Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Tibet Mirror: The first Tibetan newspaper, now only a memory

KALIMPONG, India, 12 May 2005

October 1930 issue of the Tibet Mirror.

Once a potpourri of flourishing trade and hub of secret agents from Britain, Tibet,China, India, America's CIA and probably other countries, Kalimpong seems today a mere worn-out town where every one is only catching up on their lives.

"After Tibet lost its independence (in 1959), Kalimpong's importance also diminished. There was no more trade between Tibet and India under Tibet's new ruler, and it (Kalimpong) was no more of any political significance," says 76-year-old Phurbu Dhondup, an elderly Tibetan living in the town.

It was then the Tibetans brought wool to India, while on return they carried all kinds of household goods—you name it, you have it.

It was here that the first Tibetan newspaper was born. "The Tibet Mirror Press; Established 1925", reads the sign board on the crumbling tinned house, near the 10th Milestone (doesn't exist now though) on Giri road.

Albeit the first Tibetan-language newspaper, called "Ladakh ki Akhbar" (Ladakh's Newspaper), was published in 1904 by a Moravian missionary in Ladakh, the Tibet Mirror was truly the first Tibetan newspaper for its content and its mission: to educate the Tibetans.

Tharchin, the editor and publisher of the paper, made much effort to report on affairs of the world, to educate Tibetans and to encourage the opening up of Tibet to the changing modern world. He reported and commented on the imminent dangers of the approaching Chinese invasion.

Prof. Dawa Norbu later stated, "It is no exaggeration to say that if the ruling classes in Lhasa and New Delhi had heeded what Tharchin Babu was saying, Tibet's modern fate might have been different."

Tharchin Babu (circa 1970s)

Portrait of Tharchin Babu (Circa 1970s), photographed from a photo at his family home in Kalimpong.
Yulchog Sosoi Sargyur Melong (Mirror of News from All Sides of the World) was the original Tibetan name of the Tibet Mirror. The first issue of the newspaper came out in October 1925. The issues came out at irregular intervals.

The newspaper chronicled an important era of Tibetan history including the looming communist Chinese invasion of Tibet, and started a new wave of literary activism in Tibet often pitting the conservatives against the reformists of that era.

"It was my grandfather who did all the work of the newspaper. He selected the news from the newspapers he subscribed to and translated them for the paper," David Tharchin, grandson of Tharchin, explained from what he knew about his grandfather.

Of the fifty initial copies, most were sent to his friends in Lhasa, including one to the 13th Dalai Lama. The 13th Dalai Lama became an ardent reader of the paper and encouraged Tharchin to continue with the publication, at least to educate him about the changing outside world. The current 14th Dalai Lama inherited the subscription of the late 13th.

However, the paper came to an end in 1962, and Tharchin died in 1976. "My grandfather was getting too old to continue the paper, and my father was not interested in it," David recalled.

Tharchin Babu's only son, Sherab Gyamtsho Tharchin passed away on the 5th of this month at the age of 70 after a brief illness with lung complications. He was survived by his wife and seven children. David Tharchin, the second son, provided all the information about Tharchin Babu.

The Tibet Mirror Press building in Kalimpong

The Tibet Mirror Press, the publisher of the first Tibetan newspaper (1925), on Giri road, Kalimpong.

A few paragraphs in this piece will not do any justice to tell about mighty Tharchin Babu. A work in two volumes has been published on the life and times of this formidable personality by the author Herbert Louis Fader. The books are directly available from his family home in Kalimpong. Contact: David Tharchin. Email:

Tharchin was a Khunu native in Himachal Pradesh, born in Poo village in 1890. His full name was Gergan Dorje Tsering Tharchin, and he later came to be known as Khunu Tharchin Babu by Tibetans. He was baptised as a Christian by Moravian missionaries in the region, but retained his Tibetan name.

The story of Tharchin Babu, a journalist and pastor, does not stop with the Tibet Mirror. He, along with his second wife, Margaret Tharchin, had also started an orphanage in 1962. Today there are about 40 children in the children's home. The home has a budget request also. If interested to get a copy of their brochure or to sponsor a child, contact David at the same email id as above.

Today, there are about 2700 Tibetans living in Kalimpong, including five Tibetan clusters whose jurisdiction falls under the Kalimpong Tibetan Welfare Office.

There are two schools for Tibetans. People's main livelihood is from their various businesses including hotels and restaurants. They also make noodles, incense, phing (glass noodle) and traditional Tibetan boots, which are exported all over Tibetan settlements in India.

Nepali is the chief language of almost all the Tibetan youngsters here. Tibetan is not spoken and in many cases Tibetan is already an alien language for them. They prefer to use Hindi or English to converse with Tibetans from outside.

"We know we (people from Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Gangtok) are called 'To ro mo ro' (for 'broken Tibetan with Nepali accent') by other Tibetans, but our quest for a free Tibet maybe is stronger than theirs," says Ola, a youth.

The Tibet Mirror Press sign board in Kalimpong

The sign board of the Tibet Mirror Press, which published the first Tibetan newspaper in 1925, on Giri Road, Kalimpong.

"We do not have political events here but we actively participate when a call comes from Dharamsala," Ola added.

There are 10 monasteries in Kalimpong. One of them—Tharpa Choeling (also Samten Choeling in Darjeeling)—is known to be propitiating Shugden.

Ola was forthright with his mind and beliefs. He admitted that he propitiates Shugden, the deity the Dalai Lama denounces.

"Our family have been believing in the deity for generations. How can one quit it all of a sudden," Ola says.

The acts of the cadre of the Tibetan Youth Congress, storming into peoples homes and destroying the images of Shugden, was a bitter experience for Ola.

"Forcing on people was not the way to do and that's not democratic either. And because of such acts China got a tool to exploit from the situation."

"His Holiness the Dalai Lama is still my supreme leader and he is my root spiritual guru," Ola says.

To ward off the melancholy of the town, a walk with a camera loaded with a black and white roll would alleviate your mood, as classic black and white photo ops of an old town are plentiful in Kalimpong.


  1. What a wonderful story! I wonder if this Tharchin knew my grandmother's aunt Anna Kempe wo in the 1930's worked in Kalimpong as a missionary from Finland? According to her letters she knew a Tharchin, but can it be the same?? I am researching her story and came upon this Tharchin. Her mothers brother was, by the way also a teacher/journalist in Finland. Maybe there actually is a connection there? Anybody who could tell me more about this please contact Maria at: imageria (a)

  2. Yes, if it was a Tharchin in Christian circles in Kalimpong you can be sure he's your man! You can find out more, but you'll have to read a very thick two-volume book. I haven't seen it myself, yet, but it should be possible to order it from India and have it quickly enough. Try schmoogling the title.

    The Life and Times of a True Son of Tibet, Gergan Dorje Tharchin.


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