The fourteenth Dalai Lama is probably one of the most recognisable faces in the world. The Tibetan spiritual leader has travelled far across various corners of the globe spreading the message of peace, kindness and religious harmony — a reason why he was conferred with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Born on 6 July 1935 to a farming family in northeastern Tibet, Lhamo Dhondup was recognised as the reincarnation of the previous (13th) Dalai Lama at the age of two. He was then rechristened as Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama — the patron saint of Tibet.

In the 1950s after China's invasion of Tibet, Dalai Lama was embroiled in a complex and increasingly dangerous relationship with communist China — the main reason why eventually, he was forced to escape into an exile to India in March 1959. He settled in northern India's Dharamshala where he set up institutions and rehabilitation initiatives to help Tibetans who followed him to India.


Above: The Dalai Lama regularly took energetic hikes during his first year or so in Dharamsala. He wore lay clothes, which were more practical to walk in, and would greet local people on the way to Triund, a ridge below the Dhauladhar range above McLeod Ganj. The Dalai Lama is seen here with a family from the local Gaddi tribe. Image courtesy: Tibet Documentation

In a recently released illustrated biography, one gets an insight into the world of the 14th Dalai Lama — his early years as the 'Precious Protector' when he led a sheltered yet rigorous existence spent between the Potala and Norbulingka palaces in Tibet to his becoming a global icon as he continues to spiritually guide millions of Tibetan Buddhists around the world. The magnificently designed 352-page-book titled His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama: An Illustrated Biography has been in the making for nearly five years and is written by Tenzin Geyche Tethong, one of the Dalai Lama's closest aid and trusted advisor of over 40 years. It includes nearly 400 photographs and documents, many of which have never been seen before or published.


Above: The Dalai Lama places the first grains of coloured sand to begin the skilful construction of the intricate sand mandala during the 32nd empowerment in Bodhgaya, on 1 January 2012. A mandala symbolizes an entire sacred universe of spiritual energy. Image courtesy: Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

"Tibet’s destiny would change forever on the fateful day of 17 March 1959," Tethon writes in the book. It is the very day when the Dalai Lama decided there was no way he could defuse the military stand-off in the Tibetan valley unless he left Tibet. He informed his closest and immediate staff and asked them to send a message to the Indian Consul General in Lhasa on the question of exile and asylum in India. Dressed as a soldier in trousers and a Tibetan chuba (robe) and the 14th Dalai Lama walked out of the Norbulingka palace forever. His family members and other monastery staff were also asked to leave in disguise, and in small groups, in order to avoid the attention of thousands of Chinese PLA soldiers stationed in the area. After an exhausting and stressful two-week-long journey the Dalai Lama and close to 80 others crossed over from the Land of Snows into the Tawang District, in the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), now the state of Arunachal Pradesh.


Above: The Dalai Lama speaking to nuns from several nunneries who had just concluded their annual winter debate sessions at the Tsuglakhang in Dharamsala, 2013. Image courtesy: Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Following is an excerpt from the book and it specifically focuses on the happenings post the arrival of Dalai Lama in India. This excerpt has been reproduced here on Firstpost with due permission of the publishers Roli Books.


On 31 March at 2 pm His Holiness and his party reached Chutangmu, a small Assam Rifles outpost near Tawang. It was decided that His Holiness’ porters would be sent back, while the luggage would be ferried by the Indian porters. All weapons except those of the Dalai Lama, his immediate family, and his ministers were to be handed over to the Indians. On 2 April, the Political Officer (District Commissioner) of Tawang Har Mander Singh, later reported that the Dalai Lama’s mother, sister, and younger brother, Tendzin Choegyal, had reached Lumla, further south in Tawang District. Along with members of his entourage, His Holiness walked through the villages of Gorsam, Shakti, Lumla and Thongleng, blessing hundreds of locals on the way. Netan Tashi, the IB operative escorting the party, recalled that "Every village turned out to greet him on his way to Tawang. People would stand with bowed heads, outstretched hands offering khadag. They would light incense and prostrate before him. Many would be crying; there was happiness as well as sorrow."


Above: The Dalai Lama on his way to Assam escorted by the soldiers of the Assam Rifles. Image courtesy: Tibet Museum


"My colleagues and I welcome you and send greetings on your safe arrival in India. We shall be happy to afford the necessary facilities to you, your family and entourage to reside in India. The people of India who hold you in great veneration, will no doubt accord their traditional respect to your personage." — read Jawaharlal Nehru's telegram welcoming the Dalai Lama.


In Tawang, the entourage temporarily settled in bungalows – completely exhausted. The day they arrived, an Indian Air Force carrier dropped sacks of flour, shoes and other essentials for the many Tibetans who accompanied him. His Holiness sought permission from the Indian authorities to meet his elder brother Gyalo Thondup, who was to come from Darjeeling. The Indians were not keen to allow this meeting immediately, and suggested that there was ample time later, to which His Holiness agreed. On the second day in Tawang, His Holiness received an invitation to visit the Tawang monastery. Known in Tibetan as Gaden Namgyal Lhatse, the monastery was built in 1680 at the instruction of the Fifth Dalai Lama by his disciple Merak Lama, Lodroe Gyatso. The region also had another significant association for His Holiness as the Sixth Dalai Lama, of Monpa ethnicity, was born here. His Holiness visited the monastery and gave teachings on the mantra of Avalokitesvara, and was wearing a Tibetan chuba and not his monk’s robe. The next day, 6 April, brought good news as Har Mander Singh shared Prime Minister Nehru’s welcome message with His Holiness.


Above: Joy and relief is evident on the Dalai Lama's face as he arrives in India and is greeted with a khatag, or offering scarf. On the right just behind him, is his Lord Chamberlain, Phala Thupten Woden. Seen on the left are the Simpon Khenpo (Master of the Robes) and the Chöpon Khenpo (Master of the Ritual). Image courtesy: Tibet Museum

Now that he had safely left Lhasa and all the danger that had threatened him, discussions between Indian officials and His Holiness on his future plans and visions continued. On 7 April, Har Mander Singh sent a report to KL Mehta, adviser to the Government of Assam, stating that His Holiness had requested India to grant asylum to the Tibetan resistance fighters who were escaping the Chinese. Additionally, he wanted to maintain contact with the resistance fighters in Tibet through special messengers. The party wanted to then proceed to Bomdila to rest for a few days. The soldiers of Assam Rifles escorted His Holiness through the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh to Bomdila, 185 kilometres south of Tawang. There was a long, difficult path of pressing political matters ahead for His Holiness as he began his life as the exiled leader of Tibet.


Above: The first fifty-one children brought Dharamsala by the Dalai Lama in May 1960, after he heard of many infant deaths in the harsh environment of the road workers' camps in Jammu. These children became the first pupils of the newly formed Tibetan Refugee Nursery, run by the Dalai Lama's elder sister. Tsering Dolma (third from left), He and his mother also welcomed them at Swarg Ashram. Image courtesy: Tibet Documentation


— All images via Roli Books

— His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama: An Illustrated Biography released in India on 16 November | 2020 | Hardback: Rs 1295 (9788194643371) | Roli Books