Historically, from the ancient times, Nepal and Tibet enjoyed a close relationship in the field of economic, diplomatic and cultural exchanges. Tibet and Nepal signed treaties in the years 1645, 1789, 1792 and 1856 as independent sovereign nations and it is well known that Nepal produced these treaties as evidence of being an independent nation when applying for the membership of UNO.
Nepal’s first recorded official relations with Tibet occurred near the middle of the seventh century. In the Seventh Century, King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet married the Nepalese princess Bhrikuti who, together with the imperial Chinese princess Wen Cheng, shares the credit for introducing Buddhism to Tibet. Bhrikuti brought with her an image of Aksobhya Buddha. This was housed in a temple she had built in the center of a lake which was called Ramoche. She is generally referred to by Tibetans as Belsa, meaning “Nepalese wife”, “Tritsun” or “Royal Lady.” Chinese princess Wencheng brought with her an image of Sakyamuni Buddha as a young prince. This was installed in a temple named Trulnang, which later came to be known as the Jokhang. She is referred to by Tibetans as ” Gyalsa,” meaning “Chinese wife.”
Based on the historical facts and warm relations, the then Government of Nepal granted political Refugee status to those citizens who had to leave their country under compulsion. Nepal’s support to the Tibetan refugees despite being geographically small country and limited resources is appreciated by the world community even today. During this most difficult period in our more than 50 years of our national history, the people of Tibet will always remain grateful and indebted to the Government and the people of Nepal.
In May 1960, Nepal requested assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other aid organizations. The ICRC established emergency relief programs for the refugees. These programs were funded mostly by the United States Agency for International Development. In response to the refugees’ plight, the Tibetan government established the Kathmandu Tibetan Welfare Office, a branch of the Tibetan Ministry of Home Affairs. The Tibetan Welfare Office functioned as a liaison between the refugees, various aid organizations, and the Nepalese government. Also known as the office of Tibet, it continues to serve this vital role today.
In the early 1960s, the Nepalese government arranged to provide the first caseload of Tibetan refugees with land. It established four “temporary” settlements: (1) Chialsa, in the Solu Khumbu mountain range east of Kathmandu; (2) Tashi Palkhiel, on the outskirts of Pokhara; (3) Dhorpatan, in western Nepal; and (4) Jawalakhel, on the southern edge of Kathmandu. The Nepal Red Cross (NRC), founded in 1963, purchased the land for these settlements with funds donated by UNHCR.
Today, more than one dozen Tibetan Settlements exist in Nepal including:
- Jawalakhel, Boudha, Swayambunath, and Jorpati in the vicinity of Kathmandu;
- Tashi Palkhiel, Tashi-Ling, Paljorling & Jampaling in the Pokhara region; and
- Dhorpatan, Chialsa, Chairok, Shabrus and Lumbini in the northern regions of Nepal.
The majority of these were established either in the early to mid-1960s or in 1974, when the Nepalese government terminated the Mustang guerilla operation. These camps have evolved into well built settlements, each with a gompa (Buddhist monastery), chorten (stupa), school and health clinic and Tibetan have become a visible minority in the city.
Jampaling was opened in 1975 and is one of the two main settlements established for the rehabilitation of Tibetans from the Mustang guerrilla force. The community, which is located an hour east of Pokhara on the road to Kathmandu, has a small plot of agricultural land on which they grow maize, rice and vegetables. Their main source of income is derived from spinning wool, which is done in the traditional way, by hand. It also has a monastery, school, dispensary and elderly people’s home. The current population is about 750.
Paljorling, opened in 1972, also established for the rehabilitation of Tibetans from the Mustang guerrilla force, although today the residents come from other areas as well. Situated in the heart of Pokhara, it is the smallest (in terms of land area) of the four settlements. The community maintains a small noodle workshop. It is estimated that between 325 Tibetans live in Paljorling.
Tashi-Ling, located on the south side of Pokhara, began life as a temporary camp set up by the UNHCR (United Nation High Commission for Refugees) for refugees who gradually found their way to Pokhara from the border areas of Tibet. At its zenith in 1964, 1000 residents lived at this camp but numbers continue to decrease as many emigrate to India, Europe, Canada and the United States. Currently, 550 Tibetans are said to reside at Tashi-Ling. The settlement is engaged in the souvenir business and a carpet factory provides employment and income for residents. In addition to schools, the community has one modern dispensary, a branch of the Tibetan traditional medical center, and a small monastery which welcomes visitors to attend pujas held at 5:30am each morning.
Tashi Palkhel was established in 1962. It is located in the northern suburbs of Pokhara. The main source of income for residents of this settlement, which at present number 660, is derived from selling souvenirs. The community has schools, a modern dispensary, a branch of the Tibetan traditional medical center, and a large monastery that welcomes visitors during a puja, held every afternoon at 3:30pm.
Estimates of the total number of Tibetan refugees currently living in Nepal differ. Approximately 20,000 were believed to have arrived in 1959 during the initial conflict. Many more arrived in the ensuing years, however these numbers were reduced as Tibetans emigrated to other countries. According to the demographic survey of Tibetan Exile conducted by Central Tibetan Administration, Dharamsala in 2009, the population of Tibetan refugees in Nepal stands as 13,500.