LEH, India—A Tibetan soldier serving with a secret regiment within the Indian army died hours after the unit recaptured a mountain peak that India lost to China in their 1962 war, marking the first publicly recognized Tibetan military casualty in action against the People's Liberation Army.
Nyima Tenzin, 51, was on patrol with the covert unit on Aug. 29-30, when he was killed by a land mine laid by the Chinese on the treacherous, disputed Himalayan border that for the past few months has become an issue of serious contention between India and China.
"He recaptured the Black Top and was patrolling to another post when he got martyred on the way," Dhundup Tashi, Tenzin's brother-in-law, told The Epoch Times, while Tenzin's wife, Nyima Lhamo, 45, and son, Tenzin Daod, 14, were observing daily prayers in the family's courtyard.
The Epoch Times visited with the soldier's family, which is currently observing 49 days of mourning in their home in a Tibetan refugee colony on the outskirts of the town of Leh, 125 miles from the border region where he died.
"On the same day, he had telephoned his mother and wife in the morning, asking them to offer Solka (special prayer). He said there's some risk. I need to go for a special task," Tashi recalled.
On Aug. 30, at about 3 a.m., Indian army staff, along with a Tibetan representative, visited Tenzin's home and disclosed that he has been "martyred." His coffin arrived on the third day draped in an Indian flag and was later adorned with a Tibetan flag, which is banned in the People's Republic of China.
His funeral on Sept. 7 was attended by a senior leader of India's ruling party who was accompanied by Ladakh's representative to the Indian Parliament, also from the ruling party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Special Frontier ForceTenzin belonged to the Special Frontier Force, also called the Vikas regiment—a covert, specially trained paramilitary unit based near the central Himalayan town of Dehradun and established after the India-China war of 1962.
Inside the Tenzin household, all the relatives gathered to offer support with the elaborate Tibetan prayers that happen from morning to evening for 49 days. His youngest, 5-year-old son Tenzin Goyalgsen, played outside on the dusty, narrow road, oblivious to the fact that he will never see his father again.
"My father worked for 35-36 years for the army," his sobbing daughter, Tenzin Zompa, 17, told The Epoch Times. "He used to tell us that he loves India and the Tibet country a lot, and he will even give his life for it."
Zompa said her father was to retire from the military next year and had plans for her education—he wanted her to become a doctor. The family had purchased their first car a few months ago and had plans for local sightseeing once he returned.
Minutes before Zompa arrived in the room, Tenzin's mother, Dawaplazom, 76, sat expressionless, rotating her rosary beads while Tashi's wife offered butter tea to people gathered in the room.
"I was 22-year-old and pregnant with my oldest son when we migrated from Tibet to Chamthal, Hanle. We lived there till 2009, when we migrated to Leh," Dawaplazom said.
She's one of more than 100,000 people who migrated to India after Mao Zedong ordered the People's Liberation Army to march into Tibet and after the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa. She stays in one of the 11 Tibetan refugee colonies in Leh.
Tenzin was the only one among her three sons who joined the SFF, and Tenzin's 14-year-old son, Tenzin Daod, has no thoughts of following in his footsteps.
"Don't tell lies. Don't do bad things. Never do drugs," Daod recalled his father's advice.
"Whenever he visited home for a holiday, he would buy me everything I wanted," the shy teenager said, while reclining in a corner of the green-painted room, layered with carpets that were visibly trodden by many mourners.
Lhamo, who had finished with the prayers in the courtyard, sat watching, while her hands worked on the beads of a Buddhist rosary.
"My husband, the caretaker of my family is gone. I have a little one," said Lhamo, pointing to Goyalgsen. "I tell my children to never give up and to be like their father."
While the situation on the disputed border in eastern Ladakh between India and China continues to remain tense and all routes to the border from Leh are closed, Tenzin's family has many immediate things to manage.
Tashi notes the overbearing cost of the 49 days of rituals that must be performed because Tenzin didn't die a natural death.
"It's for peace for his soul," he said while adding that the family also prays for the soldiers currently stationed at the border.
"China has no humanity. They are Rakshasas [demons]," said Tashi. "Our soldiers are sitting there. We pray that they protect our territory."