Tibet Passport of Tsepon Shakabpa

Tibet Passport Tsepon Shakabpa

Tsepon Shakabpa, who served as Tibet’s Secretary of Finance

Many centuries ago in Lhasa, atop the world’s roof, the first Tibetan passport was crafted. Acknowledged by numerous countries, this passport symbolized a strong endorsement of Tibet’s de facto independence. According to the world, it held immense historical importance, but mysteriously vanished from Kalimpong. Tibet Passport Tsepon Shakabpa

Despite extensive searches, the Tibetan Government’s passport used by Tsepon Shakabpa, Tibet’s Secretary of Finance (1930-1950), was found and retrieved from a Nepalese antique dealer.

The Dalai Lama securely holds the passport, receiving it from the Friends of Tibet (India), the driving force in recovering this historically significant document for the Tibetan people.

“We are greatly pleased to have reclaimed this passport, which holds immense historical value for us. This passport serves as tangible evidence of Tibet’s independence, acknowledged by the countries visited by its bearer,” stated Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.

Tsepon Shakabpa, a prolific author known for works such as “Tibet: A Political History,” served as the official representative of the Dalai Lama in New Delhi until 1966. Following his passing in Kalimpong in 1989, the passport went missing.

Rediscovery Tibet Passport Tsepon Shakabpa

The recovery of the passport is the result of an initiative by Friends of Tibet (India), who have spent the past year collecting historically significant artifacts from independent Tibet. These items will be showcased in an exhibition titled “Story of a Nation: Independent, Occupied, and Exiled Tibet.”

“With the assistance of one of our advisors and supporters, Geshe Pema Dorje, we came across the passport in the possession of an antique dealer in Nepal. Recognizing the document’s profound significance, we sought to acquire it. The owner agreed to sell it at a reduced price on the condition that it would be handed over to the Dalai Lama.

After a lengthy series of negotiations and trust-building efforts, the owner ultimately consented to sell the document, along with other associated papers. The document then made a momentous voyage to Dharamshala, where officials officially presented it to the Dalai Lama, effectively ending years of distress. This account was provided by Tenzin Tsundue, the general secretary of the Friends of Tibet.

The Passport Tibet Passport Tsepon Shakabpa

The passport is a substantial document, made from traditional Tibetan handcrafted paper, and displays a weathered, aged appearance. It features numerous stamps from various countries that granted visas and transit permits to Shakabpa. This passport was issued by the Kashag in Lhasa on October 10, 1947. Notably, it bears recognition stamps from various countries, including India, the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, Switzerland, and France.

Passport Details

“The bearer of this letter – TSEPON SHAKABPA – Chief of the Finance Department of the Government of Tibet is hereby sent to China, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and other countries to explore and review trade possibilities between these countries and Tibet. We shall, therefore, be grateful if all the Governments concerned on his route would kindly give due recognition as such, grant necessary passport, visa etc. without any hindrance and render assistance in all possible ways to him.”

Seal of the KASHAG (Cabinet of Tibet), Lhasa. Dated this 26th day of the 8th month of FIRE-PIG year (Tibetan) – 10 October 1947 in the Gregorian calendar). Tibet Passport Tsepon Shakabpa

A passport issued by the Tibetan Government and used by Tsepon Shakabpa, the then Tibet's Secretary of Finance (1930-1950) was recovered from an antique dealer in Nepal.
A passport issued by the Tibetan Government and used by Tsepon Shakabpa, the then Tibet’s Secretary of Finance (1930-1950) was recovered from an antique dealer in Nepal.

Visas Tibet Passport Tsepon Shakabpa

The passport showcases stamps from India, the US, the UK, France, Italy, Switzerland, Pakistan, Iraq, and Hong Kong. Strikingly absent among these stamps is any indication of a visit to China. Notably, some of the visa entries bear indications of official status, with designations such as “Diplomatic courtesy,” “Service visa,” “Official gratis,” “Diplomatic visa,” and “For government official.”


The Tibetan government, before World War II, issued its own passports to individuals entering its borders or the limited number of Tibetans venturing abroad. The term “passports” at that time encompassed visas and various travel documents. The historical records show the issuance of a Tibetan passport to a foreign traveler in 1688. This passport was given to an Armenian merchant named Johannes.

Notably, the Tibetan government granted official approval for the inaugural Everest expedition in 1921. Charles Bell, a British diplomat visiting Lhasa, documented the receipt of a formal passport from the Tibetan government, authorizing the ascent of Mount Everest. Subsequent Everest expeditions in 1922, 1924, and 1936 also secured passports from the Tibetan authorities. These passports extended beyond exploration, being issued for scientific endeavors such as the Schaeffer expedition (1939), Tucci’s expedition (1949), and Frank Kingdon Ward’s botanical exploration (1924).

In 1942, President Roosevelt’s envoys to Tibet were presented with passports at Yatung. During their 1949 visit, Americans Lowell Thomas Jr. and Sr. obtained “Tibetan Passports” in Dhomo. Reflecting on this experience, one of the travelers remarked on the significance of the Dalai Lama’s passport, suggesting its high value to Western explorers attempting to reach Lhasa.

The evolution of Tibetan passports took a modern turn in 1948. It featured personal information, a photograph, and sections for visas and endorsements. This progressive passport model was first issued to members of the Tibetan trade mission. It followed the international one-page fold-out model from 1915.

Notably, countries including Britain, the USA, and seven others issued visas and transit visas for this innovative Tibetan passport.


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FAQ Passport History pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट

1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...

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