World Tibet Network News
Wednesday, October 11, 2000
6. True Love in two worlds Overcoming mountains for true love
Kate Karko?s friends and family said it was a holiday romance gone too
far, but the middle- class student was destined to be with the beautiful
Tibetan who had never seen a TV set or used a knife and fork. Gillian
Ferguson meets her
11 OCTOBER 2000
SCOTLAND'S NATIONAL NEWSPAPER
Collecting dung, milking yaks, sleeping in communal beds and breaking
ice from a stream to wash; it?s not the stuff most English brides dream
of, but few marry a nomadic Tibetan tribesman from the remote eastern
grasslands on the roof of the world.
"I saw a man dancing wildly, eyes closed, long dark hair swirling,
oblivious to everything around him, and he looked so exotic, so
beautiful - I was instantly entranced," says Kate Karko of the moment
she first saw her husband.
Tsedup, who was living in exile at the small northern Indian hill
station of Dharmsala , sensed her glances at the party and came over.
"He talked as if he was part of the earth, not on it, and told me about
the great golden eagles and mountains of his Tibetan homeland," she
says. "Quite a novel chat-up line." Intrigued, she "trailed" him,
passing his home-made bread street stall opposite the Dalai Lama?s
monastery. After a week, he told her he?d dreamt of her and the romance
began. Instantly inseparable, taking a small house in a valley of
corncobs - complete with night-mooing cow downstairs - they spent hours
walking and talking, swimming naked in melt-water pools.
Tsedup spoke some English, and she learned he was born by the Yellow
River and had escaped over the mountains to India. She was a student,
born into a conventional London suburban background. Yet they were
completely in love. Kate had been travelling during her holidays, but
resolved to return. Back in England, she chucked her degree course and
did temping jobs. "My parents and some of my friends thought I was
bonkers, that it was a crazy holiday romance gone too far," she recalls.
"But I?ve never been so sure of anything in my life. We were so solid,
Kate and Tsedup married in an Indian registry office, an event which
unfortunately didn?t live up to the romantic nature of events so far,
with sarcastic notary, plastic pot plants and certificate "on school loo
Kate then brought Tsedup to London, but says she severely underestimated
the difficulties of the alien lifestyle. Initially excited at his first
plane journey, eager to fill in impressions gleaned from the odd Western
tourist and from films, he became miserable. Loos, knives and forks were
novelties, but he found the traffic and the Tube intolerable, and with
Kate at work, was lonely. "Coming from a very communal existence, he
just couldn?t understand why nobody speaks," she explains. "He?d also
navigated by mountains, and was always getting lost."
He had to sleep with windows wide open, and one day on a production line
left him "utterly distraught". However, television, which he?d never
seen before, proved a lifeline. "Nature is part of his heart," says
Kate, and Tsedup was able to watch wildlife programmes. Kate also sent
his picture to several model agencies, and soon he was photographed for
Paul Smith, Benetton and Sony PlayStation, playing Eskimos, Cherokees
and even the odd Mongolian warlord. Things improved, yet Tsedup missed
his family and homeland desperately - and now had to wait another four
years for his British passport.
"He was always talking about the tribe, and I felt I didn?t know half of
him. I was desperate to see him in context," says Kate. Eventually, his
visa arrived, and after nine years he could go home. Kate would now go
as his bride to live with the nomads on the remote Machu grasslands.
After a long journey by plane and road - the final stretch into the
grasslands alone being a bumpy ten hours - Kate found herself
immediately swept up into the heart of the family. Tsedup?s weeping
mother greeted her as "Namma", meaning bride or daughter-in-law. "The
reunion was incredibly emotional and moving," she recalls. "Everyone ran
towards us from their tents in the dark, crying and clutching."
Come daylight, Kate could see "a breathtaking landscape of craggy
mountains, pristine blue skies, and verdant valley". She donned the
magnificent traditional dress: embroidered under-dress, bulky tsarer
with snow-leopard trim, gold braid and woven hem, all tied together with
a vibrant red sash and worn with heavy silver jewellery. All were amazed
at her knickers, especially the amount of eight pairs.
For six months she experienced tribal life, observing Buddhist worship
and shamanic rituals, and evoking no hostility whatever but much
curiosity on shopping trips to town. For many visiting nomads, she was
the first Westerner they had seen. And despite problems with
communication, lack of showers and the nearest decent hospital being ten
hours away, she felt loved, and loved them, from the very start.
"They?re such generous, funny, warm-hearted, accepting, nurturing
people," she says.
And it is striking when speaking to Kate that the story is not just of
her and Tsedup, but of the unlikely love between the two families.
Kate?s father wrote to reassure Tsedup?s father they were taking care of
him, and he replied on fragile paper in an exquisite hand, silk prayer
scarf enclosed. It translated: "It is almost inconceivable that two
families, so very far away from one another, should be joined, as we
have been, in the coming together of Tsedup and Kate."
Tsedup?s parents rode six miles to the nearest international phone, and
his mother, who had never before used a telephone, told Tsedup that she
now had three daughters instead of two. Kate wrote back to Tsedup?s
mother: "I miss you and I don?t even know you."
Kate misses her new family very much, writing a book about her
experiences to "give something back", but feels she could not live with
the tribe permanently. "It?s wonderful, so mysterious and mystical," she
says. "But it?s a hard life for a woman - cooking, milking, gathering
dung. Physically, I wouldn?t be up to it."
The couple may retire to Tibet, appreciating the reverence shown to old
people, and have built a summer house there. But meantime, their baby
son - named Gonbochab, "Blessed by the Saviour", by the Tibetan child
lama - will symbolise the union of cultures. "I want him to inherit the
best of both," says Kate. "He?s truly loved in two worlds."