A home along the way

For a refugee, the journey rarely ends.

We left Lhasa at night and headed for the mountains. We walked for 17 days,' Kelsang Dolma, sitting in her small rain-battered room in Dharamsala, tells me her story. 'The snow was deep and my shoes kept slipping. We had to help each other walk. Nights were so cold and the days so long. We had to cross a high pass because the Chinese soldiers wouldn't go that way. On the pass we found a body of another Tibetan in the snow. That terrified me. But we were lucky, we made it to the border.' Kelsang's village is in eastern Tibet. When she got to Lhasa, she had to find an 'agent' who would take her across the border into Nepal. The agent was looking for other Tibetans who wanted to flee, so Kelsang had to wait around for a month. 'That was a nervous time,' she says. 'Whenever I stepped outside I felt like the Public Security Bureau officers could tell what I was planning to do.'

Kelsang's trials did not end at the border. Her Nepali guide took Kelsang and the others to his house. But when he had gone out, the Nepali border police found them. 'They made us lie down at gunpoint – I thought they would kill us,' she recalls. 'They left in the evening to get reinforcements, maybe even to find Chinese border guards to hand us over. But our guide came back and we sneaked out of the back window. He dressed us as Nepalis and we made our way on foot to Kathmandu like that. Every night the police scanned the hillsides with giant torches to find us. I thought my heart would burst.' Eventually the group made it to Boudha, on the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley, the centre of the Tibetan community in Nepal.

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