Photos and biographies of the elderly

These two very elderly sisters were the first to receive support from the Ama Youdon Foundation in 2009. Both were born in Lhodak in South Tibet: Ama Kyipa in 1925 and Chonyi Paldon in 1922. Both were married, but neither had children. They fled occupied Tibet in 1959 and settled in Bhutan, but also left that country in 1982 and found a third home in Dehra Dun in India. (See the story of Sonam for this second migration.)

In 2009, both sisters had long been widows and because of their age were no longer able to provide for themselves; they lived on short-term alms from neighbours and friends. In this regard the support of the Ama Youdon Foundation has brought well-deserved rest intheir old age. The oldest of the two sisters, Chonyi Paldon, sees and hears very badly. A few years ago she broke her right hand. This healed, but at the end of 2015 she fell and broke her right hip. It was a fracture of the hip joint itself, making surgery impossible. According to the doctor the only possible treatment of the fracture was to hang a weight on her hip. Now she doesn’t want this anymore. She does receive Tibetan medicines and vitamins. However, she did survive the hip fracture but she has been in bed since then. She is helped in a wheelchair during the day which was provided for by the Ama Youdon Foundation. First the neighbours helped her in and out of the wheelchair, but now an employee of the Tibetan Welfare Office comes to see and help her on a daily basis. Her younger sister Ama Kyipa is still relatively healthy. A young neighbour takes care of her. The home caretaker of the Ama Youdon Foundation also plays an important role in her situation. Ama Kyipa is the sunshine itself. She, like Ama Tsering Wangmo, almost always has a smile on her face. The sisters are lucky that their house was renovated by the neighbours in 2016, when they were renovating their own house.

Ama Tsering Wangmo, born in 1929 in Tsoyul Lhodak in South Tibet, is a rare appearance. She is one of the few people who always smiles: the smile does not leave her face, in spite of the many difficulties in her life. When we asked her how she was doing, the answer was – with the same smile: “Oh, everything is troubling from my head to my feet.” She is a bit dizzy when she gets out of bed in the morning. She fell in 2014, from which she had a lump in her wrist. She sees poorly, wears glasses and walks with a cane. The Ama Youdon Foundation’s home caretaker occasionally helps her, but she mainly takes care of herself.
Ama Tsering Wangmo was married when she fled with her husband to Bhutan in 1959 and from there in 1982, like many other Tibetans (see the story of Sonam) to Dehra Dun in India. Her husband died around 1990. The couple did not have any children. Ama Tsering Wangmo has no relatives in Dekyiling (the Tibetan settlement near Dehra Dun where she lives) and, when she was no longer able to work, lived from the small and changing gifts of people from the neighbourhood until she received support from the Ama Youdon Foundation in 2010. She participates often daily in the prayer meetings in the prayer hall of Dekyiling (see Sonam). When we visited her in 2016 and said goodbye telling her that we hoped to see her again next year, she said with her indestructible smile: “I think I will go this year. I am 87 ”. We stood for a contented person who was at peace with herself.

Ashu Tenzin was born in 1937 in Toe Dingri in the Tibetan province of U-Tsang. She was never married and has no children. She fled over the mountains in 1959 to Sharkhumboo in Nepal and finally reached India in 1966. She now lives in Dekyiling near Dehra Dun. It is true that she, like the refugees who came via Bhutan (see Sonam), did not get a house as her own propertythere, but she received a rented house for which she does not have to pay. It was even recently renovated and now she has a nice room and a kitchen. Her house looked well kept and maintained, thanks to the help of the home caretaker of the Ama Youdon Foundation. Ashu Tenzin has poor eyesight and has back and knee pain. She still cooks for herself, but she also takes part in the pujas (prayer meetings) in the prayer hall where she uses breakfast and lunch. Ashu Tenzin has a positive and contented attitude towards her life. In 2018, for the first time in her life, she will buy glasses.  This is on the advice of the hospital. She has never learned to read, but she can distinguish between numbers.

