To earn their daily bread, Tibetans bring woollen bazaar from hills to Gujarat plains


FORTY-FIVE years ago, Sonam Paljor and his family moved to India from their native village of Khasa in Tibet during the Tibetan uprising of 1959. Hubli, one of the Tibetan settlements in Karnataka, was home to Paljor till he married and moved to Mangalore. Like other Tibetan families, he took to farming on the land allotted by the Indian government. Though farming would put food on the table, it was difficult for them to sustain.

Paljor, 70, came to Ahmedabad for the first time around 15-20 years ago to sell shawls, blankets, sweaters and jackets at Tibetan Refugee Sweater Bazar. Now, his 30-year-old daughter Lobsang Choeton also accompanies him.

The Bazar stays open in the city for four months, beginning November 15. “There are around 100 Tibetan families who have set up their shops here. They all have migrated and are settled in Karnataka (Mundgod, Hubli), Himachal Pradesh (Manali),” said K. Karma, the general secretary of Tibetan Refugee Sweater Seller’s Association in Ahmedabad.

Every year, Tibetan immigrants travel to different cities of India to trade in woollen garments owing to limited land cultivation in the remaining months. They buy garments from wholesalers based in Ludhiana and Delhi in June and July.

“The municipal corporation here has been very cooperative. We pay only Rs. 4000 for the entire ground which is quite less,” said Karma. Earlier, the Bazar used to be on the Sabarmati river bank in Ellisbridge, where the city saw its first initiation to momos through a kiosk set up by the Tibetans.

Dorker Nahmo was just 20-years-old when she accompanied her parents to Ahmedabad for the first time. “I used to sell garments too, but now my son and daughter-in-law are continuing the business. Now I generally stay in our flat on Ankur Road,” said a 55-year-old Nahmo who hails from Manali.

Ninety percent of Tibetan families here live in rented flats or as paying guests near their bazar in Naranpura. “Shastri Nagar and Ankur Road are the nearest from here,” said Karma.

After a 22-long stint as a Subedar in the Army, Yashi Thinley (55) went to Taiwan to pursue a Master’s degree in International Relations in 1991. “I couldn’t do what I wanted to but I learned Chinese there for two years after which I returned home in Mandi district (Himachal Pradesh). I sat idle for the next two years. Then I got into the construction business and supervised the construction of a monastery there. I am now the monastery’s general secretary,” said this Ankur-resident.

Thinley, who is also the Vice President of the Association, said, “Ahmedabad people are very friendly. For the last three weeks, the market is pulling huge crowds as the temperature drops,” he explained.

For 47-year-old T. Dechen, growing rice and selling woollen clothes was the only option. “I used to come here with my father since I was 27. After he passed away, I followed him in selling woollen clothes,” she said. Having completed only her primary education, this business became  a viable option for this Sardar Patel colony resident.

Dechen has two daughters aged 20 and 22. “We all take loans of 4-5 lakhs from the Syndicate bank to buy goods. Life is tough. But what can we do?! I don’t want my daughters to follow us. So I made sure they got proper education. Today, one of my daughters is working in a call centre in Bangalore and the other one is getting trained to be a general nurse in Mysore,” she said.

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Published by  The Indian Express, Ahmedabad (Late City edition) on December 21, 2013.


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