Growing up in exile and spending a majority of my life as a stateless refugee, I tried to deconstruct my identity through asking my parents about their experiences and stories. My mother was crucial in shaping my identity.
Her stories always revolved around the Rongbuk Glacier. She was born raised in the shadows of the Rongbuk Glacier in southern Tibet. Many high peaks fall near the Rongbuk Glacier, the most famous one is Mount Everest. During her teenage years in Tibet, in the 1950s, she met the first few foreigners in her little town of Dingri, trying to visit/scale Mt. Everest. She could not understand why anyone would want to climb up the mountains and risk disturbing the mountain spirits. For her Rongbuk Glacier was sacred in that it had very powerful spirits and she would go up to Rongbuk monastery every year to make offerings to the mountain spirits.
After the 1959 Chinese occupation of Tibet, along with her family, she fled to exile through Lhalung Pass which is also part of Rongbuk. While the glacier is dangerous to the refugees fleeing, my mother always mentions how she felt safer under the glacier’s cloak then she does in the plains of Nepal and India.
After reaching Nepal, she spent the 1960s working as a porter near the Everest base camp. At that point, it was comforting for her to understand that her home was just behind Rongbuk and that she was now experiencing it from the other end.
Arriving in Kathmandu in her twenties, when people asked her where she was from, she would not respond by saying Tibet, due to political reasons. She would always respond as being from the Rongbuk mountains.
Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/h4nVJP