It was sixty long years ago when Tibetan spiritual leader DalaiLama, who is unwell these days, arrived in Mussoorie, his first home in India. After spending a year in the tranquil hills of Mussoorie, the Tibetan government in exile moved to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh.
Thus, this popular hill station has the great distinction of being the very first home of the Dalai Lama, when he came to India in 1959.The Dalai Lama has visited Mussoorie as well as the Doon valley in later years several times. But the first visit of the Tibetan spiritual leader in April 1959 will always remain memorable for this hill station. It was indeed a historic April for Mussoorie.
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 that he left this hill station for another hill town, Dharamshala 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 in Mussoorie as “A Desperate Year”. The year included several meetings with the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The first was on April 24, 1959-(60 years ago) 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 DalaiLama 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, 1959 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 Dharamshala. “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 Dharamshala to see whether it was really suitable for our needs.”
The Tibetan official who was sent came back after a week and announced that “Dharamshala water is better than Mussoorie milk”, and preparations began to move camp to Dharamshala.
It was on April 29, 1960 (59 years ago) that the Dalai Lama left Mussoorie for Dharamshala. Today, there are several families who still live in the Happy Valley whose ancestors came along to Mussoorie with the Dalai Lama. At The Tibetan Homes Foundation in the Happy Valley, paintings of the Dalai Lama sitting with Nehru can be seen by visitors.
In September 1959, 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 Dharamshala 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. Families of those Tibetans who stayed on here and did not leave for Dharamshala with him are always ready to share a tale or two about the year when the Dalai Lama and the government in exile were in Mussoorie’s Happy Valley. Mussoorie was witness to this important chapter in Tibetan history.