Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

That's French for "the ancient system," as in the ancient system of feudal privileges and the exercise of autocratic power over the peasants. The ancien regime never goes away, like vampires and dinosaur bones they are always hidden in the earth, exercising a mysterious influence. It is not paranoia to believe that the elites scheme against the common man. Inform yourself about their schemes here.

Re: Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

Postby admin » Wed Sep 04, 2019 5:18 am

8. Calm Waters

We are granted freedom of movement — Important visits in Lhasa — Tsarong’s generous hospitality — Tibet is in no hurry — Once more threatened with expulsion — The New Year’s festivities.

Ten days after our arrival we received word from the Foreign Ministry that we could move about freely. At the same time we were supplied with the splendid full-length cloaks of lambskin for which we had lately been measured. For each of these, sixty skins were used. On the same day we went for a walk in the town and in our Tibetan cloaks attracted no attention. We wanted to see everything. The inner town is composed of nothing but stores. Shops extend in unbroken lines and the dealers overflow into the street. There are no shop-windows in our sense of the word. One finds numbers of general stores containing a large range of goods from needles to rubber boots; near them smart shops selling draperies and silks. Provision stores contain, as well as local produce, American corned beef, Australian butter and Scotch whisky. There is nothing one cannot buy, or at least order. One even finds the Elizabeth Arden specialities, and there is a keen demand for them. American overshoes, dating from the last war, are displayed between joints of yak’s meat and chunks of butter. You can order, too, sewing-machines, radio sets and gramophones and hunt up Bing Crosby’s latest records for your next party. The gaily dressed crowds of shoppers laugh and haggle and shout. They find a special pleasure in bargaining, which to be enjoyed must be long drawn out. Here you can see a nomad exchanging yak-hair for snuff, and nearby a society lady with a swarm of servants wallowing for hours in a mountain of silks and brocades. The nomad women are no less particular in selecting Indian cotton lengths for their prayer-flags.

The common people generally wear nambu, a cloth made of pure home-woven wool, which is practically untearable. This cloth is made in strips of about eight inches in breadth. Bales of material used for these Nambus are displayed in the stores. The wool is either pure white or dyed mauve with a blend of indigo and rhubarb. The white Nambu is hardly worn except by donkey-drivers, as absence of colours is reckoned a sign of poverty. Since tape-measures are not used here, they measure cloth by the length of one’s arm. Thanks to my long limbs I have always profited by this custom.

Then we found an enormous store full of European felt-hats which are the dernier cri in Lhasa. A smart felt-hat over Tibetan dress certainly looks odd, but Tibetans value broad-brimmed European hats as a protection against the sun. Sunburnt faces are not an attraction here. Native Tibetan hats go much better with Tibetan dress and look more attractive in the street; and, in fact, the Government were trying at that time to stem the influx of European fashions, not with any idea of interfering with individual liberty, but in order to preserve the beautiful native style of dress.

The Tibetans are also addicted to umbrellas and sunshades which you can find in all sizes, qualities and colours. The monks are the best customers for these articles since, except at solemn festivals, they go bareheaded.

When we got home we found the Secretary of the British Legation waiting for us. He was a personal friend of Thangme and his call was by no means an official visit. He said that he had heard much of us and was greatly interested in our journey and our experiences. He had himself been British trade representative in Gartok and knew something of the country through which we had travelled. We found him an opportune visitor as we very much wanted to send news to our families at home, who must long have given us up for lost. Only the British Representative had direct communication with the outside world, as Tibet does not belong to the World Postal Union and its postal arrangements are somewhat complicated.

Our visitor encouraged us to apply personally for assistance in this matter and so next day we set out for the Legation, which we had already noticed on our way into the town. Servants in red livery showed us first into the garden, where we found Reginald Fox, the wireless operator, taking his morning stroll. Fox had lived for many years in Lhasa and was married to a Tibetan girl. They had four enchanting children with fair hair and large, black almond eyes. The two eldest were at a boarding-school in India.

Fox was the only man in Lhasa who possessed a reliable motor and in addition to his duties at the Legation he was regularly occupied in charging all the radio batteries in the town. He could communicate by radio telephone with India and was much appreciated in Lhasa for his ability and thoroughness.


