In 1959, when Tibet was invaded by China, many Tibetans fled to neighboring countries like India, Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal. A sizeable number, about 20,000, took refuge in various parts of Nepal, from Ilam and Taplejung in the east to Jumla and Humla in the far west. Many settled down in Kathmandu and Lalitpur. They brought with them a unique culture and diverse skills such as carpet weaving, which went on to become one of Nepal’s top exports. Tibetan carpets were much sought after all over the world. The wool used was from sheep coming from different parts of Tibet. Tibetan wool is known to get better with age. The designs were exotic and most are symbolic in nature, with strong contrasting colors like red, yellow, blue, and gold, making them arresting to the eye.
Besides these fine carpets, the refugees also brought into the country their mystic culture, one that many are trying today to preserve and propagate more strongly than ever. Much of their efforts are based within the dozen or so refugee settlements around the country, which at present have around 13,500 residents. Four such settlements are located in and around Pokhara, including Tashi-Palkhle, Tashiling, Paljorling, and Jampaling which have all evolved into well developed communities with their own schools, Tibetan style houses, doctors’ clinics, pharmacies, traditional Tibetan medicine dispensaries, and of course, gompas (monasteries) and chortens (stupas).
Jampling Tibetan CampTashi-Palkhel was established in 1962 and is located in the northern suburbs of Pokhara. It has around 1,000 inhabitants whose livelihood is based on wool spinning, carpet weaving, and selling souvenirs. Then at the south and opposite side of Pokhara is Tashiling, which once had some 1,000 residents, but after continuous immigration abroad, the settlement now has only around 523 residents. There’s a carpet factory here as well, besides a number of souvenir shops.
Paljorling was established in 1972 especially to settle and rehabilitate Tibetans who had been active in the Khampa uprising in Mustang district (although there are others besides them here too). It is located in central Pokhara and though it is the smallest of the four in area, nevertheless, it houses from 600 to 700 Tibetans. There’s a small carpet factory here along with a noodle manufacturing factory. Jampaling, established in 1975, is another settlement that was built to rehabilitate Tibetan fighters of the Mustang guerilla force and is situated about an hour east of Pokhara on the highway leading to Kathmandu. While the main livelihood of the about 750 inhabitants is derived from spinning wool, the settlement also has a small plot of agricultural land on which is grown rice, maize, and vegetables.
A major effort is being made to share the dynamic philosophies and way of life of the Tibetan people so as to preserve their culture. Organized trips are being run which would enable the Tibetans to share their way of life with tourists, in a way that is mutually beneficial. There are well planned half-day (morning or afternoon), full day, and overnight tours to all the four Tibetan refugee settlements in and around Pokhara. It’s something that is sure to give you a good understanding about Tibetan culture and their way of life. You can expect to hear many interesting accounts of Tibet and the events related to the Chinese invasion.
If you are in a hurry and don’t have much time, there’s a morning half-day program starting at 7:00am and ending at 12:30pm. This will take you around Tashi Palkhiel, Tashiling and Paljorling. Thought it’s a short visit, you pack in a lot, starting with a hearty Tibetan breakfast of tsampa, butter tea, and Tibetan bread shared with a Tibetan family, a visit to a monastery where you can meet monks, and a visit to an elderly people’s home where you might hear firsthand accounts about their flight from Tibet. You will also be able to see carpet weavers at work, watch how noodles are made, meet a Tibetan doctor of traditional medicine, and enjoy lunch with another local family. Alternatively, you can also go for the half-day program that starts at 11:30am and ends at 5:30pm.
You can take a morning half day tour that includes a visit to Sarangkot to see the sunrise. This begins well before dawn and ends at around 12:30pm. You first go to Sarangkot, a mountain on the south side of Pokhara where you can see the sun rise over the magnificent ice-capped Annapurna peaks. You then have breakfast and then the program is more or less similar to the one above, visiting Tashi Palkhiel, Tashiling, and Paljorling.
There is also a full day tour that starts at around 6 or 7am and ends at 5pm. This takes you to Dhulegaunda, Tanahun, and Jampaling. In addition to the usual things like a hearty Tibetan breakfast and a delicious lunch with local families, meeting the residents of the settlements, a visit to a monastery, and so on, you will also get to meet villagers and see how organic farming is done according to Buddhist principles. In addition, you will be regaled with a performance of Tibetan songs and dances performed by some of the older women. There is an overnight tour that starts at 6 or 7am and ends at 9am the next day. This has the same itinerary as the half day programs except that you’ll be staying overnight with a Tibetan family and get to spend more time with Tibetans over dinner and along the way.
These programs are well designed to make you more familiar with the culture and traditions of the Tibetan people. It’s a great initiative to make the Tibetans’ way of life and their philosophies better known to the world, by giving tourists more insight and understanding into their way of life in Nepal.
Author: Marianne Heredge & Thupten Gyatso