Flight At the Cuckoo’s Behest (Kunga Samten Dewatshang, The Life and Times of a Tibetan Freedom Fighter)
1959, a year every Tibetan remembers with sadness and regret was a turning point in the history of the Roof of the world. With the Chinese Communist occupation of their country and the genocidal destruction that followed peace and freedom came to an end for the six million Tibetans. The only ray of hope in this bleak outlook was the safe arrival of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India.
Here is an account his holiness the Dalai Lama’s escape told by one of those most closely associated with is Risking his life and the safety of his family Kunga Samten Dewatshang a leader of the Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, escorted the Dalai Lama from the Norbulingka summer palace right under the Chinese army’s nose on the first lap to freedom. This is the story of a courageous man, a typical Khampa, a native of eastern Tibet who recalls a way of life that is now gone forever.
And yet there remains hope. This is also a story of resilience of people who, having lost almost everything managed to recreate their lives and pass on their faith and values to their children. Crucial to this success has been the abiding inspiriting if the Dalai lama’s presence. And having been able to escape.
Dorjee Wangdi Dewatsbang is one of the first formally trained Tibetan architects. He has a private architectural practice in New Delhi and is currently engaged in several projects that endeavour to preserve the spirit of Tibetan architecture which is being systemically destroyed I Tibet. In addition to his architectural work, he takes a keen interest in Tibetan affairs.
With the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the wanton destruction that followed, a whole way of life has vanished Now there are fewer and fewer people alive who have adult memories of Tibet as it was before its peace was shattered. Consequently the memories of persons so rich in experience as Kunga Samten have great value. They offer those who never had the opportunity to see it for themselves a vivid picture of life in Land of Snow.
In telling the story of his own life, Kunga Samten sheds light on the life of a typical Khampa family its place within the community its relationship to the local monastery and so forth. He tells of the freedom and enterprise with he set about rebuilding his family’s fortunes. Entering into trade led him to travel widely in Tibet and to become acquainted with our neighbours in China and India. He describes the rich landscape he passed through and the delightful creatures, plants, and trees to be seen on the way. In his account of the pilgrimages on which he took his wife he relates in detail the monasteries, temples, and other holy places they visited. He tells of his exploits to oppose the invading Chinese and his subsequent quieter days in exile.
Sadly, so much of this has changed. Tibetan families no longer have the freedom to live as they did in Kunga Samten’s time. They have to follow the dictates of an unsympathetic foreign occupying force. Many of the religious sites he describes visiting no longer exist, and those that do are but a pale reflection of the places they used to be. Even the environment has been destroyed. The birds and animals have been hunted or driven away and the forests cleared.
All of the would be grounds for despondency except that one element in Kunga Samten’s story has not diminished and that is the courage resilience, and determination of the Tibetan character. He displayed a confidence and self-assurance that enabled him to succeed. Today, too, Tibetans’ determination to regain our lost freedom burn s strong. I have a personal debt of gratitude to Kunga Samten because he was a leader of those brave Tibetan guerillas who led me and my party against great odds, to safety here in India. The courage he and his companions displayed throughout Tibet remains an inspiration to us all never to give up the struggle.
When I was growing up I used to enjoy hearing my pa-la talk about life in Tibet. He would tell us stories about his childhood in Kham, eastern Tibet, about his brothers and sisters and other members of his family, about his life as a monk and later his success as merchant and trader. All these stories led inevitably to the tragic Chinese invasion of Tibet which turned life in our homeland upside down and provoked the formation of the Chushi Gangdrug resistance movement. It was as a member of the group that my Pa-la had the opportunity to escort His Holiness the Dalai Lama from the Norbulingka Summer palace on the first part of his journey to freedom.
I was born outside Tibet one of the first generation of Tibetans to grow up in exile. These stories excited me and allowed me to travel in my imagination to my true homeland. In pursuing my urge to know more, I discovered how little had been written about Kham or eastern Tibet.
Whenever my pa-la talked about His Holiness’s escape, he was filled with a sense of achievement. From his favourite seat in our living room as we sat around the warmth of the fire glasses of would relate everything that has happened over a few glasses of arak, the locally distilled liquor of which he was fond, so vividly it was as if it had happened yesterday. He told the story with such passion that my sisters and I listened detail. We thought we should set down his story properly. When we suggested this to him, he brushed it aside, saying, ‘That’s not important.’ He thought it was significant enough that he had actually contributed to Tibetan history by participating in His Holiness’s escape from Tibet. He felt His Holiness had already written down whatever needed to be said in his autobiography, My land and My people. In himself he was content to have been able to serve his country successfully and was more concerned with his hope for the future.
We didn’t give up reasoning that his recollections as an actual participant in the events he described, would have their own value, and that his memoirs would shed a great deal of light on the Khampa way of life. We were aware, in a way that he was not, how important such information is to those of us who have not yet seen Tibet for ourselves.
After endless persuasion he finally agreed to let us write his story down. Over the years my sisters and I took notes as he talked. Sadly, he passed away in 1985, before we had finished our first draft. But thereafter I felt I had a duty to complete the work. I had to consult many other people who had known my father, some of whom had been his companions in the resistance. I interviewed many of them at length and I would particularly like to express my gratitude to Genbu Norbu, Gyapon Kelsang Damdul, Ratug Ngawang, Aso, Lawu Bhuga, Aku kelsang, Daki lama, and Gyen yadrug for the patient assistance they gave me. My mother was invaluable in answering whatever unexpected questioned occurred here and there.
Between completing my studies and trying to set up a professional practice, I was not able to devote as much time as I would have liked to this book. Nevertheless, it remained alive in the back of my mind. I have finally brought the book to completion with great support and encouragement of my family. I as especially to my mother, without whose help it could not have been done, and my sister, Tinlay Choedon who even from abroad would end our every conversation with an enquiry about progress on Pa-ls’s book.
I have tried to present my father’s story on the basis of everything he held me and the recollections of his friends. I hope I have been successful in preventing any of my own judgements or opinions from seeping into the account. It is my sincere hope that this book will help people from al walks of life to understand the plight of Tibet. I hope too that it may contribute in some way to fulfilling the hopes and dreams of six million all one day be reunited in a free and independent Tibet.
Finally, I would like to thank Mr Tsering Wangyal for patiently typing my manuscript and for making many pertinent improvements, Jeremy Russell for painstakingly editing the final draft and all the many others who have generously given their help.
|Preface and Acknowledgment||xiii|
|Escape from the summer palace||1|
|To Lbasa the holy city||37|
|Arrival in Lbasa||49|
|Restoring Family Honour||61|
|Change of Residence||78|
|Birth of the Chushi Gangdrug||110|
|A warrior and a Family man||134|
|Starting a New life||154|
|Into Exile once more||164|
Item Code: NAB722 Author: Dorjee Wangdi Dewatshang Cover: Paperback Edition: 1997 Publisher: Paljor Publications Pvt. Ltd. ISBN: 8186230114 Size: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch Pages: 190 (22 B/W Illustrations) Other Details: a54_books
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