Meanwhile the servants had announced us and we were conducted to the first floor of the building. The Chief of the British Legation, Mr. Hopkinson, greeted us cordially and invited us to a good English breakfast which had been prepared on the veranda. How long it seemed since we had last sat on comfortable chairs and seen table decorations, flowers in vases and books in a real European setting. We let our eyes wander in silence round the room. It seemed, somehow, as though we had come home. Our host understood what we were thinking. When he saw us looking at his books he kindly offered to let us use his library. Soon we began to talk freely. The question which worried us most, namely whether he still regarded us as prisoners of war, was tactfully avoided. At last we asked him straight out whether our comrades were still behind the barbed wire. He could not say but promised to obtain information from India. He then spoke frankly of our situation and told us that he had been informed in detail of our escape and subsequent journey, and inferred that he had learned from the Tibetan Government that we would soon go back to India. This prospect, we said, did not appeal to us, so he asked us if we would be interested to find work in Sikkim. We made no secret of our wish to stay on in Tibet, but said that if that was not possible we would gladly consider his offer.

The importance of the question we were discussing did not spoil our appetites, and with encouragement from our host we did more than justice to the good food we were offered. When we had finished we thought the time had come to submit our request to be allowed to send word to our families. Our host promised to arrange for a message to go through the Red Cross. We were later allowed to send letters now and then through the Legation, but for the most part we had to use the complicated Tibetan post, sending our letters to the frontiers in double envelopes, the outside one bearing a Tibetan stamp. At the frontier we arranged for a man to remove the outer envelope, put an Indian stamp on the inner one and post it on. With luck it only took a fortnight for a letter to get to Europe. In Tibet the post is carried by runners who work in relays of four miles each. Along all the high-roads are huts in which relays wait ready to relieve the runners as they arrive. Postal runners carry a spear with bells attached as a sign of their office. The spear can, if necessary, be used as a weapon and the bells serve to frighten off wild animals at night. Stamps are printed in five different denominations and are on sale in the post offices.

Our visit to the British Legation had done much to relieve our minds. We had been welcomed there and had reason to hope that the English now realised we were harmless.

On our way back we were stopped by some servants who told us that their master desired us to visit him. When we asked who their master was, we learned that he was a high monastic official in the government service, one of the four Trunyi Chemo, in whose hands authority over all the monks in Tibet is concentrated.

We were taken to a large, stately mansion, scrupulously clean and well kept. One could really have eaten off the stone floors. The servants were all monks. We were greeted by a kindly, elderly gentleman and offered tea and cakes. After the usual courtesies we fell into conversation and soon became aware of the reason why our host was interested in us. He stated frankly that Tibet was a backward country and that men like us could be made good use of. Unfortunately everyone did not hold the same opinion. However, he would see what he could do and would say a good word for us. Meanwhile he asked us what our professions had been in our own country and what subjects we had studied. He was particularly interested in the fact that Aufschnaiter was an agricultural engineer. No one in Tibet was an expert in this branch and what scope there was in this great country!

The Austrian mountain climber and competition skier joined the SS on April 1, 1938 and in the same year received instructions to climb Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas after an official meeting with Adolf Hitler. Heinrich Himmler, himself most interested in occult phenomena is said by Harrer to have offered him a Tibet expedition....

The adaptation to film of Harrer’s autobiographic bestseller, Seven Years in Tibet, triggered an international protest. Since the famous traveler through Tibet had told director Jean Jacques Annaud nothing about his “brown-shirt” past, and this only became public knowledge after the film had been finished, Annaud felt pressured to introduce “corrections”. A remorseful Austrian was now shown, who begins his mountain-climbing career as a supporter of a regime accused of genocide and then, under the influence of the young Kundun and Tibetan Buddhism, reforms to become a “campaigner for human rights”. In the film, he says of the brutal Chinese: “Terrible — I dare not think about how I myself was once so intolerant “ (Stern 41/97, p. 24).

Reinhold Messner, the famous mountain climber, found such an admission of guilt from Hollywood’s dream factory difficult to understand. He spoke up, confirming that he had long known about Harrer’s political opinions. This man, he said had up until the present day still not learned anything, he still believed in the national socialist alpinist ideals.

-- The Shadow of the Dalai Lama: Sexuality, Magic and Politics, by Victor and Victoria Trimondi, translated by Mark Penny


Next day we paid official visits to each of the four Cabinet Ministers. Responsible only to the Regent, these men represent the supreme authority in Tibet. Three of them are civil dignitaries and the fourth a monastic official. They all belong to the highest families and live in great style.

