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The Great Escape

Updated: May 5

The concept of Karma inevitably manifests in one's life, whether sooner or later. Even Lord Rama couldn't escape its effects, which is exemplified by his fourteen-year forest exile. Some might attribute this to luck or destiny.

Similarly, in the instance of Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, his exile commenced 64 years back and endures till today. Forced to depart from Lhasa, he sought refuge in India, a sympathetic nation, to escape Chinese dragnet

His official residence is at Macleod Gunj, a suburb of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. His government in exile also functions from same place. Story of escape of Dalai Lama from Tibetan capital, Lhasa to Macleod Gunj demonstrates toughness of human spirit braving all adversaries on the path of truth and dharma. Since 1950, China had been trying to tighten its stronghold over Tibet. Tibet is a Buddhist country and Beijing wanted to convert its people to communism. China knew Tibetans will follow their spiritual leader Dalai Lama so it tried all tricks in the trade to convert Dalai Lama to communist ideology .

His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people. He was born in a small village called Taktser in north-eastern Tibet. Born to a peasant family, His Holiness was recognized at the age of two, in accordance with Tibetan tradition, as the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama.

  1. The Dalai Lamas are the manifestations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who chose to reincarnate to serve the people. Dalai Lama means Ocean of Wisdom. Tibetans normally refer to His Holiness as Yeshin Norbu, the wish-fulfilling gem, or simply, Kundun, meaning ‘The Presence’. From a humble village child to becoming the spiritual and temporal head of Tibet was the destiny of Tenzin Gyatso. And to go in exile at the age of 23 was also part of his destiny. None of the previous Dalai Lama’s suffered this fate.

By 1959, Tibet was going through one of its worst periods in its history. The country was literally on the boil. And then, on 10th March 1959, Beijing extended a strange invitation to Dalai Lama.

The Chinese general in Lhasa invited Dalai Lama to attend a dance performance presented by a Chinese troupe. But there was a rider. He had to go alone, without his bodyguards, troops or officials. His advisers and members of inner circle were convinced that it is a conspiracy by Chinese side to isolate and capture Dalai Lama.

His close aides were of the opinion that Dalai Lama should leave Lhasa immediately for a safer destination. Dressed as a common soldier, his holiness left his palace along with his top officials in the dead of night. They carried with them supplies for a month on mule back. The entourage travelled only at night to avoid detection. Dalai Lama , covered the hazardous Himalayan trek and also 500 yards of mighty Brahmaputra river in a yatch skin boat.

For the next two weeks, there was no word of Dalai Lama. In Tibet, as per a report of Time magazine, rumours floated about that the holy leader was screened off from the view of Chinese planes by “mist and low clouds conjured up by the prayers of the Buddhist holy men.”

Back in Tibet, Chinese imposed a curfew in Lhasa. Over 2000 people were killed in the crackdown by Chinese forces over local people. Heavy artillery shells were fired into the summer palace of the Dalai Lama to destroy it. China announced the dissolution of the Tibetan governing body and a Tibetan autonomous region was established within the People’s Republic of China.

Dalai Lama and his men finally reached India on March 30 and settled down at the Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh. The following month they reached Mussoorie in present day Uttarakhand, where Dalai Lama met the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

Indian government offered asylum to the Tibetan leader and thousands of refugees who followed him into India. Asylum to the Tibetan leader in India had its repercussions on Indo China relations. They also became part of the reason for India China war of 1962 , where China had upper hand. That is the story of Dalai Lama and his journey from Lhasa to Macleod Gunj.

Macleod Gunj is also called little Lhasa because of large Tibetan population here. This place is also on the international tourist map because of presence of Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan leader has often expressed desire to visit country of his birthplace once. But Chinese authorities have always ignored it. Dalai Lama visited Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in 2017. He got emotional as he reached Tawang; “every time I visit the Tawang area, it is very emotional for me. I see a place where I had enjoyed freedom for the first time.” The hills of the North East clearly represent freedom for the Tibetan head who had virtually been a prisoner in his monastery at Lhasa.

We visited Palampur, Dharamshala and Macleod Gunj 18 years ago. Our son Ankur was on vacation to India from America, where he was doing his MD in medicine. Our daughter, Shafina, granddaughter Shruti and our family dog, Naughty, a German dachshund accompanied us on this trip. We decided to make Palampur our base and explore the region.

We hired an Innova for the entire trip. Our first destination was Macleod Gunj and we fell in love with its natural beauty at first sight. The place nestled in Dhauladhar range of Himalayas at a height of about 6800 feet is a suburb of Dharamshala which is at a much lower height of 4700 feet. Distance between the two is just nine kilometres.

