“The Chinese hostilities became intolerable and it was clear that possibilities for a peaceful existence were becoming very unlikely. Realising that the cause of the Dharma would best be served by escaping from the Chinese, the 16th Karmapa decided that he had no choice but to move to more peaceful areas.
Accordingly, in 1959, accompanied by an entourage of one hundred and sixty lamas, monks and laymen, the 16th Karmapa left Tsurphu monastery, the ancient seat of the Karmapas since the twelfth century, and proceeded towards Bhutan. Accompanying him were Shamar Rinpoche, Gyaltsab Rinpoche and the fourth Ponlop Rinpoche, as well as many other incarnate lamas. Jamgon Kongtrul was already in Kalimpong, India, and Situ Tulku was in Bhutan.
Under the direction of the 16th Karmapa, the party was able to bring along the most precious of the sacred statues, ritual items, relics, icons, paintings, books and costumes that had been preserved at the Tsurphu monastery over the centuries. The hazardous and difficult journey, taking twenty-one days in all, passed through Lhodrag in southern Tibet, the birthplace of Marpa the Translator. Rites were performed at various sacred places on the way, for the welfare of all sentient beings and for the preservation of the Buddhist Dharma in the difficult times ahead.
The party arrived safely at Shabje Thang, in the Bumthang district of north Bhutan. They were most warmly welcomed by Her Royal Highness Tsultrim Palmo, the Aunt of His Royal Highness the King, and many ministers and high-ranking officials of the government. At this time, discussions were started with the Government of India, considering future plans for the resettlement of the 16th Karmapa and his many followers. It was decided that all should transit through Bhutan and settle temporarily in Dharamsala, North Western India.
There was one thought uppermost in the 16th Karmapa’s mind. Though in exile, he should not rest, but take responsibility for rekindling and revitalizing the torch of the Dharma, with the material and spiritual cooperation of Buddhists throughout the world. He felt that the Dharma had become like a lamp that needed a supply of vital oil, in order to burn with a clear strong light.
In his contemplation, the 16th Karmapa felt that Sikkim would be the best place to set about creating the conditions for the fulfillment of his mission. Sikkim was considered especially suitable on account of the natural Buddhist inclinations of the people and particularly as the country had been sanctified by a visit of Guru Padmasambhava in the distant past. Therefore he readily accepted the kind invitation to establish himself in that country.
Accompanied by Her Royal Highness Tsultrim Palmo of Bhutan, the 16th Karmapa led the party to Gangtok. Sir Tashi Namgyal, the Maharaja, offered him the choice of several sites in his kingdom for the location of the new monastery. Karmapa selected the site at Rumtek, where a Karma Kagyu monastery had been built during the time of his ninth incarnation, Wangchuk Dorje. This place possessed all the auspicious attributes needed for the site of a seat of the Karmapa: seven streams flowing towards it, seven hills facing it, a mountain behind, snow ranges in front, and a river below, spiralling downhill like the form of a conch shell.
The 16th Karmapa and his party immediately arranged to proceed directly to Rumtek. At that time Rumtek consisted of a monastery that was mostly in ruins, and about half a dozen huts surrounded by jungle. There was neither adequate accommodation nor facilities for preparing food.”