed account of how telephone lines were installed in Tibet by the British during the time of his grandfather, how the service was continued by his father, brother and himself in Chushul. Phones connected the cities of Gyangtse, Ralung, Nangatse, Pedhe, Chushul and Lhasa.

The phones were located inside a few individual's houses, such as Kunchok's and those persons were responsible for delivering messages, both personal and official, received over the phone. Visitors could also place their own calls from the phones. Kunchok also was responsible for repairing the cables and replacing the wooden poles. In 1959 the Chinese confiscated his telephone.

Kunchok recalls joining the Chushi Gangdrug at the age of 33 and the futile resistance they put up against the Chinese for the next 17 years. He describes the encounters between the guerrillas and the Chinese soldiers that he witnessed and also some of the skirmishes that he was involved in. Ultimately the superior arms and might of the Chinese army outdid the Tibetan forces.

Topics Discussed:

First appearance of Chinese, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas.

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Sueshap Phuntsok Tsering (#22D)

Sueshap Phuntsok Tsering was born into a wealthy family in the city of Dachi, Lhoka in Utsang Province. His family led a comfortable life with servants, vast farmlands and a large number of animals. He describes in details how he was brought to the Namgyal Monastery in the Potala Palace and how he became a dayok 'monk servant' to his uncle. His responsibilities of a dayok involved working in the kitchen to prepare meats and vegetables for the cooks.

Sueshap Phuntsok Tsering later became one of four cooks at the monastery and recounts the different types of meals that used to be prepared in the kitchen. He talks in depth about preparing ordinary meals as well as elaborate feasts served during special occasions like the Tibetan New Year and other festivals.

Sueshap Phuntsok Tsering personally witnessed the shelling of the Norbulingka, the summer palace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He was very relieved to have the knowledge that the Dalai Lama had already fled from Lhasa at that time. He recounts how Chinese soldiers, ignorant about the successful escape of the Dalai Lama, searched among the dead bodies of monks at the Norbulingka. He and the younger monks of Namgyal Monastery fled without their possessions during the night of March 11, 1959 and were forced to become beggars after escaping into Bhutan.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, monastic life, customs/traditions, religious festivals, servitude, Norbulingka, Dalai Lama, escape experiences.

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Tading Choekyi Aduk (#26D)

Tading Choekyi Aduk remembers her early childhood in the Kham Province where she played games with her friends and was instructed by her parents to not fight with others. She moved to Lhasa at the age of 9 and describes the 3-month journey on horseback. She is among the lucky few who had the opportunity to go to school. Her school had about 100 students. She explains the daily routine and subjects taught, specifically about learning to write the Tibetan alphabet on a jangshing 'wooden slate' and later practicing on paper.

Tading Choekyi Aduk gives her impression of the Chinese, whom she disliked from the beginning, She recounts celebrating a "Children's Day" organized by the Chinese where the Tibetan and Chinese schools met together and received treats, but then the Chinese privately asked the Tibetan students what their families said about the Chinese.

Tading Choekyi Aduk was taken by relatives on a pilgrimage to India for the 2500th anniversary of Lord Buddha's death in 1957 and she never returned to Tibet. Her granduncle was Gonpo Tashi Andrugtsang, founder of the Chushi Gangdrug Defend Tibet Volunteer Force, whom she met once in Darjeeling. She believes he planned her trip to India knowing that his family's safety would be jeopardized by his resistance against the Chinese. In the early 1960s Tading Choekyi Aduk father was arrested while living in Kham and died in prison from starvation.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, education, first appearance of Chinese, oppression under Chinese, pilgrimage, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, life as a refugee in India.

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Tsering Chonphel (#35D)

Tsering Chonphel fondly remembers his "blissful life" in a land of snow-covered mountains, pasturelands and rivers. He came from a nomadic family with a large number of sheep, goats, yaks and horses. He gives us a glimpse of a nomad's life which required the family to move three times in winter and three times in summer. They lived in a tent made of yak hair and spent their days herding the animals. Tsering Chonphel learned many songs as a child and exhibits a sample by singing a song. He proudly says that he has taught many songs at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala, India.

Tsering Chonphel describes the gathering of wool, which was then traded for sugar, apricots and other goods brought by Indian traders. His older brothers also harvested salt and borax from a large lake. The salt was traded in India, while the borax was sent to China. They paid three forms of tax to the Tibetan government, including "tax for cuisine on the table" of the Dalai Lama.

Tsering Chonphel recalls the Chinese first appeared in his region from Xinjiang in 1950. He describes their poor condition and the premonitions of the elders that something bad was going to happen. The Chinese demand on the Tibetans to surrender their weapons prompted the district official to take flight and were joined by the villagers. Tsering Chonphel gives a detailed account the group's difficult journey through the snow to Nepal.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, herding, nomadic life, trade, taxes, first appearance of Chinese, escape experiences, life as a refugee in Nepal.

