On this day in 1959, Dalai Lama fled from Tibet; here's the story of his escape

On this day in 1959, Dalai Lama fled from Tibet; here's the story of his escape

In March 1959, spiritual leader Dalai Lama escaped from his homeland in Tibet amid a Chinese crackdown.

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Thursday, March 16, 2023, 04:50 PM IST
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Dalai Lama | File

Tibet's spiritual and political leader, then 23, disguised himself as a soldier escaped from his homeland in Tibet amid a Chinese crackdown.

In March 1959, spiritual leader Dalai Lama escaped from his homeland in Tibet amid a Chinese crackdown. 

He set out on a perilous journey to seek asylum, trekking across the Himalayas with a group of soldiers and cabinet members.

After a two-week trek, he arrived in India and demanded Tibet's independence.

Dalai Lama disguised himself as a soldier

On this day, March 17 in 1959, Dalai Lama, then 23, disguised himself as a soldier and slipped through the crowds outside the Dalai Lama's palace he’d never see again.

His mother, sister, younger brother, and several top officials were among those accompanying him.

They travelled on foot and horseback for two days and two nights without stopping.

They used a single yak-skin boat to cross the 1,500-foot-long Brahmaputra river and mules carried a month's worth of supplies.

The group then continued on foot, only walking at night through the harsh Himalayan terrain.

Head start on Chinese troops

They had a head start on Chinese troops, who did not realise the Dalai Lama had vanished until two days later, when they launched a ground and air dragnet and searched monasteries for him, according to news agency AFP.

They had a head start on Chinese troops, who did not realise the Dalai Lama had vanished until two days later, when they launched a ground and air dragnet and searched monasteries for him, according to news agency AFP.

On April 3, 1959, India granted Tibet's leader asylum and permission to establish a government-in-exile in the northern hill station of Dharamshala, which was already a safe haven for thousands of Tibetan exiles fleeing Chinese repression.

Launched campaign to reclaim Tibet

From there, he launched a campaign to reclaim Tibet, gradually transitioning into a call for greater autonomy.

Since 2009, more than 150 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest of Beijing's presence in Tibet, with the majority of them dying.

The Dalai Lama, who retired from politics in 2011 but remains based in Dharamshala, has gained international acclaim for his pacifist stance, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

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