Caught between a rock and a hard place

A Tibetan porter’s personal account of the anguish, heartbreak and struggle he and other Tibetans faced on trying to re-enter Tibet. Their crime: attempting to attend the Kalachakra teachings in India.

Tibetan porter, Trinley Norbu gives this first-hand, moving account of the struggle and anguish he and three other ordinary Tibetans faced on re-entering Tibet after their attempt to attend the Kalachakra teachings in India was blocked by the Nepali authorities. The TCHRD got exclusive access to this human story of how he and four other men were detained several times in Tibet before they were driven back to Nepal. It’s a story of how they were denied entry to their homeland and access to their families simply for wanting to attend Buddhist teachings; and of how other ordinary, working Tibetans faced imprisonment, beatings, deception and paranoid questionings regarding His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the exiled political head Lobsang Sangay. Norbu’s testimony also tragically reveals the complicity of the Chinese and Nepalese authorities (taking photos of themselves together); and how the Tibetans became caught in ‘a no-man’s land’ being sent back and forth like pawns between the Nepalese and Chinese police corruption. Their torment finally came to an end when UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, came to their aid in a Nepalese prison. Here is Trinley Norbu’s account in full:

My name is Trinley Norbu. I’m 31 years old. I was born in the village of Tashi Zom Township, Dingri. I am/was a farmer. I studied up to sixth grade in a lower level school. I was compelled to discontinue my studies, because I had to focus on my family’s farming and animal husbandry works.

From around 2004, I started working as a porter, helping the foreigners who came to Tibet to climb the Mount Everest. I used to earn 50 Chinese yuan a day. Spring and Autumn are the two seasons for mountaineering in Tibet. So I could earn quite a good money during this period. The rest of the time, I spent on doing farming and animal husbandry work.

In December 2011, Ngawang Kelsang, Norbu Wangchuk, Chime Tsethar, and I decided to travel to India to attend the Kalachakra teachings. We left Tibet in the same month, and reached Nepal after traveling through Sharkhumbu. After reaching Nawoche, Nepal, we were apprehended by the Nepalese police because of not possessing travel documents/permits. The police had forbidden us to travel further to Kathmandu, and in fact deported us back to Tibet. Since we had no option but to return, we called our family members back in Tibet, informing them about our arrests and return. However, our family members told us that it would be better for us not to return at that moment, because the Chinese authorities and police had increased their surveillance and restrictions in our village. They said the Chinese authorities were especially making inquiries about Tibetans who left Tibet for the Kalachakra teachings in India.

We, therefore, decided to remain in Nepal, in an area called Thamel. In January 2012, we met a couple of Tibetans [in Nepal] who were returning to Tibet from the Kalachakra teachings in India. Among them were a few young Tibetan men and women from Dingri also; in short, we had eleven Tibetans who remained at [Thamel] till May. Later, after assuming that the situation in my homeland might have eased a little, we left Thamel on 14 May. Two days later, on the 16th, after crossing the Nangpala Pass, we reached a Tibetan area called Gyablung, where we bumped into some Chinese border guards. They immediately took us into custody and severely beat us with sticks. After forcibly keeping us for a day at their military camp, the border guards handed us over to Public Security Bureau officials of Dingri.

The Dingri PSB kept us in custody for thirteen days, during which we were interrogated only once. Then they handed us over to a detention centre in Shigatse, where we were kept in custody. I don’t know the name of this detention centre; but I heard that it was the main detention centre where Tibetans fleeing Tibet and returning from India are usually kept as prisoners. At that time, there were around 32 Tibetans in that detention centre. They were all arrested trying to flee to India. While in custody there, we were interrogated once. We all spoke the truth, saying the four of us couldn’t attend the Kalachakra teachings, while the rest of them – seven – were able to do so. As a result, the four of us were left alone, whereas the seven Tibetans who attended the teachings were subjected to further interrogations. They were asked numerous questions such as what the Dalai Lama and Lobsang Sangay said in their speeches; in short everything that happened during the Kalachakra teachings.

Then on the morning of 27 August, while we were sleeping in our beds, the police ordered us to immediately wake up and then they put us in a huge military truck. In the truck, we were escorted by seven armed security guards, three of whom were Tibetans. We thought we would be released in Dingri. However, we were taken to Nyelam. We asked the armed guards where they were taking us to; to our utter disbelief, they said we would be handed over back to the Nepalese police as ordered by the officials of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). We all wept and told them that all of our family members were in Tibet and that there was no reason for us to be sent back to Nepal. I have two children, wife, my elder brother and my old parents, all in Tibet. We pleaded them to release us. The armed guards, however, said: “we have no choice, but to hand over all of you to Nepalese authorities; we have been ordered to do this by the authorities in TAR.”

After arriving at the Nepal-Tibet border, the Chinese armed guards removed our handcuffs and took us to the Nepalese authorities. Even after talking with the Nepalese authorities, and bribing them with Chinese money, the Nepalese authorities refused to respond to us. One of the Nepalese police in fact asked us in rudimentary Tibetan where we were from. When we said we were from Dingri, they refused to take us in. Instead they took us back to Dram border town, where we were kept as prisoners in a military dungeon for three days.

On the morning of the fourth day, they took us to the Dram bridge, where we were handed over to the Nepalese police. After shaking hands with the head of the Nepalese police, the Chinese finally handed us over to Nepalese authorities. Before doing this, the Chinese armed guards confiscated all our residential ID cards for Tibet(Tibetan: Yulmi Thobthang Lagkyer; Chinese: Shen Feng Teng), saying these would be useless in Nepal. Then the Chinese and Nepalese security guards shook each other’s hands and took pictures together. After this, they immediately took us to Kathmandu, where we were put in a prison in an area called Dilli Baazar.

The next day, the UN refugee centre in Kathmandu, came to our rescue. After taking charge of us from the Nepalese police, they handed us over to the Tibetan Reception Centre. We reached safely at the Tibetan Reception Centre in Dharamsala on 24 September 2012.

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