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Tashi Samphel (#39D)

Tashi Samphel was born in Ngari, which is very close to Xinjiang, China. There were eight members in his family of samadok 'farmers and herders.' He spent his early days playing games, swimming and helping to graze sheep and yaks. Besides working as a farmer, his father was also a salt trader and a tailor. His father bartered the salt for grains in Ladakh, India.

Tashi Samphel describes the process of collecting salt and transporting it on sheep. He talks about the various types of taxes like salt tax, labor tax and farmers' tax which the common people paid to the government, monasteries and landowners. Once each year all the sheep were brought together by the herders for shearing and the wool was collected and purchased by Indians.

Tashi Samphel talks about the first appearance of the Chinese, who everyone in his isolated village believed were good people. Gradually the Chinese began to create friction within the Tibetan community and then arrested the prominent people. All the villagers were called to meetings and thamzing 'struggle sessions' were initiated where the poor accused the leaders of oppressing them.

Many of the people of Ngari decided to escape together and travelled to Ladakh with their goats and sheep. He gives a touching description of seeing His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the first time in Dharamsala, whom he had believed was a deity and not a person in flesh and blood.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, herding, nomadic life, trade, environment/wildlife, taxes, first appearance of Chinese, thamzing, life as a refugee in India.

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Phari Wangdu (#45D)

Phari Wangdu is from Shigatse in Utsang Province. One of his older brothers was a ngagpa 'shaman' and the other one was sent to be a soldier in the Tibetan Government Army in Phari Wangdu's place. Army soldiers were provided only guns and ammunition by the army and local villagers were required to pay the soldiers salary. When his brother reached Chamdo with the army they were told not to fight the Chinese and sent home.

In addition to working in the fields with his family, Phari Wangdu performed wulak 'labor tax,' for which farmers were required to provide horses and pack animals to transport government officials and their goods to other villages. Phari Wangdu's was a trader and travelled frequently to Kalimpong, India trading wool for tea. He moved to Phari after his marriage to a girl there.

Phari Wangdu recalls his unforgettable good fortune of having the opportunity to escort His Holiness the Dalai Lama from Dromo to Gyangtse. He provides an account of his duty as a transporter and the royal horses, mules and various other preparations for the journey. He also recounts the risks he took for his countrymen by carrying letters sewn in his coat from the Chushi Gangdrug [Defend Tibet Volunteer Force] men that had fled to Kalimpong to their wives back in Phari. He describes his family's escape journey and their detention in Bhutan and work in Shimla [Himachal Pradesh, India] for 10 years on road construction and finally in Dharamsala.

Topics Discussed:

Tibetan army, taxes, trade, customs/traditions, Dalai Lama, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Gonpo Dorjee (#47D)

Gonpo Dorjee was born in a place called Ganyak Jang close to Khampa Gar Monastery. He belonged to a large family and was the eldest of five siblings. His family was nomads and Gonpo Dorjee remembers going to the hills to look after the animals, making curds and butter and spinning wool. He talks about the ba, a tent made from yak hair, which was sturdy enough to withstand the snow.

Most of the festivals in his region were connected with Buddhism and Gonpo Dorjee talks about the cham, a performance by monks wearing different kinds of masks. There were also different religious festivals where lay people recited prayers. He tells about the various kinds of prayers: prayers for long life, to remove any harm and obstacles, when a person dies and another to bring wealth.

Gonpo Dorjee recounts his marriage that was a love marriage. He describes how boys and girls express their love through songs. He sings a few songs that express a young couple's feelings for each other. He also explains about different types of burials for the deceased and how stars and astrology are used to make predictions. He shares his understanding of Buddhist philosophy, which includes the idea of "cause and effect" and the importance of giving freely to others.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, Kham, religious festivals, customs/traditions, Buddhist beliefs.

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Norga (#48D)

Norga's was a nomadic family that led a contented life living in the mountains. He talks about the daily life of the nomads, who spent their time grazing the animals, changing locations in summer and winter, and moving between tents and houses. Norga recalls being given the responsibility of grazing young animals at the age of 6 or 7 when a child was considered old enough to work.

Norga's mother was married to three brothers. He explains the many advantages the system of polygamy. He also describes how the entire village was organized and the various levels of authorities who decided when to move, settled disputes and awarded punishments to criminals. Norga sings a love song and talks about how songs were a part of courtship in Tibet.

