Peter Jackson: The day I saw the Dalai Lama flee into exile

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The Independent Online

In March 1959, the world had heard only a few rumours of trouble in Tibet, after the Chinese closed the borders with India and Bhutan but the Indian government was being informed by its diplomats in Lhasa.

On 18 March, an Indian journalist, Shri Krishna, who had contacts with senior members of the Indian government, called us urgently to his house. He told us there had been riots in Lhasa and the Dalai Lama was heading for the Indian frontier. We broke the news in a Reuters report. The Dalai Lama and his party reached the frontier after nearly two weeks of trekking.

As it happened, my wife Adrienne and I had been to Gangtok, capital of Sikkim, on the border with Tibet, the previous year. We had lunch with the Chogyal [king] and his sister, Princess Kukula, who was married to the high-level Phuenkhang family of Tibet. We knew the princess was in Delhi.

Adrienne called her in her hotel room and asked if the report of the Dalai Lama's arrival in India was true. She replied: "We know he is safe, but we don't know where he is. I am very tired. I am going to bed." That clinched it. We knew that after weeks of anxiety she would never have relaxed unless she knew that the Dalai Lama was safely in India.

At about 11 pm, we flashed a report to Reuters that the Dalai Lama had crossed into India and would receive political asylum. No other agencies had the news, nor had the Indian press. In parliament the next day, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru announced that the Dalai Lama would be granted political asylum.

The Dalai Lama had been greeted by Indian troops, who led him to the Tawang Monastery where he rested until he undertook the week-long trek from 3,300m (10,800ft) down to the town of Tezpur on the north bank of the Brahmaputra River, in Assam.

As president of the Foreign Correspondents' Association, I hired an Indian Airways plane and flew with fellow correspondents to Tezpur. The Dalai Lama came down the trail on foot and burst into a big smile and raised his hands in the air on seeing our little group.

The author is a former Reuters correspondent