Escape from the Chinese!
‘Kan an dro?’ The old man asked, where are you going?
‘Lhasa,’ I told him, it wasn’t true of course, but if anyone came to find me I hoped they would look in the wrong direction. Suddenly he stood up and looked out the window behind me. I looked around to see what he was looking at and felt the blood drain from my face. Just outside the yard walls was a white jeep and three police officers were walking up to the front door.
‘Oh my God! This can’t be happening!’ I muttered to myself as they walked through the door and sat down. I was literally minutes away from leaving, five more and I’d be gone; how could they turn up now? I could feel myself shaking, but once again I greeting the police and smiled calmly, playing the happy, innocent tourist.
The three officers, two Tibetans and one Chinese, sat and talked to the old man as his wife served them tea. My mind was racing, how could I get out of this? What the hell was I going to do? How had they found me? Was it a chance encounter? Or were they looking for me? Had they found out I’d been at Drugu, gone there, and then followed me here? I’d never find out, and at the moment I didn’t really care.
‘Passport?’ one of the officers said, finally addressing me.
‘Rey, rey.’ I smiled and nodded.
‘Passport!’ he demanded and held out his hand.
‘Oh, you want to see my passport? Oh, yes of course, it’s in my saddlebags on my horse, wait here and I’ll go and get it.’ I indicated this to the officers and stood up to go outside. Thankfully they sat and waited. Someone was protecting me.
I walked through the yard and round the corner to where my horses were tethered ready to go. I untied them, picked up the lead rope for the packhorse, jumped into the saddle and took off.
Seconds later we were cantering across the grassland heading west, the thump of my heart louder than the hoof-beats. I heard shouts behind me but didn’t look back. Oh my God, what am I doing? Buddha, please protect me!
When I reached the low hills on the other side of the grassland I looked back. The jeep was coming after me on a track around the side of the plain. I turned the horses and doubled back; the ground was rough and boggy and I knew the jeep wouldn’t be able to cross it. I passed within a few hundred yards of the village and saw the old man in front of his house waving out to me. I felt awful, he’d been so kind and could get in trouble for helping me- I was an escaped fugitive and he’d aided me in getting away. Of course, he had no idea who I was, but the Chinese might not be so forgiving. ‘Gawn da pala!’ I yelled, I’m sorry father, though I knew he was too far away to hear.
The jeep turned back and I found myself on a track heading into some hills as a front of snow blew in. The horses were running well, though this was certainly not the way I liked to become acquainted with two new horses, but both were well trained and gave me no trouble. I was terrified the saddlebags would come loose but they held firm. My ‘good fast horse karma’ had ripened sooner than I’d thought- I didn’t need to wait for the next life to be chased, it was happening now! The jeep was gaining, though, and I had to get off the track.
I headed into the hills just as the jeep came close enough for the police to shout to me. I kept riding but looked over my shoulder to see them jumping out of the vehicle and waving at me to come back. I put my head down and kept riding to the top of the ridge. To my dismay the track the jeep was on led around the hills and continued below. I rode along the ridge parallel with the track; the jeep turned off and headed towards me. The cops had picked up a couple of boys from the village and within a couple of hundred metres of me the ground became too steep for the jeep. It stopped and the nimble-footed boys started chasing me.
I took off, pushing the horses up the slope. The hill turned and one of the boys cut across and came within a few metres of me. He ran across the hillside shadowing me but not getting any closer. I could see fear in his face- he must have thought I was some kind of dangerous criminal. He stopped and picked up a rock to defend himself with.
‘Ma rey! Ma rey!’ I yelled and turned the horses higher out of his reach.
I crossed the track ahead of the jeep and carried on further into the hills; still the police shadowed me, stopping every so often to let the boys out, but they still couldn’t get close enough. I started up another gentle slope. The police saw their chance, turned off the track and headed after me. The hills before me were lower, the jeep could have covered them and there were enough hands in the jeep to surround me on a hill top.
I could hear the gears change down just behind me. I didn’t think I’d get much further, and I was losing me nerve. I wanted to give up. I didn’t want to be in any more trouble, I just wanted to be out of this awful situation. Although I still didn’t feel I’d done anything wrong, I was now firmly on the wrong side of the law.
The jeep’s wheels spun, the driver chopped it down and tried again, and I looked back to see it sliding sideways along the hillside- there was just enough snow on the ground to stop them! Thank you, Buddha! Thank you! Thank you! I felt like crying. I carried on to the top of another ridge and turned the horses to face the jeep, the police and the boys were now standing in front of it in resignation.
They yelled out and waved at me to come down. I yelled back and waved at them to come up. Something changed inside me. I still wasn’t safe, I knew they could still catch me- all they need were a few more hands, and I fully expected to be back in Naqu that night in police custody. The situation seemed hopeless. Oh what the hell, I might as well have some fun with this!
I rode on at a slower pace, and the jeep shadowed me at a distance, the officers knowing they couldn’t chase me into the snow covered hills. They stopped every so often and called out for me to come back and show them my passport. ‘No, you come up here!’ I’d yell back, and we’d ride on and repeat the little game a short time later.
Finally the hills steepened and became rockier. The jeep couldn’t pass through and stopped at a group of houses below the hills and everyone got out. I thought that would be the end of it; they would come after me on horseback and I knew there was no way I could outride a Tibetan. I carried on slowly, beginning to accept my inevitable fate and trying to enjoy my last ride, constantly looking back over my shoulder expecting to see the Tibetan cavalry bearing down on me.