Norga recounts that battles with the Chinese in other parts of Kham did not affect his community, but he decided to leave for Lhasa to join three of his brothers there. Soon after, he volunteered to join the Chushi Gangdrug Defend Tibet Volunteer Force. He gives an account of his active participation in resisting the Chinese army and details his two battles during which some men were killed despite their protective amulets. Many of the Chushi Gangdrug were forced to flee, unable to match the Chinese in number and weapons. They were often without food on the dangerous escape through tribal jungles of India.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, herding, nomadic life, government/administration, customs/traditions, taxes, first appearance of Chinese, Chushi Gangdrug, escape experiences.

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Urgen Tsering (#50D)

Urgen Tsering is from Shungpa Marzen where residents paid taxes to the Tibetan Government and the district of Ngari Gar. His family herded animals and traded in salt as well. He gives a detailed account of salt gathering and the journey to Porang near the Indian border to barter salt for grains. He describes the caravan of 300-400 salt laden sheep that made two or three trips in a year to the saltpans.

Urgen Tsering laments that people in his region suffered from incredibly exorbitant taxes. He gives a comprehensive list of the kinds of taxes the people paid, including a gold tax to the Tibetan Government, which was mined at a region called Dijungthok. His family was most affected by the taxes on their animals, which required a payment of one sheep or goat for every 15 that they owned.

Urgen Tsering explains how the taxes were assessed and common people exploited by the officials that came to collect taxes along with their many assistants. Taxes were collected twice each year and the villagers must supply food and housing for the visiting tax collectors. They were also required to help the government transport goods for six days by supplying men and pack animals whenever needed.

Topics Discussed:

Nomadic life, trade, taxes, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Jamphel Dorjee (#51D)

Jamphel Dorjee hails from Derge in Kham Province. He belonged to a middle-class farming family and spent most of his childhood studying Tibetan under his father, who taught a group of 6-7 boys in his home. Jamphel Dorjee explains the education of lay children at that time and expresses regret at not taking more interest in his studies. After his father's death when he was 13 years old, Jamphel Dorjee spent time working on the farm.

At 20 he was selected to be an attendant to Jamyang Chokyi Lodro, a highly revered reincarnated lama. Jamphel Dorjee accompanied this lama in 1955 on an arduous pilgrimage journey to Lhasa. Upon reaching Lhasa, a special audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama was granted and His Holiness provided a letter of support for Jamyang Chokyi Lodro. They then visited various pilgrim centers in the Utsang region that included Yiru Bakor, Tandu, Sakya, Yarlung Sheda and Tseringjong. The group was welcomed and supported by aristocrats throughout the journey making this part much easier than the initial travels to Lhasa.

At a large gathering where Jamyang Chokyi Lodro was giving teachings, the Chinese forced the lama to proclaim how great China was in helping Tibet. That event led to their decision to escape to Sikkim in India. Jamphel Dorjee returned to Lhasa to meet his mother and relatives just as the Chinese were occupying the city in 1959 so he led his family to safety in India.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, education, life under Chinese rule, pilgrimage, Dalai Lama, escape experiences.

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Lobsang Khedup Dongretsang (#12C)

Lobsang Khedup Dongretsang was born in Chamdul in the Dayab region of Kham. His family worked as farmers and as a child he studied at home with a tutor since there were no schools then. He shares his experience about the appearance of the Chinese in his region and of his home being turned into the residence of the Chinese Governor General in Dayab. Lobsang Khedup reveals how a junior Chinese officer warned his family about the danger of the Communist Government and advised the family to leave for Lhasa.

In Lhasa Lobsang Khedup joined the Ratoe Monastery and studied Buddhist philosophy. His father was ultimately captured and imprisoned by the Chinese on a return trip to the village to prepare for escape to India. Lobsang Khedup describes the arduous journey to India he and other Tibetans undertook crossing snowy mountains.

While in India, he was requested by the Tibetan government-in-exile to join an academy which was training government workers. He then had a long tenure of service with the Tibetan exile administration in various capacities until 2005. He felt that all the government workers were extremely dedicated and felt fear when His Holiness the Dalai Lama frequently came to inspect their work.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, education, first appearance of Chinese, escape experiences, Tibetan Government-in-exile, life as a refugee in India.

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Dekyi K. Dongretsang (#11C)

Dekyi K. Dongretsang was born in Lhasa and was the daughter of an employee at the British Mission. As a young girl her family moved to Kalimpong in India where they had an estate. At the age of 6 she was admitted to a Christian school in Kalimpong and visiting Gyangtse in Tibet during holidays until the Chinese occupation prevented them from returning to Tibet from India.

As a result of her good education and knowledge of the English language, Dekyi K. Dongretsang was asked to work as a translator for the Tibetan refugees who were resettled in Bylakuppe in south India in 1960. She gives a detailed account of her work, the hardship endured by the first Tibetan refugees in Bylakuppe and how they managed to survive in a totally new country with harsh climate and a different way of life.

