By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, May 22: The relaxation on the interstate travel in India has seen many stranded Tibetans including students, businessmen and families return home in the last few weeks. New Delhi, where COVID-19 cases have been rising steadily, has become the key transit point for Tibetans to trace their steps back home.
Phuntsok Topgyal, Samyeling Settlement Officer, told Phayul, “541 Tibetans in total have contacted our office for information and help on travels. We have already sent 390 people back to their respective homes. We are working towards helping the remaining 151 stranded Tibetans.”
The budding Majnu ka Tilla colony known simply as MT in the Indian capital is the main hub for Tibetans travelling across the country for decades. During the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, MT’s Samyeling settlement office has played a crucial role in helping the people stranded there since the nation-wide lockdown. Since the second phase of India’s ongoing lockdown, it has managed to send 101 Tibetans to Himachal Pradesh, 110 people to Ladakh, and 40 people to Arunachal Pradesh.
“Tibetans from 11 states in India have been stranded in New Delhi since the lockdown. We are helping Tibetans who are trying to get back to four states under my jurisdiction (Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat and Rajasthan),” remarked S.O. Phuntsok Topgyal. He added that many Tibetans seem to be facing financial stress during this time due to sudden job loss and lack of economic opportunities while their savings run out.
Last week, many buses left from Delhi to Ladakh, whereas 40 people were sent to Arunachal Pradesh on Wednesday. The logistics of travel has been difficult to resolve due to the ever-changing guidelines for inter-state travel, “We tried to prepare bus services when the second phase of the nationwide lockdown was underway but we had problems deciphering e-passes regulations by different state governments. It took us some time to sort the intricacies involved in acquiring the permissions. Sometimes when we got proper passes, the availability of vehicles posed another problem,” the SO said. Most of the Tibetan people currently stranded in Delhi are from Ladakh and North-East regions.
When asked about the source of fares for the buses, the S.O. said that the expenses are borne by the passengers themselves although, two buses to Ladakh leaving on Saturday has been sponsored by Gyuto monastery. As of now, a total of 390 Tibetans have travelled to Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Maharashtra, Punjab, Ladakh, and other North-Eastern regions from the national capital, New Delhi.