Tsamcho Dolma was born in Lhodak (South Tibet) in 1932, got married, had a daughter and lived the simple life of a farmers wife. After the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, the family fled across the Himalayas to Bhutan and later reached Dehra Dun in India. Her husband died. Her daughter is somewhat mentally limited and started to roam around. Tsamcho Dolma lives in a very small rented room on the north side of the mountain ridge of Mussoorie (2000 m high) near Dehra Dun. Despite her high age, she ran a small clothing store on the Mussoorie market until 2016. This market is located on the south side of Mussoorie at approximately 500 m from her room. She walked that distance back and forth every day, “also to get some sun,” as she told us. All Indians on the market knew her, as she easily talks to everyone. However, her knees have now become so bad that she can no longer go to the market.Only occasionally she goes to a nearby temple to do the prayer round. The rent of her room is quite high for her; although she is allowed to move to a Tibetan retirement home in the area, she does not want to go there. The reason for this is that her daughter has turned up again with three small sons; the daughter’s husband tries to earn some money elsewhere in India, but that is very little. Tsamcho Dolma has taken her daughter into her small room and accommodated the grandchildren at a nearby Tibetan boarding school. In 2017 one of her grandsons had tuberculosis. and has only just survived. Fortunately he has now recovered well. Mother and daughter rent their room in a neighbourhood where only Indians live. Because the mother has difficulty walking, they hardly have any contact with other Tibetans anymore. Moving to the Tibetan settlement of Dekyiling near Dehra Dun (a few dozen km from Mussoorie, in the lowlands) would be an option, although the room rent there is quite high. The Tibetan Settlement Officer (head of the Tibetan settlements in the region) is investigating whether there is something to be arranged for Tsamcho Dolma and her daughter.

The oldest beneficiary of the Ama Youdon Foundation, Nima Gyalpo, was born in 1920. With every visit we are amazed by his soft, friendly appearance and the smile he frequently displays, despite his fragile health and fragile body. His ears are bad and no medication has proven to be adequate for his stomach problems, but he does not appear to suffer visibly. “My stomach speaks noisily, but there is no medicine for that on the market.” Nima Gyalpo originally lived with his wife in Kongpo in Tibet, until the Chinese invasion of 1959. Then they undertook the long, dangerous journey like so many others over the Himalayas and reached Menchukha in the Indian state of Assam. Nima’s wife died in 1986. They have no children. A female relative of Nima who lives next to him in the small Tibetan settlement Tsering Dhonden, on a hilltop in the Indian village of Raipur, takes care of him. That goes so well that assistance from the home care help of the Ama Youdon Foundation is not necessary. When we said in 2016 that we hope to see him again next year and that we might be able to celebrate his 100th birthday, his response was: “Maybe I will only live one or two years longer, but maybe I will become 105 or 110 years old, but please keep on helping me. You have come on behalf of God. His felative told us that he has prayed “as many as 70 lak Om mani padme hums ” for his supporters of the Ama Youdon Foundation. Om mani padme hum is the most popular Buddhist mantra; a “lakhone means 100,000 .

The deaf and dumb woman Tsewang Dolma, born in Lhorak in southern Tibet in 1945, comes from a family of nomads, who were wandering cattle ranchers. The family left Tibet during the Chinese invasion in 1959 and reached Bhutan via the Himalayas, where they could initially stay. In 1982, the Tibetan government in exile agreed with the Bhutanese and the Indian government that part of the numerous Tibetan refugees in small Bhutan would be relocated to India. Most of them ended up in the area around Dehra Dun. The Tsewang Dolma family also experienced this second migration and settled in Dekyiling.

After the death of their mother, Tsewang Dolma and her brother Chungtak were left alone. Chungtak has a small speech impediment and a slight intellectual disability, but is able to support Tsewang Dolma. She learned a bit of sign language, in such a way that brother and sister could work together to keep their daily life going. Chungtak even speaks some English words. They do the household together: for example, cooking and  washingh their clothes. Their health is good and they are cheerful in nature. A lama from Dekyiling has made one floor of his house available for them to live in. Tsewang Dolma knows how to make herself well understood to her brother when it comes to issues about other people. For example, if she wants to say something about a person, she imitates the person’s physical characteristics so that her brother knows whom she is talking about. The support of the Ama Youdon Foundation is essential for both of them.