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Surkhang Wangchen Gelek: Wangchen Gelek joined government service early. When he was only about fifteen or sixteen he started as a junior apprentice, Tsituk (rtsis phrug). Over the course of his brilliant career, he was initially the Officer in Charge of Flour, Zhibkhang Dodampa (zhib khang do dam pa). He was then appointed as Kadrung (bka' drung), the Assistant Secretary to the Kashag (bka' shag). In 1933 he was the Domey Chikyab (mdo smad spyi khyab), the Assistant to the Governor General of Eastern Tibet, and then General, Depon (mda' dpon), in charge of 1500 men in Kham. In August 1943, at the young age of thirty three, he joined the Kashag and became a cabinet minister, or Kalon (bka' blon). His appointment to the Kashag seems to have been made by Regent Taktra Dorjechang Ngawang Sungrab Tutob (stag brag rdo rje 'chang ngag dbang gsung rab mthu stobs, 1874-1952) primarily because he saw the Surkhang family as a source of support and potential ally in his consolidation of political power. The previous Regent, the Fifth Reting Tubten Jampel Yeshe Gyeltsen (rwa sgreng 05 thub bstan 'jam dpal ye shes rgyal mtshan, 1912-1947) had confiscated a Surkhang estate and was thus despised by the family. Even if Surkhang's appointment to the Kashag owed more to politics than his own merit, he would prove to be a good statesman. He was to become a key member of the Kashag in the 1940s and the tumultuous 1950s.

-- Surkhang Wangchen Gelek, b.1910 - d.1977, by Tenzin Dickyi


We wondered with whom we should begin. We ought to have started with the Minister-monk, but we decided to bypass the protocol and call on the youngest Minister first, Surkhang by name. He was thirty-two years old and was considered more progressive than his colleagues. We hoped for counsel and understanding from a young man.

He welcomed us with frank cordiality and we were immediately on good terms. He was astonishingly well informed about events in the outside world. He entertained us to a princely dinner and when we took our leave we felt that we had known each other for years.

The next Minister we visited was Kabshopa [Kapshopa], a corpulent and somewhat self-important gentleman who treated us with a certain condescension. He made us sit down on two chairs in front of his comfortable throne and then overwhelmed us with a flood of eloquent phrases. He punctuated his most effective passages by clearing his throat noisily, at which a servant hurried forward and offered him a golden spittoon. Spitting is not a social solecism in Tibet and small spittoons are placed on every table; but it was new to us to see one presented to the spitter by a servant.  

At this first meeting it was hard for us to know what to make of Kabshopa. He held forth, and we passively submitted to his eloquence, at the right time replying courteously to his politenesses. We drank the ceremonial cup of tea in exemplary fashion. As he had not realised that we spoke Tibetan, his nephew was asked to interpret. This young man’s knowledge of English had secured him a post in the Foreign Ministry and we often had dealings with him later. He was a typical example of the younger generation. He had studied in India and was full of plans for reforming Tibet, though he had not yet ventured to stand up for his theories in presence of the conservative monks. Once when we were alone he caused me to remark that Aufschnaiter and I should have come to Lhasa a few years later, for if he and some of the other young aristocrats had been Ministers, there would have been work for us in plenty.

The Minister-monk who lived on the Lingkhor, the five-mile-long pilgrims’ road which goes round Lhasa, received us with less formality. He was no longer young and had a nice little white beard of which he was very proud, for beards in Tibet are a rarity. In a general way he seemed very detached, and in contrast with the other Ministers avoided expressing any definite opinions. His name was Rampa, and he was one of the few official monks who belonged to the aristocracy. The way in which the political situation was developing must have been causing him secret anxiety. He was much interested in our views on Russia’s policy and told us that in the old scriptures it was prophesied that a great power from the north would overrun Tibet, destroy religion and make itself master of the whole world.

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Phunkhang Yabshi Kung, Phunkhang Yabshi Kung's wife, and Phunkhang Yabshi Kung's son. Yabshi Phünkang Kung was known as “The Duke”. This title goes to the father or brother of the reigning Dalai Lama. As the title is hereditary there are usually a number of Kungs living at the same time, theoretically one for each Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama’s family is often poor and so the title of Kung carries with it considerable estates. He was appointed a member of the council of ministers (bka' blon) in 1938 until his dismissal in 1946. He was a staunch supporter of the Reting Regent. He suffered from very bad eyesight. 1948, Hugh E. Richardson.


Finally we called on Punkhang, the oldest of the four Ministers. He was a little man compelled by shortsightedness to wear thick-lensed spectacles. This was something quite unusual in Tibet, where spectacles are disapproved of as “un-Tibetan.” No official was allowed to use them and even wearing them in the house was discouraged. Our Minister had received special permission from the Dalai Lama to wear them in the office. At important ceremonies his poor sight rendered him quite helpless. Punkhang’s wife was present when he received us. He was, it is true, of higher rank than she, but it required no great penetration to see that it was madame who wore the trousers. After the first words of greeting Punkhang hardly spoke a sentence, whereas his lady drenched us with a shower of questions.