Macleod Gunj offers you everything, peace, solace and spiritual bliss. Feeling is heavenly as you pass through soaring deodar and pine trees with cool breeze touching your face. Enchanting landscape , and stunning trekking trails make it a perfect place for nature lovers to loose themselves in these peaceful surroundings. Tibetan influence can be seen everywhere in this hilly town with colourful flags and buntings fluttering in the air.

The town represents a mix of Indian, Tibetan and British influence. Bazaars of Macleod Gunj are literally melting pot of various cultures and cuisines of different regions. Tibetan curios and Kashmiri handicrafts and Himachali shawl stalls exist side by side. These bazaars are vibrant with brightly lit hotels with Lhasa tops , plenty of good cafés where you get Tibetan , Korean, local Himachali food besides pizzas , burgers and funky food.

This quaint town is divided into lower and upper parts , overlooking majestic snow-capped Himalayan peaks. International tourists visit this place in large numbers in search of peace and to enroll for courses in yoga , meditation and Buddhism. This place is usually overcrowded with American hippies, Tibetan monks, and nuns. Monasteries, temples, palaces colourful bazaars add to lovely ambience of Macleod Ganj.

The most important Buddhist site in the town is Tsuglag Khang, the Dalai Lama temple. It has statues of Shakyamuni, Avolokitesvara and a statue of Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche.

Other Buddhist and Tibetan sites in McLeod Ganj include the library of Tibetan Works and Archives and Norbulinka Institute which is 8 kilometres away.

St John in the wilderness is an Anglican church located in the forest near Forsyth Ganj. The neo-Gothic stone building was constructed in 1852.

Dal lake is a small lake about 3 km from McLeod Ganj, next to one of the Tibetan Children village schools. An annual fair is held there in August or September, attended mainly by the Gaddi Community. There is a small spring and an old temple near the lake.

Bhagsu Nath is just 10 minutes' rickshaw ride from McLeod Ganj, the area has roughly 1,200 local Indians. Bhagsu Falls, a waterfall about 20 meters tall, is about two kilometers from McLeod Ganj. There is a cafeteria next to the falls and the area serves as a picnic spot for tourists.

Nearby is Bhagsunath Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, also an attraction for tourists and Hindu pilgrims. The Shiva Cafe can be reached by crossing these falls and climbing further.

The Tibet Museum, established in 1998 and inaugurated by the 14th Dalai Lama on 20 April 2000, has a collection of Tibetan artifacts and photographs showing Tibetans' struggle to preserve their identity.

Dalai Lama is 86 now. He was just 23 when he was forced to leave his homeland. And there seems to be no hope that he will ever return home. He has expressed his desire to visit Tibet once during his lifetime. But China looks adamant in not granting any such permission.

What would you call it, cycle of Karma, destiny or luck. Here again you are reminded of a quote by Persian poet Omar Khayyam :

“The moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.

Dalai Lama, the apostle of peace , compassion and non-violence was awarded the greatest peace prize , the Nobel Prize in 1989.

Prize motivation: “for advocating peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people”

The citation calls him the Buddhist advocate for peace and compassion.

The citation adds that From his exile in India, the religious and political leader the Dalai Lama has since 1959 stood at the head of the nonviolent opposition to China's occupation of Tibet.

When the Nobel Committee chose the Dalai Lama, it emphasized that he based his Buddhist peace philosophy on reverence for all living things and the idea of a universal responsibility that embraces both man and nature. It weighed heavily in the Tibetan leader's favour that he had showed willingness to compromise and seek reconciliation despite brutal violations.

The award of the Peace Prize gave the Dalai Lama the opportunity to present a plan for the restoration of peace and human rights in Tibet. In the plan he recommended that the country be turned into an ecologically stable and demilitarized zone that might serve as a buffer between major Asian powers. The object was to set in motion serious negotiations on the future status of Tibet, but this was rejected by the Chinese government.

Some of famous quotes of Dalai Lama:

This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart is the temple. Your philosophy is simple kindness.”

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.”

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them.”

If you want others to be happy , practice compassion, if you want yourself to be happy, practice compassion.

Our weeklong trip was coming to an end. We spent five days in exploring Macleod Gunj, Dharamshala and its surrounding areas. Experience was just out of this word. Our stay at Palampur was no less exciting. Palampur is situated on the foothills of the Himalayas and is known for its tea gardens and plantations. Places worth visiting around Palampur include several ancient temples and two art galleries. One of them is by world famous Indian painter Sardar Sobha Singh, and other is Naam art gallery by German painter, Elisabeth Buschmann.

It showcases abstract paintings displaying various shades of spirituality that crossed her mind while meditating. Another place worth visiting is Bharkudi , filled with fountains and caves. There is also a temple of lord Shiva here. Yet another Shiva temple prominent in the area is Baijnath temple. Legend has it that Ravana built Shiva temple and performed yagna here.

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