How to Smuggle Tibetan Soil to India
By Margherita Stancati (WSJ): Last October, an artist laid out 20 tons of soil smuggled from China’s Tibetan regions in a basketball court in Dharamsala, the Himalyan hill town where the Dalai Lama and many other Tibetan exiles are based.
Tenzing Rigdol, the artist behind the stunt, at the time kept mum on how he successfully smuggled that much soil past Chinese authorities and into India. He told India Real Time “it was difficult from day one,” declining to comment further.
A childhood friend of Mr. Rigdol, Tibetan filmmaker Tenzin Tsetan Choklay, documented this whole process and is now working on a film detailing how the soil made it to India.
The pair, who are now based in New York, first met as toddlers in a school for Tibetan refugees in India, where they were born.
The documentary, called “Bringing Tibet Home,” is currently in production and is set for release by the end of the year.
The trailer for the film, which recently released, shows Mr. Rigdol speaking on the phone about bags of soil being kept in storage and “hidden in a forest by the border,” suggesting the soil was smuggled overland.
We’ll have to wait for the film’s release to know which border he was referring to – presumably China’s mountainous frontier with either India or Nepal. These are common routes for Tibetans fleeing into India.
Footage shows Mr. Rigdol examining the soil – bundled in bags – as it arrives to its destination in a truck at night.
There is more to this art project than an act of defiance. Mr. Rigdol, who is based in New York, had a clear goal: to give Tibetans living in exile a chance to set foot on Tibetan soil.
He had his father in mind when he came up with the idea. Like many Tibetans, Mr. Rigdol’s father escaped his homeland in the 1950s amid a major Chinese army crackdown that also forced the Dalai Lama to flee.
His father crossed the Himalayas and settled in Nepal before moving to the U.S. He often spoke of wanting to visit Tibet, but died before he could.
The installation used the sand to create an image of the Tibetan sun flag. It drew large numbers of people, including children born in exile and elders who fled Tibet decades ago.
The Dalai Lama, who has been based in India since the 1950s, blessed the soil, writing the word Tibet in it with his finger.