Later he showed us his domestic chapel. He was a scion of one of the families which had produced a Dalai Lama and prided himself on it. He showed us a figure of the Holy One in his dim and dusty chapel.



In course of time I came to know Punkhang’s sons. The eldest of them was Governor of Gyantse (Sey Kusho Gompo Tsering Yapshi Pheunkhang, the governor of the Tibetan city of Gyantse) and was married to a princess of Sikkim, who was, however, Tibetan by descent. She was more interesting than her husband and was, to boot, one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen.
She possessed the indescribable charm of Asian women and the stamp of age-old oriental culture. At the same time she was clever, well-educated and thoroughly modern, and had been taught in one of the best schools in India. She was the first woman in Tibet to refuse to marry her husband’s brothers because this did not conform with her principles. In conversation she was the equal of the most intelligent woman you would be likely to meet in a European salon. She was interested in politics, culture and all that was happening in the world. She often talked about equal rights for women . . . but Tibet has a long way to go before reaching that point.

When we said goodbye to Punkhang we begged him to support our request to be allowed to reside in Tibet. He of course offered to do all in his power to help us but we had been long enough in Asia to know that nobody ever bluntly refused anything.

In order to assure our position from all sides, we tried to get on good terms with the Chinese Legation. The charge d’affaires received us with the politeness for which his people are famous, and when we asked about the possibility of being admitted to China and finding an occupation there, he promised to submit our question to his Government.

In these ways we did what we could to get support in all quarters and to convince people of our harmlessness. It happened quite often that strangers addressed us while we were out for walks and asked us very peculiar questions. One day a Chinese took a snapshot of us. A camera in Lhasa was something very unusual, and the incident gave us food for thought. We had already heard that there were a number of people in Lhasa supplying information to foreign countries. Perhaps we, too, were believed to be agents of a foreign power. Only the English knew how innocent we were, for they knew where we had come from, and were in a position to test the truth of our statements. Other people, not so well informed about us, might think all sorts of things. In fact, we had no political ambitions. All we asked for was shelter and work to do till the time came when we could return to Europe.

Meanwhile spring had come, bringing beautiful warm weather, though it was only early February. Lhasa lies south of Cairo, and in high altitudes the sun’s rays seem perceptibly stronger. We felt very well, but longed for regular occupation. Daily invitations and visits and banquets that lasted for hours were our lot, as we were passed from hand to hand like a couple of animal prodigies. We were soon sick of this idle life and hankered for work and sport. Beyond a small ground for basketball Lhasa made no provision for games. The young Tibetans and Chinese who played basket-ball were very glad when we offered to play with them. There were also hot shower-baths in the square, but a single shower-bath cost ten rupees — an enormous price when one thinks that a sheep costs no more.

Some years before, we heard, there had been a football ground in the town. Eleven teams were formed and cup-tie matches organised. One day during a match a hailstorm occurred and did a lot of damage, as a result of which football was forbidden. Perhaps the Regent disapproved of the sport and most likely it was thought to be a threat to the influence of the Church, for the people were enthusiastic about the game and many monks from Sera and Drebung were to be found watching the matches. Anyhow the hailstorm was interpreted as a sign that the gods disapproved of this frivolous sport, and football was abolished.


In connection with this story we asked our friends if there really were Lamas who could hold up hailstorms or call down showers of rain, for this belief is firmly held in Tibet. In all the fields there are small stone towers containing shells deposited as offerings in which incense is burnt when a storm approaches. Many villages actually have regular weather-makers. These are monks with a reputation for special skill in managing the weather. For the purposes of their magic they blow on conchs, which make a vibrating sound. In many of our mountain villages the church bells are rung when a storm is approaching, and the effect of these conchs can .be compared to the effect of the vibration of the bells. But of course Tibetans do not recognise any physical explanation — for them all is magic and spells and the sport of the gods.

We heard a nice story dating from the time of the thirteenth Dalai Lama. He, of course, had his court weather-maker, who was the most famous wizard ever known. His special job was to protect the God-King’s summer garden when a storm approached, One fine day a heavy hailstorm came and beat down all the flowers and ruined the ripening fruit. The weather-maker was summoned into the presence of the Living Buddha, who sat grumbling on his throne and ordered the trembling magician at once to perform a miracle, otherwise he would be dismissed and punished. The man prostrated himself and asked for a sieve — just an ordinary sieve. He then asked the Holy One whether he would be satisfied if the water poured into the sieve did not flow through it. The Dalai Lama nodded and lo and behold! the water which was passed into the sieve remained in it. The magician’s reputation was saved and he was allowed to retain his well-paid post.