Dechen Youdon (born in 1923 in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet) fled Tibet in 1959 via Kalimpong (West Bengal). She married Mr. Palden and started working as a street worker in Dehra Dun in 1962. (In India it is not uncommon for women to work on the road.) After years of poverty she started selling self-knitted sweaters, hats and socks along the road . In 1984 the couple divorced and her husband returned to his first wife in Tibet. In 1986 she started living together with Tashi Wangdu (born in 1933). This man was a soldier in the former Tibetan army, in a military company that accompanied the Dalai Lama on his flight to India in 1959, up to the border (just like Sonam, see there); from the border, the Dalai Lama, who did not want to enter India with an army, moved on with only his own bodyguard and family. Tashi Wangdu returned to Lhasa with his company, but two weeks later he also fled to India because of the hopeless situation in Tibet.
Dechen Youdon had a cerebral infarction around 2010 and was temporarily paralyzed to  the right side of her body, but has recovered reasonably well, thanks in part to many loving massages by Tashi Wangdu. She only speaks and hears poorly and walks carefully. Tashi Wangdu’s ears and eyes deteriorate somewhat; doctors investigated whether treatment of his eyes is possible. Apart from this, his health is in order. He is Dechen Youdons mouthpiece. From 1970 she lived with Tashi Wangdu, in a rented room in Mussoorie, but recently they have a larger room in a Tibetan retirement home in Mussoorie, which is a huge advance for them. They are very happy there. Occasionally they receive extra help from our home care taker. In 2016-17 they had to move temporarily to a retirement home in Rajpur (2000 m below) because the building in Mussoorie had to be restored, but now they are back there again – to their delight, because “the air is fresher there”.

Lobsang Chhonjor was born in 1933 and is now too old to provide for his own livelihood, but he enjoys a good condition of body and soul and is quite fit for his age and cheerful. His condition probably is due to the fact that he was both a monk and a soldier. He was in the Kuendeling Monastery in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, when the Chinese army occupied Tibet in 1949. In 1957, at the age of 24, he joined the then autonomous Tibetan army to fight the Chinese. Many monks did this in addition to many civilians. This obviously meant the end of their monastic life, because a monk is not allowed to kill: that is one of the vows made by Buddhist monks. Lobsang Chhonjor helped the Dalai Lama with his flight to India in 1959 (see also Sonam and Tashi Wangdu). He himself fled to India too, when the Chinese forces turned out to be too great to resist. He took the route via Mount Marpo-La to the Indian state of Assam. There he settled in Dalhousie and went to work as a road worker. In 1963, however, he decided to re-enter the army. This time he joined the special Tibetan unit within the Indian army, which is deployed in the mountains, as the Tibetans are used to the climate at high altitudes. He took his leave from the army in 1986. When he retired from the India army a soldier did not receive a pension in those days and that is why he now receives our support. He was able to move in with a friend in Dekyiling and continued to live in his house after his death. Thanks to the fact that he did not have to kill anyone in military service, he was able to take the monk vows again. He does not wear the robes again, but does all the monks duties. The life of Lobsang Chhonjor is a model of discipline – which is also clearly visible in his home.

Kelsang Choden was born in the east Tibetan province of Kham, but her age is unclear. Th is not uncommon among Tibetan refugees, as they rarely have a birth certificate. In their culture age is not treated as accurately as in pour culture. Birthdays are not celebrated!  With the Tibetan New Year(losar) everyone turns one year older. Kelsang Choden is now known as born in 1940, but looks 10 to 20 years younger. She fled across the Himalayas to Nepal in 1963 and from there to Manali in India. There she worked as a street worker (not unusual for women in India), got married and had two sons and a daughter. Her husband died of tuberculosis in 1975. One son (who had good study results and was also a good football player) and the daughter (who was married) also died of tuberculosis as young adults. The other son also had tuberculosis, but he survived, although did not become completely healthy yet. He recently started working in a boarding house where he got board and lodging and a very low wage. Kelsang Choden makes Tibetan cookies for monks. She currently has no home and is sleeping in a garage in the village of Clementtown near Dehra Dun.
Her situation was difficult to assess, both for the local Tibetan Welfare Office and for the Ama Youdon Foundation. Mrs Kelsang Choden is still too healthy and too young for a Tibetan retirement home – the tuberculosis that ravaged her family does not seem to affect her (“My lungs are white,” she says). She did have back pain, but went to a hot spring bath in Manali for that. She looks fit and is extremely talkative. Our impression is therefore that she should be able to work a little more and eventually maintain herself financially. We have therefore decided, together with the Welfare Office, to temporarily support her on the condition that she looks for her own income and tries to support herself. She agreed to that. She is deeply grateful for the help offered and prays for the donors.

