Written by Namgyal Lhamo Taklha
Summary by Guy Raber

Namgyal Lhamo Taklha was born in 1942, or as she calls it, “the 22nd day of the fifth month of the Water Horse year” (Taklha 13). As the name of her narrative, “Born in Lhasa”, would imply – she was born in the famed capital of Tibet, the daughter of two ancient and powerful families. She explains that her self-narrative is meant to tie Tibetans in diaspora all over the world back to their native tradition. In specific, she wishes to preserve knowledge of her culture for the Tibetan children growing up away from their ancestral home, and it is to them that her book is dedicated.
Taklha herself, after an early life and education growing up in Tibet, was sent to study in India for much of her teenage years. She then married the brother of the 14th Dalai Lama, and lived her life in various parts of the world aiding the Tibetan community in exile, helping them to settle in new places such as India, the US, the UK, and Switzerland. Her life, and her autobiography, have been an important and positive influence on the Tibetans forging new lives in the diaspora.

The Early Years:
Taklha describes her early life with fondness. Much of Taklha’s adolescence was spent in a large, sixty-person household, which included her four siblings. Their enormous house has an entire chapter of the book devoted to it, in which she describes the various rooms and, conspicuously, the lack of indoor plumbing or a restroom. More importantly, she warmly describes the close and personal relationships she had with various members of this household, including their kindly attendants. She attended private school in Lhasa, which she struggled to endure, and cherished cultural events such as regular tea with her vast family. She mentions that she grew up “privileged and protected with comfort”, an easy life afforded her by the wealth and success of her family (Taklha 11). Her grandfather, Pola, was a powerful military and government official. According to her, he was also a proud and patriotic man, who served in many regards as patriarch of the family.
Pola’s strong desire to modernize Tibet is discussed several times in the beginning chapters of “Born in Lhasa”, especially in the context that it failed to win over more conservative voices in Tibet. This appreciation of modernity is reflected in his choice to send Taklha’s abroad to India for education, where she was exposed to a diverse range of modern conveniences, such as automobiles. Taklha later expresses that she was grateful for this education, without which her life would have been very different, and much more difficult (Taklha 59).

Traveling Abroad:
In 1950, at age 8, Taklha left Tibet and lived in various parts of Bengal for three years. For a time she attended Mount Hermon School in Darjeeling, a prestigious boarding school taught in the Western academic tradition, until returning to Tibet in 1953. When she returned, she found a nation largely under the control of the Chinese government. Her comments on the Chinese occupation will be discussed later in this summary, but it was difficult for her to be in Lhasa again, and upon leaving Tibet in 1956, she remarked that “she would have welcomed any excuse to get (herself) out of such unpleasant living conditions” (Taklha 81). Around the time she returned to India, the Chinese government ramped up militant operations in Tibet. Pola, her grandfather who was leader of the Tibetan army at the time, was one of many casualties during this conflict.
Due to the increased persecution, thousands of Tibetans left their homes and fled south. Taklha and her family attempted to help the government in exile and resettlement programs, although her parents’ health began to deteriorate, which limited their ability to assist. Soon after, in 1962, Taklha met Lobsang, the elder brother of the Dalai Lama. Drawn to his charm and personality, she married him by the end of the year. In the years to come they welcomed a daughter, Chuki, and a son, Tenzin, to the world. Unfortunately for Taklha, a pregnancy in-between those two children ended in stillbirth, which caused significant sadness for her and took a time of grief to move on from.
In 1965, at the age of 23 and mother of two children, Taklha left for her first journey to Europe. Traveling to Rome and Vienna was difficult with two small children, but it was still important for Lobsang and Taklha to meet important officials in the Tibetan exile community, such as Mr. Phala, the Dalai Lama’s representative in Europe. They then visited New York, where Taklha’s first impression was “things, things, things”, in a culture she felt was unimaginably consumerist (Taklha 129). After this short adventure in North America, she and Lobsang returned to Europe in 1966, where they spent several years working to resettle thousands of uprooted Tibetans in places such as Switzerland, France, England, and Scotland.
In 1971, Taklha returned with her family to New York, where they stayed for seven more years. In that time, her family was happily settled in the big city, and she enjoyed feeling an anonymous singularity in the large urban setting. Also in this time, she was reunited with her long-lost brother Rinpoche, who had been left in Tibet during the Chinese occupation, but who had escaped and became a Buddhist master. However, by 1978, the family was ready to leave New York, and they returned to India.

The Wheel of Life
Taklha names chapter 16 of her book “Wheel of Life”, a kind way to label a chapter dealing with the heavy topic of death. She comments that it was difficult to see the unhealthy condition of many refugees still fleeing Chinese occupation in Tibet, such as renown physician Dr. Choedrak, who spent time in labor camps and was “beaten so badly that one of his eyeballs had been dislocated”. His teeth were knocked out as well (Taklha 193). This doctor, who needed medical treatment himself, was there to assist Gyalyum, mother of the Dalai Lama and of Lobsang. Tragically, not only did Gylalyum soon pass, but Lobsang followed not much longer, having succumbed to liver ailments. After the death of her beloved husband, Taklha largely withdrew into her Buddhist studies to find solace in dharma. Eventually, she would depart again to work on the Hollywood movies Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet, films which performed extremely well among Western audiences.

As stated earlier, the purpose of Taklha’s narrative is to provide a framework for youths of the Tibetan diaspora. Her introductory remarks express that this is the primary intent of her book, which is understandable in the context that her life has been spent helping many of these youths to settle into lives on foreign shores. Her unique perspective is effective in conveying essential notions of Tibetan culture, which she describes as “rich and fascinating” but also “quickly disappearing” (Taklha 7). Having grown up at a transitory time in Tibet, witnessing the development of China’s occupation throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s, she is able to comment on the manner with which Chinese control of the region gradually developed.
The importance of Taklha’s unique perspective is accentuated by her own experience in Chinese-run schools. She discusses how she was “part of a group of energetic youths ushering in the modern world and helping Tibet”, and that she “did not analyze Chinese motives, nor see their clever policy of using Tibetan youths to establish their occupation” (Taklha 74-75). In these observations on the Chinese occupation, Taklha is able to explain how the transformation of Tibet occurred over time, through the subtle influence on youths and other members of their society. Eventually, this gradual stranglehold progressed to a full-fledged occupation. Through this duty to share her useful perspective, and the various Tibetan youths she supports throughout her life, it is clear that her book, and her life, exist for more than her own sake. She has endeavored to help the future of the Tibetan people.

Taklha’s life has been spent assisting Tibetan refugees across three continents, with compassion and perseverance that is beyond understanding. She references a Buddhist quotation at one point which states: “If you want happiness, think of the welfare of others; if you want suffering, think of the welfare of yourself” (Taklha 202). She appears to have embodied this concept throughout her life. While her journey has not been an easy one, she appears grateful for the challenges it has posed, and stronger because of them. She concludes by saying that she “will look forward to the day (she) can stand beneath the turquoise sky in Lhasa”, and that upon returning to Tibet, she “will have made a full circle on the wheel of life” (Taklha 222). In her rotation of the wheel, she has touched the lives of many.