All this time we were racking our brains to find some means of earning our living if we stayed on in Lhasa. For the moment we were treated most generously, receiving parcels of tsampa, meal, butter and tea. A pleasant surprise was Kabshopa’s nephew handing us 500 rupees as a present from the Foreign Ministry. In our letter of thanks we said we were prepared to work for the Government if they would guarantee us food and lodging.

For the past three weeks we had been enjoying Thangme’s hospitality. Now the wealthy Tsarong invited us to stay with him and we gratefully accepted. Thangme had four children and needed our room. He had taken us in as poor vagabonds off the street and had shown himself a true friend. We have never forgotten his kindness. At the New Year he was the first to receive white scarves from us, and later on when I had a house of my own he was a regular guest at my Christmas parties.

In Tsarong’s house we were given a large room with European furniture, a table, easy chairs, beds and fine carpets. Next door we had a little room to wash in. We also found something which we had missed very much up to now, a closet for the relief of nature. In this respect the habits of Tibetans are casual to the last degree and any place seems to be regarded as a suitable latrine.

Tsarong could afford to have a number of cooks. His chef had been for years in the best hotel in Calcutta and understood European cooking. His roast meats were wonderful and he was in addition outstanding as a pastrycook and confectioner. Another of the cooks had been sent to China and had come back with a repertoire of Chinese dishes. Tsarong liked to astonish his guests with unknown delicacies. We were surprised to find that in the best houses women were never employed as cooks — only as kitchen-maids.

Tibetan meal-times are not quite the same as ours. In the early morning one drinks butter-tea and indeed very often throughout the day. I have heard of people drinking two hundred cups in a single day, though I daresay that is an exaggeration. There are two main meals in the day, one at 10 a.m. and the other after sunset. The first of these, consisting of a dish of tsampa and some trimmings, we took together in our own room. For the evening meal we were generally invited to join our host. The whole family sat round a large table. Many courses were served and this meal was the central point of the day, at which everyone in the house was assembled and the day’s happenings discussed.

After supper we all sat in the living-room which with its numerous rugs, chests and figures seemed overcrowded. Here we smoked cigarettes and drank beer. We also had occasion to admire our host’s latest acquisitions, for he was always buying something new. He had a wonderful wireless set, which gave one all the stations in the world. The reception was excellent, as on the “roof of the world” there is no atmospheric disturbance. Then there were the latest records to play, a cine-camera to be inspected, a new apparatus for enlarging photographs to be examined, and one evening he unpacked a theodolite! Tsarong was perfectly familiar with all these instruments. I suppose he had more hobbies than anyone in the town. We could not have wished for a better home than in his house. He collected stamps and kept up a correspondence with people in all parts of the world — his son who knew English helped him in this — and he possessed a well-chosen library including a fine collection of Western books, many of which were gifts, for every European who came to Lhasa stayed in his house and most of them left books as a souvenir of their visit.

Tsarong was an extraordinary man. He had constantly endeavoured to introduce reforms, and whenever the Government were busy with an important problem, he was called in to advise. He was responsible for the only iron bridge in the country. This he had had constructed and assembled in India. It was then taken to pieces and carried piece by piece into Tibet by yaks and coolies. Tsarong was a self-made man of the most modern brand and his ability would have made him an outstanding personality even in Western countries.

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Gaily-costumed women in a traditional dance

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The enormous banner hung before the Potala Palace

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Huge banner in the Monastery of Tra-Yerpa

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One of the monk policemen, bearing his heavy staff.

His son George — he had kept his Indian school-name — followed in his father’s footsteps. At our first meeting we had been impressed by his knowledge and the variety of his interests. At this time photography was his passion and the pictures he took were worth seeing. One evening he astonished us by showing a colour film which he had made himself. It was so successful and so noiseless that at first one might have imagined oneself in a first-class cinema. However hitches occurred later on with the motor and the spool, which Aufschnaiter and I helped to put right.

Our supper with Tsarong and the books which we borrowed from him and the British Legation provided us with our only form of evening entertainment. There were no cinemas or theatres in Lhasa and no hotels or public-houses. Social life was entirely confined to private houses.

We spent our days collecting impressions as we were afraid lest we might have to leave before we had seen everything. We had no absolute grounds for misgiving, but we felt that we could not really count on our friends for support in a crisis, generous as they had been. We had several times heard a story that sounded like a warning. An English teacher had been asked by the Government to start a European type of school in Lhasa and had been offered a long contract. After six months he packed up his traps and went away. The reactionary monks had made his task impossible.

