Destination freedom for boy on a bike

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DHARMSALA - 'I thought that India was so close - over the next two mountains,' said Tenzin, a 12-year-old with a perpetually startled face who resembles a Tibetan Tin-Tin. He and a gang of schoolfriends in Lhasa tried six times to ride their bicycles over the Himalayas to freedom, writes Tim McGirk.

'I was 10, the first time,' said Tenzin, who finally escaped on his seventh attempt, a 25-day journey on foot. He now lives in Dharmsala, in India, and cannot get word to his parents that he survived.

He said of that first trip: 'I didn't have any money or much food. All I took with me was a photograph of my family.' He reached Shigatse, a town at the edge of the Himalayas after two days and four punctures. It was there that police grabbed Tenzin and sent him back to Lhasa. The Chinese grew suspicious on hearing that several boys on cycles were asking directions to the Nepalese border. Neither the police nor his parents were much amused.

Tenzin's many attempts to escape ('I wanted to help the Dalai Lama, somehow') had earned him a reputation with the Chinese authorities in Lhasa, the capital, as a troublemaker. Finally, last December, he and several friends were overheard singing a nationalistic song called 'Blue Lake' outside Potala Palace, where the Dalai Lama had lived. They were arrested at gunpoint and dragged to the police station.

There, Tenzin was stripped naked and beaten with a whip made of electricity cables until he was bruised and swollen. He was released the next day, but police came to his school looking for him. 'I jumped over the fence and ran home.'

Fearing their son's re-arrest, Tenzin's parents gave him money, heavy clothes and found a monk who was also trying to escape to India. Pretending they were pilgrims, he and the monk were able to reach Shigatse and hire a guide to lead them over the dizzying passes.

(Photograph omitted)