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Created by Katie Lin

20 Sep 2012

Tibet

“WITH TIBET IN SIGHT: A TALE OF ONE MAN, HIS FLAG, AND THE DISPUTED TERRITORY THEY BOTH INHABIT”

Nearly 14 000 feet above sea level, on the arid shores of Pangong “Tso” (lake), flies a lone
Tibetan flag.

On occasion, travellers manage to make the 5-hour journey here from Leh during the short
summer season, stopping at monasteries and roadside yurts along the way. And if they travel as
far down the lakeside as possible - without stepping into Chinese territory - to the remote village
of Spangmik, they will undoubtedly see it whipping about in the wind. 

In democratic India, this flag's presence may seem benign - but on the opposite shore of
Pangong Tso’s salty waters, lies Tibet; and just a few kilometers south of Spangmik, lies an army
checkpost.

In such close proximity to Tibet, 68-year-old Tsering Dondup is literally flying the Tibetan flag in
the face of China. 

Pangong Lake sits on the Sino-India Line of Actual Control, with more than 60 per cent of its
134km length being under Chinese control.

Dondup, himself, first arrived in India in 1959 after his parents were killed in clashes with Chinese
troops at the height Tibet’s occupation in the 1950s. Initially motivated to avenge the death of his
parents, Dondup went on to join the Indian Army in Mussoorie, northern India, in 1968.

Fifteen years later, he met and fell in love with a young woman from Spangmik village. In 1989,
they married.

He smacks his lips together and lets out a sigh, as he reflects on his relationship with his wife of
23 years. “My wife may be illiterate, but she loves me so deeply.”

Following his marriage, he became focused on creating a home - in plain sight of Tibet - with his
new wife on the rocky banks of Pangong Tso.

But as a reminder of his past, Dondup flies a little piece of his history on the flagpole outside of
his home, with the hope of one day returning to Tibet. 

“I want to see the birds, the sheep, the horses. I want to see them again," he says. "Are they there, or not? I don’t know."

Tsering Dondup, 68, fled Tibet when he was just a young boy and hasn’t returned since – and yet
he sees his country everyday when he steps out of his home on Pangong Tso, which occupies a
section of the border between India and Tibet. It is obvious that his relationship with his birthplace
is tenacious. “In India, it is a democracy – we are living very peacefully and happy,” he says of the
country which received him and more than 80 000 other Tibetans in 1959. “But I remember my
country.”

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