Farmer recalls Dalai Lama's gruelling trek to freedom | india | Hindustan Times
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Farmer recalls Dalai Lama's gruelling trek to freedom

india Updated: Nov 06, 2009 13:34 IST

Fifty years ago, Auja Lama was among the thousands who received the Dalai Lama as he reached the frontier Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh while fleeing Chinese suppression.

Auja was just 10 years old when in 1959, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, disguised as a soldier and with a small escort of 80-odd followers, reached Tawang after he undertook a gruelling trek to freedom.

"The Dalai Lama was on muleback and he waved at a large crowd that lined the road to see him. My father broke a security cordon and managed to touch his feet...the crowd was kept at a distance with soldiers escorting the spiritual leader," Auja, now 60 years old, told IANS.

Today Auja's excitement is palpable as he is eagerly waiting to get a glimpse of the Dalai Lama when the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists arrives here Sunday on a weeklong visit to Arunachal Pradesh.

"He is our God and even a glimpse of him from a distance would be like atoning my sins. I am blessed as I was among those who saw him from close in 1959," Auja, a farmer in a village close to the border with China, said.

Auja is the elder brother of Tashi Lama whose album "Tibetan Master Chants" was nominated in the Best Traditional World Music category for the 48th Annual Grammy Awards in 2006.

"The Dalai Lama spent a night at a government rest house before undertaking his onward journey from Tawang," Auja recalled.

"After nearly three weeks of gruelling trekking on foot and on muleback, the entourage managed to reach Tawang from where he was escorted to Bomdilla, a township,"

T. Dhondhup, the newly elected Congress party legislator from Tawang, told IANS.

"I was told that the Dalai Lama's entourage took more than a week to cross the Tawang district as there were no roads that time."

Dhondup heard the stories of the Dalai Lama's escape from China from his parents as he was just two years old in 1959.

The then 24-year-old Dalai Lama's formal request letter to the Indian government for asylum reached the hands of a local journalist by mistake in Shillong, the former headquarters of the northeastern region.

"The messenger who carried the letter written in English by the Dalai Lama requesting the Indian government to grant them asylum in India reached me instead of the police chief who was residing adjacent to my residence," Naresh Rajkhowa, a former correspondent of Assam Tribune, said.

"I first copied the entire letter before sealing it once again to be handed over to the police chief," 86-year-old Rajkhowa said.

The trek to freedom for Tibetans fleeing the Chinese was a daunting 1,000-km journey through the Himalayas, shadowed by the constant danger of frostbite and avalanches.

In order to avoid Chinese troops and border guards, most crossings were attempted during the harsh winter months, and precious few of those making the journey had the right clothing or equipment to combat the high altitude, sub-zero temperatures and hazardous conditions.

Even today hordes of Tibetan refugees enter India for asylum.