‘First Tibetan Passport Found after 15 Years’
by Pawan Sharma
(Hindustan Times | April 2, 2004)
Fifty-six years ago on the roof of the world – Lhasa – the first
Tibetan passport was prepared that was recognized by various
nations. Twelve years ago, the passport that represented a sound
affirmation in world opinion of Tibet's de-facto independence and
was of immense historical significance, went missing from Kalimpong.
But after all the rigorous search operations, the passport prepared
by the Tibetan Government and used by Tsepon Shakabpa, the then
Tibet's Secretary of Finance (1930-1950) was recovered from an
antique dealer in Nepal last week.
The passport is now in the safe custody of the Dalai Lama, who
received it on March 29 from Friends of Tibet (India) – the spirit
behind recovering this document of historic importance for the
Tibetans. "We are very happy to get back this passport which is of
historic importance to us. This passport is an evidence of Tibet's
independence that was also recognised by the countries, which the
bearer visited," said Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, Prime Minister
of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.
Tsepon Shakabpa, the author of several books, including "Tibet:
A Political History", was the Dalai Lama's official representative
in New Delhi until 1966. After his death in 1989 in Kalimpong, the
passport went missing. What led to the recovery of the passport is
the initiative of Friends of Tibet (India) who for the past one year
collecting objects of historical importance belonging to independent
Tibet to showcase them in an exhibition called "Story of a Nation:
Independent, Occupied and Exiled Tibet".
"Recently through one of our advisor-supporters Geshe Pema Dorje
we discovered the passport lying in the hands of an antique dealer
in Nepal. Understanding the absolute importance of the document in
itself we wanted to buy it. The owner had expressed his willingness
to sell it at a lower price if the document is handed over to the
Dalai Lama. After a long process of negotiations and confidence
building, the owner finally sold the document and other related
papers. On March 28 the document made a historic trip to Dharamshala
and the following day it was handed over to the Dalai Lama. Thus
ended the 12 years of agony," said Tenzin Tsundue, general secretary
of the Friends of Tibet.
The passport is a big spreadsheet of the traditional Tibetan
hand-made paper folded and old-looking. It bears stamps of many
countries, which granted visas and transit permits to Shakabpa. The
passport was issued by the Kashag (Cabinet of Tibet), Lhasa, on
26th day of the 8th month of Fire Pig Year (Tibetan). The date
coincides with October 10, 1947. The passport bears official
stamps of recognition by countries like India, United Kingdom,
United States, Italy, Switzerland and France.
Mahatma Connection: Tsepon Shakabpa, in his widely acclaimed and
insightful book "Tibet: A Political History", published in 1967,
on the importance of passport in question wrote about the Tibetan
Delegation members throughout their journey.
In Delhi, the delegation met Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. "When I presented Mahatma
Gandhi a ceremonial scarf, he asked whether the scarf was made in
Tibet. When I informed him that the materials for ceremonial scarves
were imported, he was very surprised and stressed on the importance
of manufacturing in one's own country the goods one uses. This, and
other profoundly straightforward advise by the Mahatma, deeply moved
all the members of the Tibetan Trade Delegation," said the book.