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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Tibetan refugees still dream of a home they have never seen

July 7, 2009

Elizabeth Soumya / DNAindia.com
July 6, 2009

Bylakuppe: It's a beautiful day. Clouds collect just enough to make it
pleasant and not gloomy. A drizzle sprays down just enough to make you happy
and not damp. Lush crops sway in the waves of undulating fields and the
world almost looks perfect.

Tucked away somewhere in this scenic setting is what 86-year-old Dawa Kyipa
calls home for now. She has been away from her real home for half a century.
That's as long as the Tibetans have been in exile.

Translating his great grandmother's story, Tenzin Choklam explains, "She
left Tibet when she was 37. Like many others, she made her way through the
Himalayas on foot, carrying only 'tsanpa', a traditional Tibetan food in a
sack on her back."

She smiles, saying there were no aeroplanes then. Crowded around Kyipa in a
tiny living room with a massive mural of the Tibetan flag on one of the
walls are three generations after her. Her son, 72-year-old Phurthon, and
daughter-in-law, 66-year-old Zomchok, add a few more details to her tale of
escape.

Phurthon reminisces how cold and long their 'walk' across the mountains was;
his wife chips in, saying many who started the journey never made it to the
other side. While they nostalgically go on about their younger days, the
family's fourth generation representative, month-and-a-half Tenzin Rinchen,
can only whimper.

Kyipa's family lives in Lugsum Samdupling, Bylakuppe, the largest and oldest
Tibetan settlement in India. Established in 1960, it has the largest number
of first generation refugees who once lived in Tibet. The Tibetan population
in Bylakuppe is around 30,000, which includes a new and old settlement.
There are 10,000 monks and 650 nuns who reside in 10 monasteries. An
agricultural settlement, fields of maize, ragi, millet, banana, coconut, etc
form the landscape around.

Zomchok, his face rich with creases, remembers his first few days in the
settlement: "The weather was so different from Tibet; it was so warm here.
We stayed in one single tent of 500 people. Bylakuppe was like a forest.
With others, I helped clear thick vegetation. I also built the first roads
here, for which I was paid Rs2 in those days."

But the settlement officer of Lugsum, Jingir-Pon Damdul, who fled Tibet when
he was a five, says 75% of the people in Bylakuppe have been born here and
have never been to Tibet. Among them is 37-year-old Gelek Gugney, who says
that though life here is wonderful and the Indian government has given them
a lot of support, he still thinks of Tibet. So do his two children.

"We do have relatives in Tibet whom we are unable to contact," he says. "My
children are taught about Tibet in school. Though we have never been there,
we see pictures of Tibet and hear stories about it."

After a few minutes of contemplation, he adds, "We are dreaming of going
back to Tibet. We have no idea when this dream will come true, but we are
waiting eagerly."
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