Dalai lama's first visit to hill still remembered

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Dalai lama's first visit to hill still remembered

Saturday, 11 April 2015 | JASKIRAN CHOPRA | MUSSOORIE

Dalai lama has visited Mussoorie as well as the Doon valley several times. But the first visit of the Tibetan spiritual leader in April 1959 will always remain memorable for this hill station which became the first home in India to the Dalai lama. It was indeed a historic April for this hill town.

The month of April in the years 1959 and 1960 witnessed landmark events in the history of the Tibetan Government in exile in India as it was in April 1959 that the young Dalai lama arrived in Mussoorie and in April 1960 he left this hill station for another hill town, Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, with eighty officials of the Government in exile.    

The 23-year-old Dalai lama fled Tibet in March 1959 and reached Mussoorie where he began staying at the Birla House in Happy Valley which had been requisitioned for his use by the Indian Government. His mother was with him, besides some others from his household. His officials lived close to Birla House. In his autobiography, “Freedom in Exile”, Dalai lama has described this one-year stay here as “A Desperate Year”. The year included several meetings with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The first was on April 24, 1959, at Mussoorie.

“We talked for over four hours, assisted by a single interpreter ……I began to realise that the Prime Minister found himself in an extremely delicate and embarrassing position,” writes the lama in his autobiography.” In the Indian Parliament, another tense debate on the Tibetan question had followed the news of my escape from lhasa”.

He also writes that he began to get the impression that Nehru thought of him as a “young person who needed to be scolded from time to time”.    Soon after Dalai lama’s arrival here, a large number of refugees arrived in India. He sent his officials to receive them at the camps opened by the Indian government.

On June 20, Dalai lama broke his silence and held a press conference in Mussoorie which was attended by 130 reporters from several countries.

“There was no interference from Delhi over how I and the growing number of Tibetans conducted our lives. I had begun to give weekly audiences in the grounds of Birla House. This gave me the opportunity to meet a variety of people and tell them about the real situation in Tibet,” he says in his autobiography.

It was around the end of the year 1959 that Dalai lama came to know of the Indian Government’s plans to move him to permanent accommodation at Dharamsala. “I found Dharamsala on the map and discovered that it was another hill station, like Mussoorie, but in a considerably more remote location. I requested that I be allowed to send a Tibetan Government official to Dharamsala to see whether it was really suitable for our needs “.

The Tibetan official who was sent came back after a week and announced that “Dharamsala water is better than Mussoorie milk,” and preparations began to move camp to Dharamsala. It was on April 29, 1960 that Dalai lama left Mussoorie for Dharamsala. Today, there are several families who still live in the Happy Valley whose ancestors came along to Mussoorie with Dalai lama.

At The Tibetan Homes Foundation in the Happy Valley, paintings of Dalai lama sitting with Nehru can be seen by visitors. The Dalai lama stayed with his mother at the Birla House in Happy Valley. In September, the Dalai lama went to Delhi from Mussoorie to meet then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru and Jayaprakash Narayan. It was in the spring of 1960 that the Government in exile was shifted to Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh.

However, Mussoorie, the “Queen of Hills”, will always be proud of the fact that it was the Tibetan spiritual leader’s first home in India and memories of his year-long stay can be felt in the atmosphere of the area where he and his followers resided. The families of those Tibetans who stayed on here and did not leave for Dharamsala with him are always ready to share a tale of two about the year when the Dalai lama and the government in exile were in Mussoorie’s Happy Valley.

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