Lobsang Monlam is an 89 year old Tibetan man living in Jampaling settlement outside Pokhara, Nepal. Like other elders featured in Drensol, Lobsang gave up the life he knew to become a Lodrik freedom fighter, dedicating a good part of his life to fighting for Tibet’s independence.
Before the Chinese invasion in 1950, Lobsang was living as a monk in Chamdo, Tibet. When the invasion took place, Lobsang felt it was his duty to protect the Dalai Lama, his homeland and his people:
“We had to defend ourselves so gradually I stopped being a monk. We feared that Chinese would take the Dalai Lama to China so we wanted to kidnap him and take him to India. China had installed military outposts in the mountains but our compatriots managed to bring His Holiness to India. We were stopping Chinese coming into Lhasa. I was part of the defending team that enabled His Holiness to escape. After the Dalai Lama’s flight our ammunition ran out so we had to escape too.”
During the escape, Lobsang sustained a gunshot wound but he had a medicine amulet “so the wound would not go sceptic and there would be no blood.” Arriving in Assam, India, the Tibetans were well-received but faced problems. They couldn’t eat as their bodies were not used to the strong Indian food and their traditional clothes were not suited to the new climate. Lobsang and a group of 300 other strong Tibetans were sent to Boumdilla (near the border with Bhutan) to work on constructing roads. The work was dangerous but they worked for months on end in exchange for food.
In 1960 they heard that 500 Tibetans were on their way to Mustang in Nepal to fight for the restoration of Tibet’s freedom. Lobsang and some of his Tibetan co-workers wanted to go and join this burgeoning guerrilla army. Along with 18 others, he made the arduous journey to Nepal; they were frequently stopped and detained in both India and Nepal and had to bribe their way across the border.
On reaching Mustang they headed for Yara Buk in the north, close to Tibet’s border, where a guerilla base was being established. The number of Tibetans here grew rapidly from 500 to over 1500 – causing huge food shortages. Lobsang recalls how they would boil their boots and eat the leather to prevent starvation. Lobsang’s regiment was charged with scouting out routes, gathering intelligence and weeding out any internal spies. “Even though the Chinese had better weapons and often raided the Tibetan camps, they struggled for years to defeat us.”
In 1974, respecting the advice of the Dalai Lama, they ended the guerrilla movement and surrendered their weapons to the Nepalese government. Lobsang formally renounced his monastic vows in 1974 and moved to Jampaling where he now lives with his wife Tseryang. They have no children and, as refugees, no means of livelihood. However, Lobsang doesn’t feel bad about the problems he has had in his life:
“I am very pleased His Holiness is safely received in India. We feel, despite all our other problems, because he is safe it makes it worthwhile. His Holiness is our parent and protector and the hope for peace in the world. Our hope now is we will be able to go back home. We pray for His Holiness to be invited back to Tibet to bring him home.”