How a stolen 900-year-old idol travelled from Tawang to Delhi’s Majnu Ka Tilla
The Delhi police were tipped off by a devotee who had been contacted for the sale of the idol. The alleged thief is the former son-in-law of the head Lamam of a Tawang monastery where the idol was kept.
A ‘staunch devotee’ of Tibetan saint Pema Lingpa led the police to the couple who had allegedly stolen the saint’s 900-year-old idol from Arunchal Pradesh a week ago, investigators said.
The devotee, whose identity the police refused to reveal, was one of the many prospective customers contacted by the accused couple in north Delhi’s Majnu Ka Tilla.
The sellers had received offers of as much as Rs 1.25 crore for the idol, but they would not settle for anything less than Rs 1.4 crore, the police said.
“If they couldn’t get the price in Delhi, they planned to travel to Tibet where they were sure to find a suitable customer because of the idol’s religious significance,” said Madhur Verma, DCP (crime).
“The devotee was aware of the idol theft. So, when he learnt about it, he posed as a customer and played along with the sellers. Once he was sure that the idol was the one stolen in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, he tipped off the state police,” said a senior investigator.
The Arunachal Pradesh Police immediately sought help from their counterparts in Delhi after which a crime branch team was tasked with the recovery.
“Dressed in plain clothes, we waited at Majnu Ka Tilla to spot the suspects. As soon as the informer saw the couple, he pointed them out to us. We intercepted them and seized a bag from them in which the idol was hidden,” said Sanjay Sehrawat, ACP (Crime).
According to the police, the idol’s theft on May 31 had threatened to create religious unrest in Tawang. The alleged thieves, Ngawang Tsundue and his live-in partner Lobsang Gakey Sherpa, were aware of its significance.
The accused couple is a native of Tibet. Tsundue, 29, had arrived in India in 2009 and had spent his initial years in Dharamsala where he worked with a herbal drugs firm.
It was there that he first met the daughter of the Head Cheepa (Head Lama) of the Sangyeling Gompa, a monastery in Tawang. The two got married in 2011, but the couple got divorced in 2016.
The divorce left Tsundue a bitter man seeking revenge against the Cheepa and his family, police alleged. Ever since the divorce, he was allegedly planning to steal the idol. “He knew that the Cheepa’s reputation would be marred if the idol was stolen from his residence,” said Verma.
A few months ago, he entered into a relationship with Sherpa, a 26-year-old woman living in Punjabi Basti in Majnu Ka Tilla. Once he realised that he could trust her, he shared his plan with her.
Together, they left for Tawang a fortnight ago and broke into the Cheepa’s home on May 31 while the Cheepa and his family were away in Kullu to attend a festival. They then brought the idol in a bag to Guwahati in a Tata Sumo car before catching a train to Delhi.