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Exiled at 19, Tibetan hits protest road at 68

Darjeeling, March 16: Gwaba Thuptenla was a strapping young man when he fled Tibet in March 1959 with the Dalai Lama.

“During the first week of March, I reached Lhasa from Kham (province) and on March 10, 1959, we stopped the Chinese from arresting His Holiness. In a couple of days, we learnt that our leader had left Tibet and we followed him immediately to reach Tawang a month later,” remembers the man, now 68.

Thuptenla initially settled in Bomdilla in Arunachal Pradesh before moving to Darjeeling in 1962, where he lives with his wife, a teacher in a private school, and a few schoolchildren who are paying guests. He is upset at not being able to reach out to his brother, a herdsman in Kham, and other relatives he had left behind in Tibet.

“I have 25 families of relatives still there. The family has grown to 100-odd people now but, in this time of distress, I cannot contact them and help them out,” he said.

Today, Thuptenla was among 100-odd Tibetans who marched around town shouting slogans against China. The protesters, who wore black bandanas and carried the Tibetan flag, appealed for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics.

Traders from the community will keep shops closed till Tuesday, when a rally is expected to be organised in Siliguri. “I was lucky enough to be able to visit Tibet in 1982 but after that, there has been little contact with my relatives and friends,” Thuptenla said.

The 1,000-odd Tibetan families in Darjeeling are relying on “insiders from Tibet” to provide them information.

Tshering Gyatso, 45, was born in India and has little interaction with relatives left behind. “Even in normal times, it is so difficult to be in touch with them. No one is sure whose phones have been tapped and they, too, avoid being in touch with us. We, however, have confirmed information that the Chinese people have started conducting door-to-door searches and have given time to the protesters to surrender until tomorrow,” said Gyatso, who owns a garment shop.

With no direct access, the Tibetans here rely on websites for information. “ During better times, we chat with our fellow people on chat engines like Yahoo but even then we have to be very cautious and we frequently change the ID so that our people do not land in trouble,” said Nima Dorji, president of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress.

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