Dekyi Dongretsang describes the Tibetans' early years in exile, including education, formation of settlements, health problems, shortage of funds and educated staff for the government. She became a staff member of the Tibetan Government-in-exile in Dharamsala and gives details about her tenure in different offices and their functioning. She spent many years helping to document the personal accounts of what Tibetan refugees has endured under Chinese rule. After more than 35 years of service to the Tibetan Government, which she terms as most satisfying, and she moved to the United States.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, life as a refugee in India, Tibetan Government-in-exile.

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Ama Kalden Chama (#10C)

Ama Kalden Chama remembers her birthplace Kochak as a small village. She explains that her family was self-sufficient with every need being produced from the land and animals. They wove fabric from sheep wool to make clothing and she describes a certain plant that was used to dye the fabric for monks' robes red. She also relates that there were no nearby monasteries to request prayer services from, but that a local shaman and laymen were called upon to perform these services for the villagers.

Ama Kalden Chama was the youngest among four siblings and lost her parents at a young age. She describes the various types of burials such as cremation, sky burial and water burial. Due to her stepmother's ill treatment, she later moved to her uncle's house. She shares her experience of being married to a man she had never seen after being taken away to his village. She gives us an insight into these marriage traditions.

Ama Kalden Chama recounts the appearance of the Chinese and the capture of her maternal uncles. Fearing for her life, she fled the village with her husband and two young sons and arrived in Shakhumbu in Nepal to start a new life. She had eventually had eight children and moved to the United States in her late 70s where she was free to spend time on spiritual activities.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, farm life, customs/traditions, life as a refugee in Nepal.

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Dhundup Tsering (#5C)

Dhundup Tsering describes Tsona, his birthplace as a large town with about 1,000 families. His family earned their livelihood from farming, rearing animals and trade. He describes games he played as a child. He states that his family annually moved to Arunachal Pradesh, India during wintertime when it became too cold in Tsona and spent 5-6 months in Mon Tawang in the summertime.

Dhundup Tsering's family heard about the escape of His Holiness the Dalai Lama into India in 1959 and decided not to return to Tibet from Mon Tawang that summer. Dhundup Tsering talks about attending his first school at the age of 13 at the Transit School in Dharamsala, India and then the Tibetan School in Mussoorie. After finishing school his first job was the construction of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala. Subsequently he served as assistant accountant and assistant secretary for the Library and then the Handicraft Center, serving the Tibetan Government-in-exile for 20 years.

Dhundup Tsering believes that Tibetan culture is unique in the way it is interrelated to Buddhist dharma. For him the most important teaching is "If you cannot help someone, do not cause harm." He also explains the Dalai Lama's advice that by "cultivating relations, gradually there will be a change of heart" between the Chinese and Tibetans.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, education, Buddhist beliefs, customs/traditions, life as a refugee in India, Tibetan Government-in-exile.

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Tashi Sonam (#4C)

Tashi Sonam was born in Chusi where the villagers were samadok, those who engaged in both farming and rearing animals. However, Tashi Sonam was a doctor and practiced in his village in Tibet. He describes that the profession was hereditary and passed from father to son. He talks about the causes and types of illnesses and the different kinds of medicines dispensed for treatment. He recounts the methods he applied and the various herbs that were gathered in the mountains to be used as medicines. Fees were paid if the patient was able to and if not, treatment was still provided without expectation of payment.

Tashi Sonam recalls that the Chinese first appeared in his region around 1966 and life completely changed in his village. He had a bitter experience and recounts how the Chinese inflicted suffering with arrests, imprisonments, torture, and forced the people to demolish their precious monastery at gun-point. The Tibetans were not allowed to practice their religion.

The oppression under Chinese rule and fear of being arrested drove Tashi Sonam to flee to India leaving behind his wife and children. His ordeal continued in India when he was caught by the Indian police, beaten and imprisoned for three years because they believed he was a Chinese spy. After his release he was sent to live at the Tibetan Settlement in Mundgod, Karnataka, India.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, medical treatment, first appearance of Chinese, destruction of monasteries, life under Chinese rule, oppression under Chinese, escape experiences.

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Tsering Choephel (#16C)

Tsering Choephel was born in a town called Shingri in Dhingri, close to Mt. Everest. He is fourth among 10 sons in a farming family that cultivated lands and raised animals like sheep and yaks. He recalls that as a child he helped graze the animals. He shares his personal experience of growing up in a large family and feels the mother is more important than a father to a child.

