The spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, crossed the border into India after an epic 15-day journey on foot and horse over the Himalayan mountains on early March 1959. They traveled only at night, to avoid detection by Chinese sentries. 10 March 2019 will commemorate the 60 anniversary of that epic escape into India.
On his way to freedom the Dalai Lama was escorted and protected by many people, most of them already died meanwhile some others, a very few men and women, still remain alive. These are ones of those who met the Dalai Lama when he finally reached freedom in India.
SANGYE PHUNTSOK (86)
Sangye´s almost the same age of the Dalai Lama whom he didn´t know when the Tibetan monk escaped from the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959 and stoped al Lumla (Sangye´s home village) after crossing the Indian border on his way to exile.
Sangye was a farmer who occasionally sold firewood to his fellow villagers and also worked 8 years building roads on the difficult Himalayan terrain. A very hard work that kept him living for weeks or months on the side of the roads he was building.
The Dalai Lama reached Lumla for a halt on his journey where he stayed at a small house offered by the government. The house was circumbambulated (kora) by Sangye and the villagers as a way of respect to the Tibetan spiritual leader.
Three years later China invaded this part of India and Sangye was forced to escape to neibourgh Buthan until the one month war finished when the Chinese army had withdrawn.
SANGYE YUTON (86) & NAMGYE CHOEDUZ (86)
These two women were farmers and lived in Blathang and Bonglang, villages close to the Tibetan and Buthan borders, where they heard that many people on horses came from Tibet. They went to Lumla to meet them. They had never seen such an entourage and realized that someone important must be arriving. Many people from the nerby villages gathered to wellcome the Dalai Lama on his way to Tawang.
Both women had the opportunity to see the Dalai Lama again on April 2017 when he went to Lumla for the inauguration of Yungchen Dolma Temple.
Sangye and Namgye, as well as many other villagers, escaped to Buthan when the Chinese invaded this region in 1962.
SONAM NORBU (92)
Sonam came from Tsona (Tibet) guiding the Dalai Lama´s entourage until Tawang. His four days journey went trough Chodungma, Shakti, Lumla, Thonglek and finally Tawang.
Once in Tawang he stayed in a Tibetan settlement close by the main monastery and helped to build another small monastery in the settlement. He never went back to Tibet.
Thupten was 15 when he first met the Dalai Lama and was commissioned by the local government to spread the news of the arrival of the Tibetan leader in the neighbouring villages as he work every now and then for the government.
While the Dalai Lama was in Tawang he was in charge of keeping his room and light the fire for heating. Apart from the personal cook of the Dalai Lama Thupten was one of the very few allowed to enter this place.
Thupten remembers that the Dalai Lama spoke to him but he didn´t understand Tibetan. At that time he didn´t know exactly who the Dalai Lama was.
After Tawang the Dalai Lama´s group split in two. In the second group were the Dalai Lama´s mother and sister who departed later than the first. Thupten was on this second group on a trip that lasted five days until reaching Bomdila on horses given by the people of Tawang. On the way they went through Jang, Sangye Dzong, Dirang Dzong and Rahoung, staying one night in each place.
The Dalai Lama went to Tawang a few more times since 1959 and every time Thupten offered him tea in a cup that he made specially for him and nobody else can use it. He never told the Dalai that he was that 15 year old boy that lit the fire for him in 1959.
TOW LHAMU (78)
Tow Lhamu is from Shakti, a small village situated very close from the Indotibetan border.
In april 1959 she was collecting onions when she heard a lot of noise around… until someone said that a high lama from Tibet has arrived to spend the night. When she reached the village already knew it was the Dalai Lama.
Many people gathered to get the blessings from the lama but the Assam Rifles didn´t let them to get close to him. Finally they let the people approach the lama, one by one, but no one dare to speak to him as he was considered a kind of god.
Next morning the Dalai Lama´s mother and a sister left Shakti in advance with a group of soldiers. The Dalai Lama and his group followed them after some time.
Few months later Chinese soldiers arrived searching for the Dalai Lama and got upset when realized that he had gone. They told the villagers that he was a fake god as he couldn´t fly instead of walking through the mountains. Next day the troops had gone and left behind blankets, jackets and sleeping bags that seemed a fantastic gift for those poor farmers.
She says that today she is not afraid of China because Indian army protects them and the Chinese army is full of women.
NARENDER CHANDRA DAS (85)
Naren Chandra Das was a 22 years old soldier of Assam Rifles when he was sent along with another seven soldiers to Shakti, a small village close to the Tibetan border, to protect the Dalai Lama who has escaped from Tibet and entered India in 1959.
Naren is the only who remained alive from those members of Assam Rifles and was embraced by the Dalai Lama in april 2017 in Guwahati almost 60 years later as a thankful way of recognition. Naren hasn´t seen the Dalai lama since then and was very emotional for being embraced by the Dalai Lama.
After serving most of his life in the Indian Army he retired with five medals. His two sons tried several times to join the army unsuccesfully. Naren Chandra Das would be happy if his unemployed sons could get a job.
SANGYE GONBU (86)
Sangye was a 23 year old monk when he was sent along with 28 other monks from Tawang monastery to Thonglek to wellcome the Dalai Lama soon after he had crossed the Indian border. After offering him a `khata´, traditional Tibetan scarf, the monks prepared a meal and prayed for a safe journey to Tawang where he was left at the Deputy Comissioner residence.
The monks couldn´t talk to the Dalai Lama and escorted him right behind the Assam Rifles who were the ones in charge of his security.
After spending the first night in Tawang Sangye and the monks of the monastery pray three different ´pujas´ with the Dalai Lama who weren´t wearing the traditional monk robe and felt quite uncomfortable about this.