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Yeshi...From shepherd to NGO founder

Yeshi...From shepherd to NGO founder

I have been in McLeod Ganj for 5 days now and I am happier every day that I chose this place. 

This is where the Dalai Lama settled in 1959, everyone here refers to him as His Holiness. There are around 20,000 Tibetan refugees living here and the story behind each one of them never ceases to amaze me about the strength of human beings. For example, the coordinator of the project I am visiting is called Yeshi, and the other day while we were having lunch on a terrace with spectacular views of the Dhanla Dar mountain range, he told me his story. Until the age of 13 he was a shepherd in his homeland, Tibet. He decided to flee because he wanted to get an education, which his family could not afford in his country, he could no longer bear the Chinese repression and he also wanted to meet their leader, the Dalai Lama. After the Chinese occupation in October 1950, every year more than 1,000 Tibetans crossed the Himalayas, leaving everything behind and risking their lives for freedom. Yeshi spent several months preparing his escape and, when the day came, he took his backpack and travelled for 20 days by different means of transport. In Lhasa he met 40 other Tibetans determined to face a long and dangerous journey in exchange for a life of freedom, people who cannot bear the human rights violations that are constantly taking place in Tibet, even though it may cost them their lives to leave.
With the invasion, the Communist government took control of schools. Primary school costs 150 yuangs a month and secondary school costs 2,500 yuangs a month. To give you an idea, the average income of a Tibetan farmer is 4,000 yuangs a year, so most families cannot afford to pay for an education. Moreover, Tibetan has been eliminated as an official language in schools and has been replaced by Mandarin. On the other hand, Tibetans have lost all religious freedom; Chinese soldiers guard the monasteries to ensure that no mention of the Dalai Lama is made in poojas (religious ceremonies), which is highly inconsistent since he is the pillar of their religious faith. Those who fight to protect their rights are arrested and tortured. In fact, since 2009, more than 130 people (mostly monks) have decided to set themselves on fire in protest to draw the attention of the international community.
Yeshi told me that of the 40 fellow travellers there were approximately 15 children between the ages of 1 and 10 (many parents entrust their children to the guide, knowing that they will probably never see them again, hoping that they will be able to endure the hardship of the journey in exchange for a better life). In the group was a woman travelling alone carrying her two children, aged one and two, strapped one on her back and the other on her chest. They trekked for two months across the Himalayan range from October to December. The most frequent escape route is usually the Solu Khumbu region, on the border with Nepal, where Mount Everest is located. The average altitude of this route is 5,000m. The reason for doing it in winter is because at this time of year it is less likely to encounter police. In summer the mountains are controlled by Chinese police who shoot Tibetans trying to escape their regime. You can imagine the extreme temperatures they had to endure. They walked more than 10 hours a day, sometimes they had to walk at night as it was too dangerous to rest. Of course, they had no tents or any of the "comforts" that professional mountaineers can enjoy. One or two changes of clothes, a muyee (woollen jacket) for the cold and only a pair of shoes. They have to carry as little as possible in case a Chinese patrol comes along and they have to flee. For sleeping, they carried a blanket and a plastic sheet and wrapped themselves in it. As for food, they each took a tsampa (roasted barley flour which is the staple food of the Tibetans) and a few grams of yak butter.
To cross the rivers they stripped completely naked and tied themselves to each other with rope so that they would not be swept away by the current, carrying their clothes on their heads and making sure that they did not get wet. The environment was hostile not only because of the extreme temperatures but also because they had to deal with attacks from hungry animals and gunfire from both Nepalese and Chinese police. Many fell by the wayside but he finally made it. 

Yeshi has decided to set up this project to protect Tibetan culture and to help other Tibetan refugees who have just arrived. I had to make a real effort to hold back tears as he gave me the details of his arrival in India. He was telling it like it was nothing while we tasted some delicious momos which is the most famous Tibetan dish, steamed or fried dumplings filled with different ingredients (vegetables, meat, etc.).

Here is a picture of this great little hero =)


  • Matias Dix
    November 2, 2013

    Dearest moniii!!!! Thank you so much for sharing! If I am excited to read it, I can imagine the effort you must have made... your strength, your capacity and your sensitivity will make Tumaini a reality. Keep enjoying, experimenting and showing us your experiences. A giant hug

  • Consuelo Torres
    June 6, 2014

    Thanks to you and Yeshi Lhundup for this story, for us from another world and so common for many Tibetans. Looking forward to meeting you both, I love you even before we have seen each other.

  • Tumaini Travels
    June 10, 2014

    Thank you very much for your answer Consuelo! It will be a pleasure to meet you in person. Will you come to the event organised by Foro Tíbet and UNFFT next Saturday 14th June in Madrid? We will be there giving information about our projects.
    A hug


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