How I didn't get a Tibetan tattoo

I have been back from my holiday in India and Sri Lanka little more than a week.  While in India we went to the Dharamshala valley and in particular to Mcleodganj, the small town in the foothills of the Himalayas in the state of Himachal.  From there you can see the Dhauladhar Mountains.

This is the home of the exiled Dalai Lama and everywhere in the town you see Tibetan monks and many refugees.  My eyes also caught the many posters for a tattoo studio in town and I hunted it down.

It wasn't as easy as I imagined it would be to find  as I followed the many signs which took me down allies, across a rubbish dump and then into what in Indian terms might be described as a suburb.  The sign here is not on the actual building of the shop but some small distance away on the wall of a restaurant.
I arrived a little before six in the evening with the intent to have a look around and a chat.  I often do this at tattoo studios when I'm on holiday whether it be Cornwall, Holland or Spain. As I walked in I was politely and with a big smile asked to take off my shoes byTamding Tsetan, the tattooist.  Unwittingly there is proof of my presence as I can be seen in a mirror on his wall.

He was not alone.  With him were some western visitors and friends.  There was David a youngish bearded American, with whom he was as thick as thieves.  And Ben a young German, who said very little and a young British woman, who I think was Sammy but my memory probably fails  me here.

Tamding had finished tattooing for the day but I was encouraged to linger and chat and eventually strip to show my extensive tattoos.  They were very surprised.  I learned that Tamding was a refugee from Tibet who a few years earlier had spent many treacherous days walking through the Himalayas to find his wasy to India and safety.

The next day I phoned and arranged to be tattooed at 11:00 am and then easily made way back across the rough terrain.  I selected a smallish Tibetan motif to be placed on my right wrist.  Although tiny compared with my other work, it would have been a big step towards having a more visible tattoo. All my other work is well hidden when I am clad.

Tamding had just selected the outline on his computer, adjusted it to the right size and was about to print it and then out went the lights.  There was a power cut.  I hung around for an hour during which Tamding and David rehearsed a protest song about freeing Tibet, they planned to record, all too common in this area of India.

Tamding is also a musician and uses his art to publicise the cause.  One that is much in evidence in Mcleodganj, as can be seen by this demonstration the day before in the centre of town with three actors with pretend cameras on them representing those Tibetan who have given their lives to the campaign to free themselves from China.

Alas, the power didn't return and I had run out of time so had to leave uninked.  But there is a postcript...

This Friday at home I opened up the latest issue of Total Tattoo and nearly fell off my chair when I saw the article on page 52.  There was a long report on Tamding Tsetan.  Now that's what I call a coincidence.  No mention was made to me by Tamding of having been interviewed by a British tattoo magazine during our long chat, so it came as a complete surprise to me.  Check it out at and you will learn much more about Tamding's frightening and dangerous flight from Tibet.

You can find out more about Tamding at or phone him at 91-9816367977


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