The Charnel Ground
It was hot at noon that day. We were making our way wearily across a river
when we heard guns ﬁring repeatedly from up ahead. We had no idea what
was going on, but we were all frightened. Everyone dismounted except for
me. Some Tibetan gazelles, startled when they saw us, sprinted to the top of a
mountain. I rode over and looked down to the road beneath. It was a Chinese
military column, so long that you couldn’t see the beginning or end of it. They
were on horseback.
“Father, it’s the Chinese army!” I called. “Over there!”
“Here we’ll be face- to- face with them,” Father said. “There’s no way out.
Quickly—into that ravine!” Everybody rushed into a small ravine near the
road, leading their horses. Maybe the Three Precious Jewels protected us.
We were in a bend of the ravine, and even though we could see the road,
they couldn’t see us. The gazelles that had run away looked down at us from
the mountainside above. Father, Tenzin, and Lochu squatted closest to the
road with guns at the ready, watching the troops moving past. We hid behind
them, holding our horses. We could hear the Chinese talking and hear the
hoofbeats of their horses as clearly as if they were beside us. We just sat still,
so silently that we could hear the sound of our own hearts beating. The Chi-
nese had some Tibetan yak drovers with them, and we could overhear their
conversation clearly, too. Suddenly, two of our monastery horses broke free
and cantered out of the ravine and up the mountain. We tried to grab them,
but there was nothing to hold them back with. Father waved his hand to tell
us to keep still and leave them be.
Then one of the Tibetans in the military column spoke.
“What beautiful horses,” he said, “I wonder where they came from?” They
kept talking about it, but nobody came out of the column to drive the horses