We continued to pay daily visits — so many people had called on us — and thus acquired a good knowledge of the home fife of distinguished Tibetans. There was one point in which we could compare the people of Lhasa favourably with the inhabitants of our own cities. They always had time.

Tibet has not yet been infested by the worst disease of modern life, the everlasting rush. No one overworks here. Officials have an easy life. They turn up at the office late in the morning and leave for their homes early in the afternoon. If an official has guests or any other reason for not coming, he just sends a servant to a colleague and asks him to officiate for him.

Women know nothing about equal rights and are quite happy as they are. They spend hours making up their faces, restringing their pearl necklaces, choosing new material for dresses and thinking how to take the shine out of Mrs. So-and-so at the next party. They do not have to bother about house- keeping, which is all done by the servants. But to show that she is mistress the lady of the house always carries a large bunch of keys round with her. In Lhasa every trifling object is locked up and double-locked.

Then there is mah-jong. At one time this game was a universal passion. People were simply fascinated by it and played it day and night, forgetting everything else — official duties, housekeeping, the family. The stakes were often very high and everyone played — even the servants, who sometimes contrived to lose in a few hours what they had taken years to save. Finally the Government found it too much of a good thing. They forbade the game, bought up all the mah-jong sets and condemned secret offenders to heavy fines and hard labour. And they brought it off! I would never have believed it, but though everyone moaned and hankered to play again, they respected the prohibition. After mah-jong had been stopped, it became gradually evident how everything else had been neglected during the epidemic. On Saturdays — the day of rest — people now played chess or halma, or occupied themselves harmlessly with word-games and puzzles.

On February 16th we had been just a month in Lhasa. Our fate was still undecided: we had no work and we worried about our future. On that very day Kabshopa came to us looking solemn, as befitted an envoy from the Foreign Ministry. We knew from his expression that he had bad news for us. He told us that the Government did not approve of our continued residence in Tibet and that we must proceed forthwith to India. We had always envisaged this possibility in our own minds but were disconcerted by the reality. We began to protest but Kabshopa shrugged his shoulders and said we must do that in higher quarters.

Our next reaction to this mournful news was to collect all the maps of Eastern Tibet we could find in Lhasa. In the evening we set to work to plot a route and make plans. We were determined on one thing — no more barbed wire for us! We would rather flee and try our luck in China. We had some money and were well equipped. It would not be difficult to lay in a stock of provisions. But I had to think of my sciatica which was not getting better. Aufschnaiter had already got the doctor of the British Legation to visit me. He had prescribed some powders and given me injections, but they had done no good. Was this confounded complaint going to wreck our plans? I felt like despairing.

Next day, disheartened as I was, I hobbled over to the house of the Dalai Lama’s parents. We thought their intervention would help us. The Great Mother and Lobsang Samten promised to tell the whole story to the young God-King and felt sure that he would say a good word for us. This he actually did, and though the young Dalai Lama had not as yet any executive powers, his goodwill was certainly of use to us. In the meantime Aufschnaiter went from one acquaintance to another with the object of setting all the wheels in motion. And in order to omit no precaution, we composed a petition in English in which we set forth all the arguments in favour of our being allowed to remain in Tibet.

Fate seemed to be conspiring against us, for my sciatica suddenly became so bad that I could not move. I suffered great pain and had to remain in bed, while Aufschnaiter ran round the town till his feet were sore. These were anxious days.

On February 21st some soldiers appeared at our door. They called on us to pack our things as they had been ordered to escort us to India. We were to start early the next morning. That seemed to be the end of all things, but how was I to travel? I could not walk even as far as the window, as I tried to demonstrate to the lieutenant. He put on a helpless expression. Like all soldiers he had to obey orders and was not qualified to receive explanations. Pulling myself together I asked him to tell his superior that I could not leave Lhasa unless I was carried. The soldiers retired.

We at once applied to Tsarong for advice and help, but he had nothing fresh to tell us. He said that one could not resist an order from the Government. Alone in our room we cursed my sciatica. If I had been fit, nothing would have prevented us from escaping and we should have got away that very night. We preferred hardship and danger to the most comfortable quarters behind barbed wire. It would not be so easy to move me tomorrow and I bitterly decided to adopt an attitude of passive resistance.

But next morning nothing happened — no soldiers came, and there was no news. We anxiously sent for Kabshopa, who came in person and seemed embarrassed. Aufschnaiter explained how ill I was and began to discuss our problem. “Would it not be possible, ” he said, with a serious expression, “ to arrive at a com- promise?”

