Tibetan Road Builders

Tibetan Road Builders- the untold stories of the earliest Tibetan rufugees 

The earliest Tibetan refugees who fled Tibet found themselves on an extremely dangerous and unforgiving path to exile. As the situation in Tibet worsened and news of Chinese atrocities spread across all three provinces of Tibet, more and more Tibetans geared towards an exilic life.

Tibetans, eventually numbering almost to one hundred thousand, began to pour into the areas bordering India, Nepal, Burma and Bhutan. Struggling against great odds with their minds heavy and bodies often almost lifeless, they entered foreign lands. These first Tibetan exiles suffered from depression, shock, malnutrition, and a sense of existential crisis due to being torn away from their native land. Additionally, the stark differences in the diet, customs, language and weather took a severe physical and mental toll. 

These emotionally strangled, physically battered, culturally uprooted and financially drained Tibetans placed their undivided faith and solidarity toward the very young spiritual and political leader, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. These first Tibetan refugees with guidance and fatherly-care from His Holiness, slowly began to stand on their feet as they embraced hammers, spades and dynamites, and chiseled and carved through the stubborn and hostile mountains of northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan and Tibet. Thus Tibetans began exile as lam-so wa, “Tibetan Road Builders.”

H.H the 14th Dalai Lama giving audience to Tibetan Road Builders in India

In 2011, I recorded several interviews with my late maternal grandfather (he passed away in 2012). In those conversations he talked about his experiences as a road builder in Shimla, India in the early 1960s. From the very moment I heard his story, I realized its importance and thereafter started working on this project.

Though, the Tibetan road building events were historically important which succinctly captures the earliest formative and traumatic exile experiences of Tibetan refugees, surprisingly little to no historical research exist on the road builders. Extensive research and discussions on the Tibetan road builders was conducted with numerous experts on Tibetan history and it is the overwhelming consensus that no significant research is done on this key and formative event in Tibetan history.

A mother with her children at a road building site

I have completed 80 in-depth interviews so far. Each interview is four to six hours long with a follow up interview requiring another two to four hours. I have interviewed individuals from various social backgrounds: Rinpoche, Monk/nun, Aristocrat, teacher, scholar, nomad, farmer, Tibetan government officials along with the officials and staff members who had worked at the Tibetan road building sites.  Additionally, I have found many governments, institutions and non-governmental organizations that were involved in the facilitation of the Tibetan Road building projects. I have collected and continue to collect the documents pertaining to the history of Tibetan Road Builders. 

H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama with the Tibetan Road Builder supervisors

The next phase of interviews will be conducted in United States, Europe, India, Nepal and Australia. I intend to interview as many Tibetan road builders as possible before they all pass-away with their important and precious stories. Every story so far has been inspirational and I think Tibetans and people around the world could learn from their tumultuous yet comprehensive experience of being the earliest Tibetan refugees. Given the huge task ahead, I hope to complete the project by late 2017 to early 2018.

Tibetans Road builders, India

Your kind support will help me and my small but dedicated team to carry out the 2nd phase of the project to conduct 100-150 more interviews of Tibetan road builders.

An average of USD$300.00 covers the whole expense of taking a complete in-depth audio/video interviews of one individual and collect additional information, photographs and articles pertaining to Road building history. So far I have worked on this project on my own but at this phase, I would like to humbly request your kind assistance.

Thank You and Happy New Year 

Tenzing Rigdol
January 1st, 2017

Donations (0)

  • Anonymous 
    • $56 
    • 28 mos
  • kalsang doma 
    • $25 
    • 31 mos
  • Fabio Rossi 
    • $4,108 
    • 32 mos
  • Emma Martin 
    • $100 
    • 32 mos
  • Jane Stein 
    • $300 
    • 33 mos
See all


Tenzing Rigdol 
Jackson Heights, NY
  • #1 fundraising platform

    People have raised more money on GoFundMe than anywhere else. Learn more

  • GoFundMe Guarantee

    In the rare case that something isn’t right, we will refund your donation. Learn more

  • Expert advice, 24/7

    Contact us with your questions and we’ll answer, day or night. Learn more