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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

India: Tibetan exiles walk on 'home soil' in Dharamsala

November 1, 2011

An art exhibition in the Indian town of Dharamsala has given many exiled Tibetans a chance to walk on the soil of their homeland for the first time.

Tibetan artist Tenzin Rigdol ferried 20,000kg soil from Tibet to Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile, for his exhibit.

Around 6,000 Tibetans have visited the installation which opened on Wednesday.

For many, the chance to walk on the Tibetan soil has been an emotional experience.

The exhibition is titled "Our Land, Our People".

"Walking on genuine Tibetan soil, I felt as if I was returning home to my native land after 51 years. I was born in Tibet. Since my escape in 1959, I have not had the opportunity to go back," said 57-year-old Phuntsog Namgyal.

"I felt the same emotion in my heart as if I was back in Tibet," he said.

'Feeling lucky'

Some Tibetans reacted to the exhibition by bending down to pray on the soil. Others even tried to taste it, in an attempt to connect with their homeland.

"I was born in India so it's the first time I have walked on Tibetan soil. I feel so lucky and I'm now sure I'll be back in Tibet one day. It gives me hope," said Tsering Dolma, 29.

Artist Tenzin Rigdol said he was inspired to build the exhibit after this father died in exile without being able to fulfil his last wish to return home.

A tray of soil was taken to the Dalai Lama who blessed it, then he wrote the word Tibet in Tibetan language on it.

"It was incredibly uplifting to see His Holiness carve the most simple and powerful message on the soil, unequivocally claiming it as Tibet - his and our beloved homeland," Mr Rigdol said.

The artist refused to say exactly where in Tibet the soil had come from and how it was transported to India, because of security concerns. However, he said he had filmed the process and would release it at a later date.

Mr Rigdol invited Tibetans living in Dharamsala to help him dismantle the exhibit by taking bags of soil home with them.

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