Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Impasse at pass - The shooting of Kelsang Namtso

June 11, 2010

Murder in the High Himalaya: Loyalty, Tragedy, and Escape from Tibet. By Jonathan Green. PublicAffairs; 304 pages; $26.95

AT THE heart of Jonathan Green’s new book is an ugly encounter that underscores both China’s barbarous treatment of Tibetans and the West’s confused, thin-blooded response to it. In September 2006 Chinese border guards shot dead a 17-year old nun, Kelsang Namtso, in front of dozens of international mountaineers on a pass between Nepal and Tibet. A Romanian climber filmed the killing, which was broadcast around the world.

The barren atmosphere that overshadows Namtso’s impoverished upbringing is reinforced by a tyranny of petty interference by Chinese officials. After becoming a nun against her family’s wishes, she set off on a pilgrimage to meet the Dalai Lama, in exile in India. Despite Chinese efforts to stop the practice, some 2,500 to 3,500 Tibetans make the journey each year.

The 12-day journey was a mini-epic. Namtso’s group of 75 pilgrims dealt with feckless traffickers and local Tibetan informers. Many had only polythene sheets with which to protect themselves against the Himalayan cold. Only 41 of the group stayed the course to reach the 19,050 ft Nangpa La Pass.

The foreign mountaineers, depicted as a horde of questionable egomaniacs, were gathered nearby at the base camp of Cho Oyu, the second most popular Himalayan peak after Everest. The roof of the world is a crowded place where one can procure sushi and prostitutes, and where the indulgences of wealthy Westerners stand in contrast to the plight of poor locals.

The border guards fired on the pilgrims as they crossed the pass, minutes from the border. “They are shooting them like dogs,” said the Romanian, as he filmed. Namtso’s murder presented the mountaineers with a problem. Some guides wanted to prevent news of the incident from leaving camp as they feared the Chinese would retaliate by banning them from the mountain. Against heated squabbling, though, several climbers contacted the media and the murder made international headlines. By personalising Namtso’s life and death, Mr Green has conjured in the flesh an otherwise anonymous figure from Tibet’s shadows.

You can order Murder in the High Himalaya: Loyalty, Tragedy, and Escape from Tibet by clikcking on the Amazon banner at the CTC's online store here:

The Economist Newspaper | Books and Arts

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank