Touch and Go

Chögyam Trungpa's Epic Journey to the West


Touch and Go – The Project’s Journey

Trungpa Rinpoche’s account of his escape from Tibet is a treasure of a teaching, long hidden in broad daylight. For students it’s a source of unending spiritual insight and inspiration; for the world it offers a remarkable story of human adventure, resilience, courage and humour. It is a parable for our times, an inspirational story for walking our own paths through harsh terrain and bleak times.

Since 2009, the fiftieth anniversary of Trungpa Rinpoche’s escape from Tibet, we have uncovered increasing depths to the story he described in the last part of Born in Tibet. The project has unfolded in three main phases:

  • Phase I consisted of confirming the route of the escape – the research for which had began around 2006 – and then making the 2011 Touch and Go movie, which retold the story using satellite imagery from Google Earth and Microsoft Flight Simulator to illustrate the route’s terrain.
  • In Phase II, with the generous support of friends, we travelled to Nepal and Scotland in 2012 to interview survivors of the escape: Yonten Gyamtso, Trungpa Rinpoche’s attendant during the escape; Palya and Drupju Washutsong, whose family joined Rinpoche’s group;  and Lama Yeshe Rinpoche at Samye Ling. In personal communications, interviews and Samye Ling publications, the late Akong Rinpoche also shared his own recollections.
  • In Phase III we compiled the research and set to work to share its fruits.

Our primary aim was always to make a movie, either a full-length documentary or feature, for which the escape story’s a natural. We had hoped that some film person in the community might take the lead. That did not happen and – for a slew of reasons, including advancing age and the fact that we are not experienced script-writers, producers or movie-makers – this objective has been shelved for the time being.

In 2016 Grant MacLean published From Lion’s Jaws: Chögyam Trungpa’s Epic Escape to the West. It retells the story of the escape, reworking it to make it more accessible to Western readers, while including vital facts that Trungpa Rinpoche chose to omit from Born in Tibet. It also weaves in survivors’ recollections and author commentary to highlight the meaning events where they might not be obvious. In the months since its release the book has been warmly received by students, professional reviewers and a broad variety of readers.

From Lion’s Jaws has brought together all we know of the escape, drawing out its shape in a natural dramatic format. Along with Born in Tibet it provides all the necessary material for a movie when the time is auspicious.

ERRATA: Please note these factual errors in the video

In Part 1 Rinpoche’s age is described as 20; in fact he was 19.
In Part 3 the narrative states “ … only fourteen made it across (the Brahmaputra) that night.”; the actual number might have been as high as seventy. A possible source of this second error is discussed in the essay From Lion’s Jaws: Uncovering a Treasure, here [link].

These errors are corrected in From Lion’s Jaws: Chögyam Trungpa’s Epic Escape to the West (2016).

Reviews and Readers’ Comments

Please send comments and questions to

“… a beautiful job of tracing Rinpoche’s escape from Tibet. This is a story of historical importance that needs to be remembered … in years to come.”
-Lady Diana Mukpo

“… riveting from beginning to end. Skillfully produced and executed. I’ve never experienced a documentary like it.” -Rudy Wurlitzer (writer, Little Buddha, Wind, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, …)

” … one of the greatest of the great escape stories ever told, Touch and Go will stop
your mind and open your heart. Watch this wonderful video.” -Kent Martin (eminent Canadian producer of over 100 movies)

“Turn off all the lights … and let Grant MacLean take you over the Himalayas … the courage, danger and icy beauty all come through … as Trungpa Rinpoche miraculously survives to bring Buddhism to the west.” -Johanna Demetrakas (director, Crazy Wisdom; Celebration at Big Sur)

“The entire video is masterful! I cried my way through the whole journey in awe of the perseverance. And through it all for Rinpoche to write that beautiful song about pristine awareness, the magnificent goddess. When the jet propeller roared the lion’s roar so the tears poured from my hearts’ eyes. Yes, dramatic but this, Trungpa’s story was and still is as spoken so beautifully in the film a dramatic change for the whole world.” -Hildy Maze

“What an amazing job you are doing! The hardships come through in the photos, soundtrack, narration and quotes. I felt chilled watching it! And in suspense, too. Some of the shots you have captured are truly beautiful.” -Nancy Natilson, Tampa, FLA

“… really loved it. Draws you right in and makes you forget it is google earth or flight sim … totally pro. I can’t wait to see part 3 …” -Lennart Krogoll, St. Margaret’s Bay, NS

“Wonderful, full of suspense. Am looking forward to Part 3 more than I looked forward to the last Harry Potter book.” -Hedy Bookin-Weiner, Norfolk, VA

“Bravo, once again.” -JF

Just viewed part two of Touch and Go. Marvellous, nail-biting experience. Seeing the mountains and passes up close and hearing the narrative made it seem so real and so truly amazing. To hear of our teacher’s wisdom and courage and his profound protector activity over and over was truly inspiring. Thank you and please continue! -Sally Walker, Halifax

This documentary that Grant MacLean has produced is so deeply touching, particularly having read Born in Tibet 3-4 times. It always has been very difficult to truly imagine this extraordinary and forbidding terrain, to say nothing of surviving eight months in it. To have a glimpse of Trungpa Rinpoche’s journey (through the marvelous technology of Google Earth) brings my guru even closer to my heart. Profound thanks to Mr. MacLean and the Chronicles and all of the donors who are helping to make this project possible. -Judith Smith, Halifax, Nova Scotia

“Splendid, powerful, captivating …” -Sally Walker

“I had no real idea from the book what they went through … those peaks, 18,000′ high, every day! An evocative, beautifully made movie …” -Hal Richman, Tantallon, Nova Scotia.

” …like – totally cool journey!!” -Prof. Julia Sagebien, Puerto Rico & Nova Scotia.

“The video raises an even stronger appetite than I already had to get my boots into the deep snow and follow the tracks of my Guru” -Eric Rugani, Avignon, France.

” … utterly awesome! … so skillfully and artistically recreates the Vidyadhara’s escape from Tibet in modern technology. I wish he was still alive to see it.” -Christine Keyser, Boulder, Colorado.

” … beautiful and moving and brings to light what Rinpoche actually accomplished. I am ashamed to say I have not yet read Born in Tibet. After your movie I am inspired to read it … I loved Rinpoche’s drawings of maps interspersed with the aerial photos from Google Earth. Rinpoche was an amazing artist on top of everything else” -Dana Marshall, Bussum, Holland.

“Wonderful… poetic script, great narration and you managed to make a video simulator not just useful but near beautiful. Good show! When’s Part II? -A CTR Fan

” … wonderful and I look forward to the next one. Good work!” -Kerstin Gilkerson, Martins River, Nova Scotia.

“Loved it. Great job!” -George Marshall, Tatamagouche Nova Scotia.

“Yo! awesome! Dude … ” -Don Winchell

“Sergeant MacLean’s documentaries are profoundly moving. jolly good show and thank you for your labour of love.” -An admirer

“This is an excellent documentary style film. By no means “flashy” but this film in particular brought be to fall in love with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. His arduous escape from Tibet and his enduring inner strength and compassion for those he led through the Himalayan mtns during winter is simply unbelievable. Enjoy falling in love with VCTR, if you haven’t already.” -Ruth Ritchey (on Facebook)

Touch and Go, Part One, was funded in part by a grant from the Chogyam Trungpa Legacy Project. Thank you to the good people at the CTLP.

Thank you also to Lady Diana Mukpo and Shambhala Publications for their permission to use excerpts and images from Born in Tibet.

Thank you to Dan Russell for permission to use his 1968 color photograph of Trungpa Rinpoche on horseback. Visit Dan Russell’s website at

Thank you to Lee Weingrad, CEO of Surmang Foundation, for his photographs of Surmang. 

Grant MacLean met the Vidyadhara in 1975 and became his student shortly thereafter. A co-author/-translator of the best-selling Shambhala Publications edition of the Art of War, in 2016 he published From Lion’s Jaws: Chögyam Trungpa’s Epic Escape to the West, a retelling of the story of Trungpa Rinpoche’s 1959 escape from Tibet. He lives in St. Margaret's Bay, Nova Scotia.