Between 1950 and 1958, the presence of the chinese communist in Tibet brought political, economic, and religious changes to the Tibetan people, along with vast suffering and rampant destruction of their way of life. In 1958, Rinpoche left the monastery with Thrangu Rinpoche, Traleg Rinpoche, Zuru Tulku, and other monks. Though many sacred objects and volumes of dharma texts were destroyed, Rinpoche was able to save some.
With small provisions of food and clothing, and a few horses, Rinpoche and his party began their long trek westward, and were soon joined by a caravan of nomads with their flock of sheep. After fifteen days of travel, the Rinpoches stopped to rest, only to find themselves surrounded by chinese communist soldiers. Since night was falling, the Tibetan refugees were able to escape via a nearby swamp, and readied three horses to carry Thrangu Rinpoche, Traleg Rinpoche, and Zuru Tulku. Zuru Tulku, who was the eldest, could not have survived on horseback, so Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche's younger brother carried him.
Everyone headed in separate directions across the swamp, which was very flat but punctuated with small gorges and areas where one could easily and quickly hide. On the second day, Rinpoche found a few of the monks and was relieved to know they were alive and unhurt. Gradually, the remaining monks were found and on the seventh day of their escape from the soldiers, they were joined by the Rinpoches. The party survived those seven days without food since the mule carrying the provisions had disappeared. They ate snow to prevent dehydration, and were forced to return to the place where the soldiers had surrounded them to look for food. The communist chinese were gone, and almost nothing was left but a few utensils and a little flour.
Carrying the meager ration of flour, the lamas continued their journey. Their vision was blurring and they were so weak they had to avoid even the smallest incline by walking around it. After another week of travel, the Rinpoches found a horse carrying tsampa, a staple of roasted barley flour. They mixed this with water and although the mixture was very thin, a ten-course dinner could not have been more appreciated. A few days later, the lamas met some nomads who gave them more provisions.
Two and a half months later and without further incidents, the lamas reached the area of Tsurphu Monastery, not far from Lhasa in central Tibet. The Rinpoches spent a month at Tsurphu, which was still operating normally. But His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, with his profound understanding and vision, was completely aware of the impending danger. He told the group they must leave Tsurphu and continue toward Sikkim and India. On March 7, 1959, His Holiness gave the lamas five yaks and supplies and three days later, they left Tsurphu. In fifteen days, they reached the border between Tibet and Bhutan.
The Bhutanese would not grant immediate passage through their country, so the lamas were forced to spend one month at the blockaded border, when more than a thousand Tibetans died of starvation. Finally, His Holiness the Dalai Lama secured the permission of the Indian government for the refugees to enter India. They were given rations, and the Bhutanese opened two roads through Bhutan. The Rinpoches traveled through to Buxador, a town at the border of India and Bhutan. Former prison quarters served as their housing, and food was provided by the Indian government.