Tsering Choephel had seen a few Chinese soldiers in his village and remembers that they searched houses and passed out books written in Chinese. His parents secretly prepared for escape but did not want to tell the children anything about their plans. He only understood that the Chinese were taking their country from them and one night the entire family left their home. He shares his experience of the escape journey crossing over the pass near Mt. Everest and arrival in Solukhumbu in Nepal.

Tsering Choephel recounts life as a student in India where he lived under the guidance of foster parents until 10th Grade. He applied for a special program in the United States to work as a lumberjack in Maine. He describes the working conditions in the forest. Later he moved to Washington and as the local community of Tibetans grew, Tsering Choephel helped to establish the Tibetan Community Center in Portland, Oregon.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, herding, escape experiences, life as a refugee in Nepal, life as a refugee in India, life as a refugee in the United States.

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Thinlay Chogyal (#18C)

Thinlay Chogyal was born into a wealthy farming family in Phenpo near Lhasa. His family farmed a large amount of land leased from the Drepung Monastery. He describes the system of loaning grain to the poor people at the time of sowing, the rate of interest charged and the system of paying taxes to the monasteries based on land holdings.

Thinlay Chogyal shares his feelings about being made a monk around 11 or 12 years of age by his parents at the Nalanda Monastery. He was sent to live at the ladang 'high lama's residence' of Simwog Rinpoche, which was different from living in a monastery. He offers insight into the life and intense practices of Simwog Rinpoche.

After the Chinese army bombed Lhasa, a large number of people fled through his region. Simwog Rinpoche performed a divination to decide whether to flee or remain in Tibet. Thinlay Chogyal explains how the zenril divination was conducted and the results prompted Rinpoche to leave his home. A group of around 60 people fled to Nepal on a 3-month journey. Once in Nepal Thinlay Chogyal served as a clerk for the Chushi Gangdrug Defend Tibet Volunteer Force that had re-grouped in Mustang. He later travelled to Dharamsala, India to find Simwog Rinpoche and got a job in the Tibetan Administration's Education Department.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, farm life, taxes, monastic life, Chushi Gangdrug in Mustang, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Tsewang Tenzin (#19C)

Tsewang Tenzin was born in Mukrum in Ngari. He lived with his extended, semi-nomadic family of over 16 members. His home belonged to his maternal grandparents who had not allowed his mother to marry his father. He talks about the various activities of the family members and how as a child listening to stories was one of the main sources of amusement.

Tsewang Tenzin enjoyed visiting monasteries on special occasions, when it was a joy to witness the dance performances by monks. He describes the spiritual practices followed by his family members, particularly during wintertime when there was less work to be done, which enabled his grandmother to go on retreat in a cave. He also explains how the villagers and monasteries were dependent on one another and the work the villagers would do for the local monastery.

As the Chinese occupation increased Tsewang Tenzin witnessed many thamzing 'struggle sessions.' He describes how they were organized, who did the thamzing, and the torture, humiliation, and false accusations. Even his own grandfather attempted suicide to avoid suffering under the Chinese. Tsewang Tenzin's family made plans to escape and he outlines how it was executed. He describes the journey, life after reaching India and the education he received in exile. He later became a teacher in the Tibetan settlements of southern India.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, farm life, festivals, customs/traditions, pilgrimage, thamzing, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Hrithar Depom (#20C)

Hrithar Depom was born in Chuplung in the Tsang region. Her village consisted of around 12 families who earned their livelihood by growing barley, peas and wheat and raising animals as well. She shares her memories of helping her mother in household chores, farming and milking the cows. Hrithar Depom recounts the story of how she lost her father and mother early in her life and how her grandmothers raised her. She talks about her arranged marriage. She moved to her husband's village which was a day's journey on horseback. She describes her new life in her husband's home.

Hrithar Depom speaks about the appearance of Chinese in the region and she witnessed the thamzing 'struggle session' of a local leader. She heard of many other Chinese atrocities due to which she and others of her village took flight to India. She explains that the fear of being caught by the Chinese was so great that she has no memory of feeling sad in leaving her home.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, farm life, customs/traditions, thamzing.

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Dra Kyam (#21C) (alias)

Dra Kyam was born into a small farming family in Utsang Province. His father had formerly been a monk who was forced, as most monks were, by the Chinese to leave his monastery. Dra Kyam was the youngest of three children and attended his village school. His father tried to instill Buddhist values into his children without being able to practice Buddhism formally. Later Dra Kyam was enrolled in a monastery and learned to make thangka 'traditional Tibetan Buddhist paintings' from a master in Kham.

Dra Kyam explains how during the Cultural Revolution there was widespread destruction of monasteries and desecration of statues and thangka. He expresses sadness that the remnants of very old paintings are not being properly restored and instead are destroyed and replaced by new artwork. He also expresses disappointment that the art of thangka painting is not being preserved in it's true traditional format and many "fake" versions are now being created by amateurs.