Mr. Lobsang Chhophel and Mrs. Namgyal Dolma were both born in the southern part of Tibet in 1934 and 1936 respectively. They married there but had no children. After the Chinese invasion in 1959 they also ventured the dangerous and arduous crossing over the Himalayas to Bhutan.In 1982 they emigratedfor a second time to Dekyiling in India. (About this second migration: see Sonam). Lobsang Chhophel has worked as a construction worker. A few years ago he had a brain haemorrhage and was temporarily paralyzed inthe right side of his body. He has since recovered reasonably well. Only his right hand still gives problems. He has received Tibetan medicines for hisparalysis and Western medicines for high blood pressure. He has been supported by the Ama Youdon Foundation since 2014. His wife receives Tibetan and Western medicines for her breathing problems and has one weak arm.Otherwise she is reasonably OK. She earned money by making tsampa, the Tibetan breakfast of barley flour, but can no longer do so, as she now has to take more care of her husband. That is why Namgyal Dolma has been supported by us since the beginning of 2016. Lobsang Chhophel still receives daily physiotherapy, first at the nearby hospital, now at home. He walks a few prayer rounds around the temple every day. The elderly receive Tibetan medicines very cheaply, but Western medicines are very expensive for them. This is one of the reasons that our support for them is essential. It is touching that Namgyal Dolma told us that she hoped to survive her husband because he could not do without help. Of course we explained that even if he lives longer than she, we will arrange care for him – but we could not completely remove her worries.

Unlike most other beneficiaries of the Ama Youdon Foundation, Sonam Nyendak (born in 1943) is well-educated. He speaks English, teaches Tibetan and has even lived in Europe. He owes his education to the fact that he became a monk as a child, which isnot uncommon in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He lived in the Sera monastery in Tibet. In 1960, a year after the Chinese invasion, he fled with his guru via Bhutan to Buxa in India. This guru was Kalu Rinpoche, known for his later books about tantra for Westerners. Sonam Nyendak lost both parents when he was still very young. In Buxa he was in school for another year and after that his order sent him to Mussoorie, where a new school for Tibetan children was just starting. After completing his school education he went to the Tibetan university in Varanasi, where he obtained his diploma in 1974. He then went to Paris as a monk with Kalu Rinpoche and taught Tibetan for a year. He also did the same work in Sweden for a while. When he was in Sweden the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was murdered. In the aftermath of this murder, Sonam Nyendak had the feeling that there was a growing resistance to dark foreigners in Sweden and he therefore decided to return to India.
He left the monastery in 1985, but he never married and has no children. He now lives in the village of Clementtown near Dehra Dun, in the Tibetan settlement of Dhondupling. He is short of breath and has high blood pressure, for which he is taking Western medicines. A nurse from the Tibetan community takes care of him. He got typhus in 2017, but recovered well after a stay in the hospital. He still gives Tibetan lessons to children and adults. Because of his physical condition he only can do this for two consecutive hours. However, because he was “trained for free at the cost of the Dalai Lama,” he refuses to sell his knowledge for money and does not charge a fee for his lessons. Some students or their parents do offer a reimbursement spontaneously. If the student is successful, he accepts such voluntary compensation; if that is not the case and the student or parents still want to pay, he will only accept a part of what is being offered to him. Also when a  student or his/her parents offer more money than they can actually misshe only want to take a part of it. As a result, he has difficulty paying his rent; however, he would have a bad feeling if he asks  more money for his lessons. And so it is that this well-educated older refugee lives in poverty and needs the support of the Ama Youdon Foundation. The donors are assured of his prayers!