We had, meanwhile, come to suspect that perhaps the British were at the bottom of this business and had asked Tibet to hand us over.

We realised that Tibet was a small country and it was to her interest to be on good terms with her neighbours. What was the point of risking a misunderstanding with England for so small a matter as a couple of German P.O.W.s? So Aufschnaiter proposed that the English doctor, at that moment acting as charge d’affaires at the Legation, should be requested to give a certificate as to my condition. Kabshopa accepted the suggestion with such alacrity that we stole a glance at one another and felt sure that our suspicion was justified.

The doctor visited me in the course of the day and informed me that the decision about the date of our departure had been left in his hands by the Government. He gave me injections which did no good. I got more comfort from a present from Tsarong in the shape of some thermogene wool.

I now set myself to overcome my illness, which, I was determined, should no longer thwart our plans. Exerting all my strength of will, I forced myself to do exercises every day. A Lama had recommended me to roll a stick backwards and forwards with the soles of my feet. This I did for hours every day, sitting in a chair. The exercise was exceedingly painful but it gradually improved my condition and eventually I was able to go out into the garden and warm myself, like an old man, in the spring sunshine.

We were now in full spring. March had come and on the fourth of the month began the New Year Festival — the greatest of all Tibetan feasts, which lasts for three weeks. Alas! I could not take part in it. In the distance I heard drums and trombones and saw by the excitement that reigned in the house how important it all was. Tsarong and his son came every day to see me and show off their splendid new robes of silk and brocade. Aufschnaiter, of course, went everywhere, and told me all about it in the evening.

This year was the “ Fire-Hound-Year.” On March 4th (or a date near to this, as the Tibetan New Year is flexible — similar to our Easter) the City Magistrate hands over his authority to the monks — symbolising the restoration by the secular power of its office to religion, to whom it originally belonged. This is the beginning of a strict and formidable regime. To start with the whole place is tidied up and during this season Lhasa is renowned for its cleanliness — which is not a normal condition. At the same time a sort of civil peace is proclaimed. All quarrels cease. Public offices are closed, but the bargaining of street traders is livelier than ever, except during the festal processions. Crimes and offences, including gambling, are punished with especial severity. The monks are relentless judges and are accustomed to inflict fearful floggings which occasionally cause the death of the victim. (Although it is true that in such cases the Regent intervenes and deals with the persons responsible.)

In the midst of the celebrations we seemed to have been forgotten and we took care not to attract notice. The Government probably were satisfied with the English doctor’s ruling that I was not yet fit to travel. We were gaining valuable time. The great thing was for me to get well and then perhaps we could realise our flight to China.

Day after day I used to sun myself in the garden, enjoying the increasing heat, so my astonishment was all the greater when one morning I woke up to find all the spring greenery deep in snow. It is very seldom that snow falls so late in the year at Lhasa, which lies so deep in the heart of Asia that atmospheric depressions seldom reach it. Even in winter the snow does not he for long. On this occasion it was soon melted. It had done some good, because by converting the sand and dust into mud it had mitigated the discomforts of the subsequent sandstorm.

These storms recur regularly every spring and continue for a period of about two months. They usually reach the town in the early afternoon. One sees them approaching with terrific rapidity in a huge black cloud. The Potala Palace disappears and at once everyone rushes for home. Street fife stops, the windows rattle, and the animals in the fields resignedly turn their tails to the wind and wait patiently till they can start grazing once more. The countless street dogs huddle together in corners. (They are not usually so peaceful. One day Aufschnaiter came home with a torn cloak — he had been attacked by dogs, which had killed and devoured a dying horse; the pack had tasted blood.)

The period of duststorms is the most unpleasant time of the year. Even sitting in one’s room one gets sand between one’s teeth as there are no double windows in Lhasa. The only positive comfort one can get out of these spring storms is in the knowledge that winter has really ended. All the gardeners know that they have no more frost to fear. At this season the meadows along the canals get their first breath of green and Buddha’s hair begins to bloom. That is what they call the famous weeping willow at the gate of the cathedral. The slender, hanging branches with the fine yellow blooms give a meaning to this poetic name in the springtime.

When I was able to hobble around again I was anxious to make myself useful in some way or other. Tsarong had planted hundreds of young fruit trees in his garden. They were all grown from seed and had up to now borne no fruit. Together with George (my host’s son) I now set to work to graft them systematically. That gave the household something new to laugh at. In Tibet grafting is practically unknown and there is no word for it. They called it “marrying” and found it all very amusing.