Dra Kyam shares great detail of the art of thangka painting. He describes his own experience from learning to draw to the intricate method of mixing colors and creating different shades. He shares his experience of studying and working in Italy and the United States to gain more knowledge about art in general and learn how to perform restorations on paintings.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, monastic life, Cultural Revolution, destruction of monasteries, customs/traditions.

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Lama Wangchuk Gyaltsen (#23C)

Lama Wangchuk Gyaltsen was born in Gyangkar in Utsang. As the only boy in the family, he teased his five sisters and was spoiled by his parents. He describes his large home and beautiful village with snow-covered mountains and lakes and a large nunnery nearby. His family farmed and reared animals and his father also engaged in trading.

Lama Wangchuk Gyaltsen talks about the school system in Tibet and shares his experience of attending classes with a local tutor. Lama Wangchuk Gyaltsen remembers being very ill at the age of 5. He also recalls a prophecy by a learned lama that was given to his parents and the consequences of not fulfilling the prediction. He then recounts the appearance of Chinese in his village and being forced to learn Chinese songs with other village children at nightly meetings. His parents made a sudden decision to escape after a friend informed them that they would be arrested the next day.

Lama Wangchuk Gyaltsen describes their preparations to leave and the harsh journey over the mountains. He felt sad witnessing his family reduced to laborers in Nepal. When a Tibetan school opened in Darjeeling, India his parents enrolled him. His good education allowed him to serve the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala before migrating to the United States.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, education, first appearance of Chinese, escape experiences, life as a refugee in Nepal.

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T.G. Dhongthog Rinpoche (#24C)

Tenpe Gyaltsen Dhongthog Rinpoche was born in Thinkar Village in Kham Province and was the eldest of five siblings. His was a farming family that earned their livelihood cultivating barley, wheat and peas in their fields. He joined the Dhongthog Rigdrol Phuntsog Ling Monastery at the age of 7 when he was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous Dhongthog Rinpoche. At age 13, T. G. Dhongthog Rinpoche joined the Ngor Institute where he took his monk's vows and received teachings from lamas. He was first taught reading and writing, then learned many Buddhist scriptures.

T. G. Dhongthog Rinpoche went on a pilgrimage to India to visit the sacred Buddhist sites like Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, and Varanasi. However, on his return journey he did not travel beyond Lhasa after he was informed that the Communist Chinese had arrived in his hometown and were mistreating the Tibetan people. He soon decided to return to India.

T. G. Dhongthog Rinpoche talks about his education in India where he learned English and Hindi. He then compiled the first Tibetan-English dictionary. He relates the various translation works he carried out and books he has written including his autobiography. He worked for the Tibet House, Delhi and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, monastic life, pilgrimage, education, life as a refugee in India.

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Tsering Choden (#25C) (alias)

Tsering Choden was born in a well-to-do family in Lhasa. Her father was in the import-export business and she fondly remembers when her father brought bubble gum and hair ribbons as gifts from his trade missions to India. She describes their spacious house, inhabited by many relatives and tenants, and the meals they enjoyed. She recalls the silk and brocade dresses and explains the aprons worn by the women and the patu—a girl's coming of age ceremony. She enjoyed visiting the nearby Jokhang Temple and learning about the Buddha's life. Her family was known for their gifts to the great monasteries near Lhasa.

Tsering Choden talks about her schooling in Lhasa and her talent in performing song and dance. Her Chinese teachers advised her parents to send her to Beijing for further education. When her parents were unable to continue making excuses to avoid sending her to China, they took her instead to India in 1956 and left her in a boarding school in West Bengal.

Tsering Choden was fortunate to be reunited with both of her parents after nearly three years. She didn't learn until later that her father was one of the leaders in the Chushi Gangdrug Defend Tibet Volunteer Force and had been declared dead. Although injured, he managed to escape to India at the same time as His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, education, trade, customs/traditions, pilgrimage, festivals, life under Chinese rule, Chushi Gangdrug, life as a refugee in India.

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Ngawang Gyurmey Chagzoetsang (#26C)

Ngawang Gyurmey Chagzoetsang was born in Karze District of Kham Province. His parents had seven children of which he is the second oldest. His father was a successful businessman trading all kinds of goods between Tibet, China and India. The family owned a retail store in Lhasa selling mainly tea brought from China. He fondly remembers how as children, they waited for various gifts that their father brought from the places he travelled to.

Ngawang Gyurmey Chagzoetsang was enrolled in Nyarongsha School in Lhasa at the age of 7 and describes the repetitive handwriting exercises that the students were subjected to daily. Since he was doing poorly in school, his mother sent him to study with his uncle at Sera Monastery. Then at the age of 16 he, along with two of his younger brothers, was sent to join Gaden Monastery as monks.

As a child Ngawang Gyurmey Chagzoetsang witnessed Chinese people leaving Lhasa by order of the Tibetan Government. Later the Communist Chinese appeared and set up military camps around Lhasa and gunshots could be heard at Gaden Monastery. Ngawang Gyurmey Chagzoetsang recounts his escape journey taking along his two little brothers. He was fortunate to reunite with the rest of his family in India. He received further education in exile and became a teacher himself.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, education, first appearance of Chinese, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, His Holiness (#27C)

His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya was born in the town of Sakya in Utsang Province. He is a descendant of the Khon lineage called the Phuntsok Phodrang. He was also recognized as the reincarnation of the former abbot of the Yulung Lhagyab Gon monastery in Kham. He grew up studying the Buddhist scriptures with his father and teachers, including cham 'religious dance performance by monks.' He explains the origin of the Sakya tradition and his lineage.

His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya recalls his journey to Dzongsar Monastery in Kham to study under the renowned master Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro from whom he received various spiritual instructions and transmissions. He explains the importance of three different kinds of faith one must have in his teacher. He also recounts his father's spiritual accomplishments as a duthop 'one with special powers' and the miracles he had demonstrated.

His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya made a hasty decision to leave Kham after Chinese intrusion in eastern Tibet. He and his family escaped to India but never expected to remain there for very long. When the Rockefeller Foundation sponsored Tibetan scholars in several countries, he accepted the invitation of the University of Washington in the United States. He taught classes there and established a monastery in Seattle because he believed that Tibetan religion, culture and spiritual activities, especially in the Sakya tradition, should be preserved.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, Buddhist beliefs, festivals, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India, life as a refugee in the United States.

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Jamyang D. Sakya (#28C)

Jamyang D. Sakya was born in a small village called Thalung in Jekundo in the Province of Kham. She fondly remembers her blissful childhood spending summertime with the nomads and wintertime at home with her family. Her uncle, a reincarnate lama, admitted her to a school run by a private teacher, where all the other students were boys. In addition to learning reading and writing, she was taught Buddhist prayers.

Jamyang D. Sakya recounts that despite her family's wealth and status, her mother insisted that she learn cooking, milking, knitting and spinning wool. During her childhood, she and her mother embarked on a 3-month pilgrimage and walked from Kham to the central and western parts of Tibet to visit monasteries and holy sites. She describes the challenging journey and the kindness of people along the way who offered food to pilgrims.

Jamyang D. Sakya recalls her first meeting with her husband, His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, head of the Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang lineage. She describes the circumstances that led to their marriage when she was only 16 years old, despite his mother's disapproval. She talks about the importance of the spiritual aspect of life and her experiences as a Buddhist teacher in the United States—a role she was reluctant to accept.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, education, pilgrimage, Buddhist beliefs, customs/traditions.

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Thupten (#29C) (alias)

Thupten was born in Lhasa in 1940. His farming family used to cultivate crops, but migrated to Lhasa when they were unable to pay taxes to the local chieftains. Thupten explains the regular tax in the form of grains and the wulak or labor tax that people had to perform. The imposition of taxes adversely affected the lives of some farmers if they were unable to pay and had to then pay interest as well. Thupten describes the games he played as a child and expresses his desire to go to school. Thupten's parents began weaving carpets and pillows after moving to Lhasa. He describes how carpets were hand woven, where the materials came from and how the designs were copied from a sample.

Thupten recalls his induction into monkhood at Sera Monastery when he was 9 years old and his excitement at becoming a monk so that he could finally get an education. Thupten talks about his own experience of being a monk and touring various places with his teacher on pilgrimage. He gives us an account of the Chinese presence in Lhasa in 1959. Thupten was one of over 500 monks of Sera Monastery who went to the Potala Palace to fetch guns. He recounts being fired upon by Chinese soldiers, fleeing from his monastery and finally making the decision to leave the country. During his 3-month escape on foot, he encountered immense hardships along the way to Assam in India.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, taxes, monastic life, pilgrimage, invasion by Chinese army, escape experiences.

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Chimey Luding, Jetsun Kushok (#31C)

Jetsun Kushok Chimey Luding was born in Sakya near the border of Sikkim. She is the eldest of four children, two of whom died in childhood, and her younger brother is His Holiness the Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism. She describes the Khon lineage and how it is passed on from father to son and any daughters must become nuns. After her mother passed away, she and her brother were raised by her aunt, who was herself very religious.