Unlike most others, Mr. Kalsang (born in 1938)  fled from Tibet in 1989 to Dharamsala in India. Originally he was a monk in Tibet, but when his monastery was destroyed by the Chinese, 350 of the 1000 monks were arrested and the remaining 650 (including him) were chased away. Kalsang got married and had three sons and a daughter. In 1989, he had a quarrel with a Chinese who praised Mao and had then to flee to India to escape the Chinese police. He had to leave his family in Tibet. He went to work in Dharamsala as a baker of Tibetan bread. He also did that work in New Delhi for two years, after which he went to Rajpur (a village near Dehra Dun) to work as a night watchman. This work was hard for his age and he could do this for just five years. Until 2016 he again worked as a baker in a Tibetan restaurant in Rajpur. When the Indian landlord who owned the room he rented wanted to renovate his property, he was evicted out of his room. Fortunately he found a new room with a Tibetan homeowner who was more ind to him: he didn’t even have to pay rent for the first few months. The room he has now opens onto a large sunny terrace with a wide view over the valley. On the wall of his small room hangs a portrait of the Sakyapa Lama, the leader of one of the four branches of Tibetan Buddhism, who also lives  in Rajpur. Unfortunately, he has virtually no contact with his family in Tibet; but he did hear that his only daughter died. A Tibetan woman who is head of the Tibetan community in Rajpur, occasionally brings him food or cooks for him. ISince 2018 his memory is starting to deteriorate.

Mr. Legden was born in 1940 in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. He fought as a 19-year-old with the small Tibetan army against the Chinese invasion army. After the fall of Tibet he escaped via Lhokha Tsethang and Tawang to the Indian state of Assam. He worked for some time as a road worker in Sikkim and joined the army again in 1962, but this time he was with Special paramilitary Frontier Force of the Indian army, which is deployed in the Himalayas and is mainly manned by Tibetans, because they are used to the high altitudes of the mountains.  He is one of the many Tibetan men who remained single in the hope of being able to fight as a soldier for the liberation of  Tibet. It was their reasoning that if they were to die, they would not leave a family without a source of income for their living.  When Legden retired in 1989 the Indian army did not give pensions for their ex-soldiers. Therefore he had to work for some time as a night watchman, but is now dependent on the support of the Ama Youdon Foundation. He lives in the village of Rajpur near Dehra Dun, where he rents a room from a Tibetan homeowner who does not charge much for rent.

Jampa Wangchuk (born in 1931 in Gapa in the Tibetan region of Kham) was a soldier in the small Tibetan army that in 1959 led a short, hopeless guerrilla against the occupying Chinese army. Two large scars on his left forearm and right wrist bear witness to this, which he showed us at the first meeting. After the victory of the Chinese, he fled to India. Via Dharamsala he came to Dehra Dun and became a Buddhist monk. Around 2015 his health deteriorated sharply: he is only struggling to walk with a walker, his memory is deteriorating and he has a weak digestion. A nun from the Drikung Kagyu monastery in Dehra Dun (himself a “newcomer” from Tibet, 2001) offered to take care of him; her monastery has given him a room in the retreat center that belongs to the nunnery, to make this possible.

One of the relatively younger beneficiaries is Sonam Tsenphel, born in 1950 in Tibet as a nomad. He remained unmarried and decided to go to India in 1995. From his hometown of Diru (Kham region) he first went to Lhasa and from there he undertook the popular Buddhist pilgrimage to the sacred mountain of Kailash. From the Kailash it is possible to walk through the Himalayas to Nepal without being detected, but it is a tough journey through the high mountains. After he had arrived in Nepal the Tibetan reception centre in Nepal sent him to Delhi and from there he was sent to Dehra Dun. There he rented a small house in the Tibetan settlement of Dekyiling and went to work as a tailor in the Tibetan Handicraft Centre. When his eyes deteriorated, he had to give up this work and found a small job as a gatekeeper in the nearby Drikung Monastery. He receives food and lodging there and a very small salary. He has rheumatism and since 2006 he has been limping somewhat. He only has contact with the monks when he walks his prayer round, the so called kora. He has a cheerful, friendly appearance.

Ms Palmo (59-60 years old) lives in Rajpur. She can hardly talk and hears very badly. Yet she is able to understand enough. She is 59 – 60 years old and has been given a hut in the garden of a friendly  Indian woman. She does not have to pay rent for this. This Indian woman knows her from 25 – 30 years ago. Then she walked around the village with a child in her arms. Nothing has been heard from the child. It is thought that it has been taken from her because it was difficult for her to take care of it herself. The Tibetan community leader of Rajpur, mrs. Sonam, lives close to her. She and a number of other Tibetans give her free food.

