Meet the Khampa warriors, who even the Chinese feared

Written By: Major Amit Bansal (Retd) WION
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Dec 20, 2017, 11:20 AM(IST)

The emblem used by the Khampa warriors. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Kham, a region in the south east of the ancient mighty Tibetan Kingdom is the birthplace of all Khampas, the legendary and fierce warriors mentioned in the history. A rugged mountainous area comprising of Hengduan mountains and several river valleys are like the nature of Khampas - looks pleasant when silent but can cause massive damage if disturbed. Kham area is referred in Tibetan history as "Chushi Gangdruk" which means the land of six mountains and four rivers.

Since the very start, the Khampa warriors have been an integral part of Tibetan Army and have been protecting His Holiness Dalai Lama even at the cost of their lives. For a Khampa, life is always dedicated to his land and he is expected to fight till the last drop of his blood.

When Communist China started invading the land of Buddha in 1950, and razed their monasteries in eastern Tibet, the Khampas or the "Buddha Warriors" - a name by which they are also known - formed different armed groups to fight.

In 1959, when His Holiness Dalai Lama had to flee to India after situations become uneasy with Beijing, local Khampa tribesmen formed a strong resistance movement employing their guerrilla warfare against the invading Chinese army. The warriors were without any support and had to sustain at their own in the very beginning until the US started supporting them. The main concern of Washington and the CIA was to stop the spread of Communism especially in the pretext of a possible collaboration between erstwhile USSR and China.

In the early sixties, the CIA decided to organise a covert military establishment inside Tibet. The Khampa's initial stories of success against China with their limited resource led the CIA to back the group with arms, funding and training them in guerrilla warfare from the late 1950s until 1969. The initial set of warriors were flown to the US and were trained in Camp Hale in Colorado.

Soon thereafter, they set up their base camps in the then-kingdom of Mustang, which was a remote Himalayan region bordering Tibet but geographically located in Nepal. The training was tough and climate was not favourable. Moreover, the warriors had problems of food and other resources but all that couldn't deter the Khampas from their target. The initial lot of Khampas was also known as "Mustang Warriors".

A former Khampa who also accompanied the Dalai Lama when he moved out of Tibet in 1959, says, "We were able to fight so hard because we were fighting for Tibet. The Tibetan people had lost their freedom. They were enduring many hardships. And we wanted to go return to Tibet. That was why we fought so hard."

Despite the hardships and the political and military pressure from both China and Nepal, the armed group did succeed in temporarily taking control of large areas of Tibet during the territorial conflict.

Since China feared these warriors and their potent guerrilla tactics, it compelled Nepal to send its forces into Mustang for the surrender of the Khampas. To avoid confrontation, the Dalai Lama, being the ultimate authority in Tibetan Buddhist culture, sent the fighters a taped message asking them to lay down their arms to spare themselves a bloody confrontation.

While some of the warriors accepted the Dalai Lama's request, few of them chose to commit suicide rather than disobey their spiritual leader or face dishonour by surrendering. Even those who surrendered were murdered in cold blood by the joint team of Chinese and Nepalese army including the entire leadership of Khampa movement with their last General Wangdu, their last leader.

You can kill few Khampas but not their spirit which is still alive in the Kham region. In the subsequent years, more and more Khampas took the oath to fight for their land and the Dalai Lama and formed another movement with the support of Indian government. "The movement will not die till we get back our motherland back from China. No matter how many of us perish but very soon we will be successful," says another fighter of the rank of a Colonel who is desperately waiting to fight for his leader, the Dalai Lama and his country.

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