By Tenzin Sangmo
Pema Tashi (Photo courtesy of TPUM)
New Delhi, May 13 - The 100 core marchers who made their way from Dharamsala March 10 with hopes and dreams of seeing a country they long left behind felt it was perhaps the last journey they would embark upon. Uncertain of what may unfold during the course of their 'Return March to Tibet', activists lugged their worldly belongings and set forth on a treacherous trail. Braving arrests by Indian Police in Dehra, H.P. and the harsh summer sun clubbed by bruises, boils and physical limitations, they are the epitome of human endurance. Walking an average of 20 kilometers per day, the initial 100 marchers are now a strong group of almost 370 (including support marchers, staff volunteers and the organizing committee.)
Nyima Dhondup, 75 the oldest marcher from the group represents a fire that still burns bright within his heart. Seventeen year old Tenzin Dawa is young but passionate about a distant land which he calls home. Being the youngest member of the March to Tibet he is not deterred by the more experienced activists and is adamant about making a contribution to the cause.
The latest stop of the march also saw the loss of a precious human life. Pema Tashi born to non-Tibetan parents in Arunachal Pradesh but a practicing monk at Sera Mae Monastery in Karnataka since 2000 lost his life in an unfortunate swimming accident at the Kosi River at Kakri Ghat, Uttarakhand. At eighteen, Pema embodied the fortitude and grit of a true freedom fighter. At their last campsite, he was said to have 'marveled at the beauty of newly entered hills and a sense of coming home'. He dove head first into the river hitting a rock at the bottom causing grave cerebral damage. He was rushed to the Almora Hospital where he breathed his last on May 10. The news came as a shock to the entire group of marchers who were by now a close knit family. They held a mass prayer for his soul with a group of monks praying over his body the entire night. Pema Tashi was cremated the following morning amid 'khatas'
Pema's decision to join the March to Tibet was instant. He had said, "Since I made up my mind to go on this march, I am fearless." He was also one of the core marchers arrested at Dehra March 13 and spent ten days in detention. After re-joining the group upon his release, "If I am able to cross into Tibet, I would love to stay there for two months to examine the place and then my dream is fulfilled."
He was known to have said to his friend Leki Dhondup a few days before he died, "Tibet has given me so much and I want to give back to the cause. If necessary, I will contribute my life to the struggle."
Pema Tashi did not die in vain. His dream of a free land, peace and harmony is carried out by his fellow Tibetans in their struggle. His contribution to March to Tibet cannot be summed in words. His presence virtually lit the crowd and Pema became the 'funny man' among marchers. After sustaining injuries while walking he joined the tent building crew where he came to be known for his hard work and dedication. His comic stories and sense of humor added relief to the otherwise somber atmosphere.