I met Tashi Passang on a platform of the Tsuglagkhang, the temple attached to the Dalai Lama’s residence-in-exile in Dharamsala, high above the Kangra Valley and the dusty plains of the Punjab. All around us Tibetan pilgrims were circling the prayer hall on the topmost terrace of the temple. Some, in their ankle-length sheepskin chubas, were clearly new arrivals, nomads from western Tibet, fresh across the high snowy passes; others were long-term residents of this Tibet-outside-Tibet: red-robed refugee monks performing the thrice-daily circumambulation of the Dalai Lama’s temple-residence. There was a strong smell of incense and burning butter lamps, and the air was full of the low murmur of muttered prayers and mantras.
The old monk had a wide face, broad shoulders, and an air of quiet calm and dignity. He wore enveloping maroon robes, a jaunty knitted red bonnet, and thick woolen socks. Despite his age, his brow was unfurrowed, and his face almost unlined. We talked over a bowl of butter tea and he told me how when the Chinese invaded Tibet he, like many other monks, took up arms to defend his country and his faith, something I found surprising.