Mr. Thinley Gyatso (86 years old) lives in Lingtsang. He is a lama from the Bon tradition. He has a room next to the temple in the monastery grounds where he lives. The community leader of Lingtsang, Mr. Kunsang tells us that in his youth he had two large eczema spots on both his forearms that would not heal. His guru (teacher) told him to meditate to close those wounds. He did that for a long time, but nothing happened. His teacher then told him to meditate even more. He did that and – miraculously – his wounds healed! Since then he has been able to help other people when they were sick. According to Mr. Kunsang, he was also able to stop raining when he was asked to do so to make an important ceremony possible. Performing feats like this seems to go at the expense of one’s own health. Some time ago he was so weak that he had to stay in bed for a year and a half. Now he walks around carefully again with a walker.
The Tibetan community in Linggang sought and found a place to live in the jungle around Lingtsang. They did this independently of the Tibetan government in exile as they are an ancient clan of fierce and proud warriors who lived in eastern Tibet (Kham). They settled in this place in the 70s.


Mrs. Kalden Lhamo was born in Lhorak in South Tibet in 1945. She had to flee Tibet in 1959. Mrs. Kalden Lhamo has not been married. She lives in Dekyiling in the Tibetan Community.
Mrs. Kalden Llamo left us on July 25, 2015.

Mr. Karma Sherab was born in 1950 in the Tibetan province of U-Tsang Tibet. Like most of our people, he was also a nomad. Karma Sherab fled to India in 1959 via Nepal. He worked for some time as an assistant cook at a school. He now lives in Clementown in Dehradun.
Mr. Karma Sherab moved to South India on August 1, 2014.

Mr. Tsewang Namgyal was born in South Tibet in 1927. After the Chinese invasion, he and his wife fled to Bhutan in 1959. After having lived in Bhutan for 23 years, he was forced to leave that country too. His wife who always took care of him died in 2012 and Tsewang Namgyal now lives in Dekyiling.
Mr. Tsewang Namgyal himself passed away on 1 February 2014.

Mrs. Ama Dolkar was born in 1936. In 1959 she fled to the east of India and later went to Dekyiling. Her husband, who died a few years ago, fought against the Chinese in the Tibetan army.
Mrs. Ama Dolkar left us on December 8, 2014.

Mr. Sonam has worked as a laborer in India on the construction of roads, houses and the like. He has been a widower for several years. He does not have a large social circle, but he does have contact with his neighbor and regularly attends prayer meetings (pujas) in the prayer hall of Dekyiling. Sonam also makes butter lamps for prayer meetings.
Mr. Sonam died on September 23, 2016.

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We were able to support Dondhup, born in 1941, from Rajpur from September 2010. Unfortunately he died on 1 August 2012.

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Mrs. Kalden Lhamo was born in Lhorak in South Tibet in 1945. She had to flee Tibet in 1959. Mrs. Kalden Lhamo has not been married. She lives in Dekyiling in the Tibetan Community.
She died on July 25, 2015.

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Mr. Jampa Yingmi, born 1943. We have been able to give him financial support since 1 September 2010.
He died on April 1, 2011

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Mr. Jamyang, born in 1934, passed away on March 1, 2011. We have been able to support him from 1 September 2010.

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Mr. Kalsan Gyaltso, born in 1935, lived in Clementown. From December 2011 we have supported him financially.
He died on October 1, 2012.

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Mr. Jampa Chhophel, born in 1934 in South Tibet, was originally a monk, but after fleeing to Bhutan in 1959, he left his order and married. He had no children and when he moved on again in 1982 (see Sonam) to Dekyiling near Dehra Dun in India, his wife had already died.
Mr. Jampa Chhopel passed away on 9 June 2016.

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Lhamo Thar was born in 1932 in Labdrang (province of Amdo) in Tibet. She got married and had a son when she was around 20, but her husband left her early. In 1959 she fled via Mount Kailash (a sacred mountain for the Buddhists) to the Indian state of Sikkim. She worked there for a few years as a street maker (not unusual for women in India) and got tuberculosis, but survived. Later she went to Bodhgaya (also a holy place for Buddhists), where she sold food along the way.
She died on September 30, 2017. Her neighbors have contributed to the funding and implementation of the necessary rituals.