I escaped from Tibet to India in 1998 because there is no freedom to learn our own language or follow our religion in Tibet. To escape, we travel in groups of 20, walking from Tibet to Nepal and then on to India for about a month. We have to make sure we pack enough food to last the entire journey, but often, people die of starvation along the way.
It is also common to lose one’s eyesight or a leg, due to the thick snow we have to travel in. Another issue we face is that of border army personnel raping nuns and female refugees. And if we are caught escaping by the Chinese army, we would be tortured and put in prison for at least five years.
To make the journey from Tibet to India, we have to surreptitiously hire a special guide who brings us first to Nepal. These guides are either Tibetan or Nepali. We pay 10,000 Nepali rupees for the services of this guide, who then remains in Nepal and does not cross over to India. There are ‘Reception Centres’ that we have to register at in both Nepal as well as in India.
More than 50 per cent of the monks in Dharamsala live without their families, as the journey across the border is too dangerous. Once across the border, it is nearly impossible to get a visa to go back. Being a monk is pleasant because I am exempt from the pressures of family raising. However, there are monks who fall in love and get married. They are then no longer eligible to be monks, but do not have to renounce the religion.
I have travelled around India alone, but it is extremely difficult to do so if one doesn’t know Hindi or English. The biggest problem for Tibetan refugees settling down in India is the change of weather—most people suffer from fevers and other related diseases.
(This monk has been living in exile in Dharamsala since 1998)
As told to Wei Fen lee.