Jetsun Kushok Chimey Luding gives an insight into her education, her teachers, meditation and memorization of ritual prayers. She explains the different kinds of ritual practices and their merits. She recounts the various teachings, the different retreats and practices she undertook. She went into her first retreat with her teacher at the age of 11 which lasted for one month. She completed a 7-month retreat at the age of 16 and also studied for two years at Ngor Monastery.

At the age of 12 Jetsun Kushok Chimey Luding was instructed by her father to travel to nomadic regions where she gave long-life empowerments and performed other rituals for the nomads. When they heard about His Holiness the Dalai Lama's escape to India, her aunt took Jetsun Kushok Chimey Luding and her brother to Sikkim. She was unable to remain a nun as a refugee in India and was sent to study in a missionary school. She recounts the situation that led to her to Canada and how her brother asked her to teach the dharma.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, education, Buddhist beliefs, customs/traditions, life as a refugee in India.

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Yeshi Tinlay (#7B) (alias)

Yeshi Tinlay was born in Lhasa in 1930 and attended school for two years starting at the age of 5. His parents owned a shop in Lhasa that sold goods such as cookware and also turquoise and corals. Yeshi Tinlay describes the Nyarongsha School, the different types of Tibetan scripts and how writing was taught to beginners. He enjoyed drawing pictures when he was young.

Yeshi Tinlay recounts the circumstances that led him to join Namgyal Monastery, the monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and located in the Potala Palace. He narrates in fine detail the various aspects responsibilities performed by the monks according to seniority and how they were taught, such as serving food and tea to senior monks. Yeshi Tinlay talks about learning to play religious musical instruments like the dhung 'long horn' and gyaling 'clarinet.'

Yeshi Tinlay provides an inside view of the events that unfolded in Lhasa during early 1959 as tensions with the Chinese mounted. He was at the Norbulingka on duty as a choeshang 'making religious offerings in His Holiness' residence,' so he personally witnessed the meeting of the cabinet ministers who discussed how to handle the large crowds who had gathered outside to prevent the Chinese from escorting His Holiness to their military headquarters. He describes the shelling of the Norbulingka and Potala Palace by the Chinese and his escape soon after.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, education, monastic life, Dalai Lama, Potala Palace, Norbulingka, March 10th Uprising, escape experiences.

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Ngawang Soepa (#21B) (alias)

Ngawang Soepa was born in Khyakta and was the eldest child of a nomadic family. He gives a detailed account of the process of gathering salt, which his family did in the spring and summer. They used yaks to transport bags of salt which were then bartered for grains from the farmers. Salt was mainly used to improve the health of the yaks. Ngawang Soepa also gives an account of bitho that is gathered from frozen lakes and bartered for grains. Bitho is described as a substance used in the preparation of tea to bring out its rich color.

Ngawang Soepa wished to become a monk, like his uncles. He was induction into the Sera Monastery and describes the activities of the monks in the monastery. He talks about seeing the Chinese for the first time—mainly young men with limited weapons. Then they gradually settled in the Tibet and transported cannons in trucks.

Ngawang Soepa witnessed the Chinese attack on Lhasa and Sera Monastery. He narrates the circumstances that led him to flee Sera Monastery back to his village and fear of the Chinese once again forced him to flee to India. He recounts life in Buxar, Inda where monks of all sects of Tibetan Buddhism studied the scriptures.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, nomadic life, trade, monastic life, first appearance of Chinese, escape experiences.

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Dawa Tsering (#28B)

Dawa Tsering began working in the fields and grazing animals at around age 8, as there were no schools. His family grew different types of crops twice a year like grains, corn, rice and peas. He remembers going to graze goats and sheep in the mountains that surrounded his village. Dawa Tsering describes an incident when a leopard killed the flock of sheep he was tending on the mountain. He explains that the regulation against killing wild animals in his region was due to the people's belief in a mountain deity.

Dawa Tsering describes his work as a teenager, which was to cut wood into boards for constructing houses. His life changed at the age of 18 when he began to work as a trader between China and Lhasa, bartering a medicinal plant called edi bhemu for tea, brown sugar cubes and noodles. Since the Chinese had occupied Tibet already, there was no official border crossing to be made. Dawa Tsering thought that China appeared more prosperous at that time than Tibet.

At age 20 Dawa Tsering became a transporter, transporting goods on his mules for various merchants between Phari, Tibet and Kalimpong, India. He recounts that in 1958 the Chinese stopped trade movements between India and Tibet. These circumstances led him to join the Chushi Gangdrug Defend Tibet Volunteer Force. He stayed 6 months at Namgangtse. A losing battle with the Chinese army forced him to flee onwards to Bhutan and India.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, herding, environment/wildlife, trade, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas.

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Short videos created by Tony Sondag.