Excerpt: Dalai Lama; An Illustrated Biography by Tenzin Geyche Tethong – books excerpts
In the six years since the arrival of the Chinese in Lhasa, the capital had changed enormously. An entirely new section of the city, including army barracks, a hospital, and a school, had been built to house the Chinese. Violence in other parts of the country continued… As a result, the Chinese adopted more brutal intimidation tactics. His Holiness wrote: “Tibet was rapidly slipping away not only from Chinese control, but also from mine.”
Immediately after the Great Prayer Festival on March 9 (1959), Brigadier Fu, who was in charge of the PLA troops in Lhasa, invited the Dalai Lama to a theatrical performance at his headquarters. He ordered … His Holiness to come unprotected and in secret … The news spread like wildfire and on March 10, large crowds gathered in front of the Norbulingka Palace to prevent the Dalai Lama from leaving, suspecting that she was a Chinese ruse to hold him hostage or worse, harm him. At noon, the huge crowd of thirty thousand people became nervous. A popular uprising was brewing. Earlier that year, on February 18, in a secret ‘status report’, Chairman Mao had said: ‘The more chaotic Tibet gets, the better. We can train troops and toughen the masses. Furthermore, this provides sufficient reason for future pacification and reform ”. The situation in Norbulingka had turned into a powder keg. To ease tensions, Tibetan officials assured the crowd that the Dalai Lama would not attend the Chinese function.
On March 10, General Tan Kuan-sen threatened “drastic measures”. Later that day, Tibetan officials repudiated the 17-point Agreement. The general wrote to the Dalai Lama asking him to go to his military headquarters for his safety. On March 11, Kashag asked the leaders of the crowd outside the palace to withdraw. At the general’s second request to transfer to his headquarters, the Dalai Lama tactfully agreed. He also ordered the Tibetan government to remove the barricades placed on a road on the outskirts of Lhasa, which blocked the movement of Chinese troops.
The Nechung oracle advised His Holiness to remain in Lhasa and associate with the Chinese … A few tense days later, a second visit … brought the same message … On March 16, the general informed the Dalai Lama that the Chinese were preparing to attack Norbulingka.
The idea of violence and the inevitable loss of life greatly upset His Holiness. The next day, he returned to look for the oracle. This time, the oracle, swaying in a trance, dramatically said ‘go, go, go tonight’ and even gave instructions on the exact escape route to take, and then fell unconscious to the ground. Right at that moment, two projectiles exploded outside the palace building. On the night of March 17, the twenty-three-year-old Dalai Lama, disguised as a soldier, left his summer palace and embarked on a long and dangerous journey to India into exile, not knowing when he would see his country or his people. again.
… The fate of Tibet would change forever on the fateful day of March 17, 1959 …
His Holiness last visited his personal shrine dedicated to Mahakala, the protective deity of the Dalai Lamas. After offering a silkkhatag, His Holiness finished his prayers and left. Shortly before ten o’clock at night, he dressed as a soldier in pants and a Tibetan chuba (tunic) and left Norbulingka. Hanging over his left shoulder was a cylindrical box that housed a very precious item: a thangka of the protector goddess Palden Lhamo that once belonged to the Second Dalai Lama. The thangka was an object of great spiritual importance. Hanging from his other shoulder he carried a rifle … With more than tens of thousands of PLA soldiers in the area, the probability of being discovered and detained was a real risk. His Holiness and those accompanying him quickly crossed the Kyichu River, where the two groups were waiting on the other side. It was only then, His Holiness later recalled, that he put his glasses back on and was able to see clearly again.
The escape group rode for most of the night, only pausing briefly on their way to the Che-La mountain pass, reaching the top at dawn. His Holiness stopped to look around. It would be the last time I would see Lhasa. After a short prayer, they headed towards the Yarlung Tsangpo, or the Brahmaputra River, to cross to southern Tibet. Their escape had not yet come to light, but fighting had broken out as Tibetan forces supported the people of Lhasa. The Chinese launched further attacks and on March 20 began bombing the Norbulingka palace. Only the next day did the Chinese learn that His Holiness had escaped.
… two CIA-trained Tibetan radio operators, Athar and Lhotse, who were with the resistance forces in Lhuntse Dzong, not far from the Indian border … On March 25, they sent a message to the Americans , in Tibetan Morse code developed specifically for communications between the CIA and radio operators, by Geshe Wangyal, a Buryat lama living in New Jersey. The Dalai Lama was safe. Every twenty-four hours, updates on the progress of the escape party were published before President Eisenhower … newspapers around the world reported on the escape trip. His Holiness received news of the Chinese attacks in Lhasa and all hope of a negotiated settlement was lost. A human tragedy of great proportions was unfolding. It later came to light that in the period of one year after the uprising, the PLA had eliminated more than 87,000 Tibetans in central Tibet alone … there was imminent danger if the Dalai Lama remained in Tibet. Consequently, messages were transmitted to the Indians and Americans that His Holiness wished to cross into India seeking asylum. John Greaney, a senior CIA official … sent a covert message to New Delhi informing them of the Dalai Lama’s asylum claim. Around this time, Gyalo Thondup writes that he visited Prime Minister Nehru … Nehru asked if His Holiness was safe and when informed of his asylum application, he immediately said yes. Both the secret escape and the asylum application seemed to arrive just in time.
… on March 31 … The group of approximately eighty people moved from the Land of Snows to the Tawang district, in the Northeast Border Agency (NEFA), now the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Waiting on the other side was the Indian political aide, TS Murthy, with the greetings of Prime Minister Nehru. The exhausting and stressful two-week journey had finally come to an end.