Tibetans are a happy little people full of childish humour. They are grateful for any opportunity to laugh. If anyone stumbles or slips they enjoy themselves for hours. Pleasure in the misfortunes of others is almost universal but somehow it is not ill-meant. They make a mock of everything and everybody. As they have no newspapers they indulge their criticism of untoward events or objectionable persons by means of songs and satire. Boys and girls walk through the Barkhor in the evening singing the latest verses. Even the highest personages must put up with being pulled to pieces. Sometimes the Government proscribes a particular song, but no one is ever punished for singing it. It is no longer sung in public, but is heard all the more in private.

The Barkhor is most thronged at the New Year. This street runs in a circle round the Cathedral and most of the life of the city is concentrated in it. Many of the big business houses are here, and here all religious and military processions begin and end. Towards evening, especially on public holidays, pious citizens swarm over the Barkhor mumbling their prayers, and many of the faithful cover the whole distance in successive prostrations. But not only piety is represented in the Barkhor. You find also pretty women showing off their newest frocks and flirting a little with the young bloods of the nobility. Ladies of easy virtue are also there professionally.

In a word, the Barkhor is a centre of business, sociability and frivolity.

By the 15th of the first Tibetan month I was so much better that I, too, could attend the festivities. The fifteenth is one of the great days. There is a magnificent procession in which the Dalai Lama takes part. T sarong had promised us a window in one of his houses looking on to the Barkhor. Our places were on the ground floor as no one is allowed to be at a higher elevation than the heads of the grandees, who march with measured tread along the street. No houses in Lhasa may be more than two storeys high as it is considered a form of blasphemy to compete with the Cathedral or the Potala. This rule is strictly observed and the wooden shanties — easily taken to pieces — which some of the nobles put up on the flat roofs of their houses in the warm weather disappear like magic when the Dalai Lama or the Regent takes part in a procession.

While the brightly coloured crowd flowed through the streets we sat at our window with Mrs. Tsarong. Our hostess was a friendly old lady who had always mothered us. We were very glad of her company in surroundings very strange to us, and her familiar friendly tones explained to us the novel sights that met our eyes.

We saw strange framelike objects rising from the ground sometimes to a height of thirty or more feet. She told us that these were for the butter figures. Soon after sunset these works of art, made of butter by the monks, are brought along. There are departments in the monasteries where particularly gifted monks, true artists in their own line, knead and model figures out of butter of different colours. This work, which requires inexhaustible patience, is often in the finest filigree. There is competition in the production of these masterpieces of a single night, as the Government gives a prize for the best one. For many years past the monastery of Gyu has been the winner. Soon the whole street-front of the Barkhor was hidden behind these gaily coloured butter pyramids. In front of them was an endless mass of people and we wondered if we should be able to see anything. It was beginning to grow dark when the Lhasa regiments marched up to the sound of trumpets and drums. They lined the street and pressed the spectators back against the houses, leaving the roadway free.

Night fell swiftly, but soon the scene was brightly illuminated with a swarm of lights. There were thousands of flickering butter-lamps and among them a few petroleum pressure-lamps with their fearful glaring light. The moon came up over the roofs to throw more light on the proceedings. The months are lunar in Tibet so it was full-moon on the 15th. Everything was ready: the stage was set and the great festival could now begin. The voices of the crowd were hushed in anticipation. The great moment had come.

The Cathedral doors opened and the young God-King stepped slowly out, supported to right and left by two abbots. The people bowed in awe. According to strict ceremonial they should prostrate themselves but today there was no room. As he approached they bowed, as a field of corn bends before the wind. No one dared to look up. With measured steps the Dalai Lama began his solemn circuit of the Barkhor. From time to time he stopped before the figures of butter and gazed at them. He was followed by a brilliant retinue of all the high dignitaries and nobles. After them followed the officials in order of precedence. In the procession we recognised our friend Tsarong, who followed close behind the Dalai Lama. Like all the nobles, he carried in his hand a smouldering stick of incense.

The awed crowd kept silent. Only the music of the monks could be heard — the oboes, tubas and kettledrums. It was like a vision of another world, a strangely unreal happening. In the yellow light of the flickering lamps the great figures of moulded butter seemed to come to life. We fancied we saw strange flowers tossing their heads in the breeze and heard the rustling of the robes of gods. The faces of these portentous figures were distorted in a demonic grimace. Then the God raised his hand in blessing.

Now the Living Buddha was approaching. He passed quite close to our window. The women stiffened in a deep obeisance and hardly dared to breathe. The crowd was frozen. Deeply moved we hid ourselves behind the women as if to protect ourselves from being drawn into the magic circle of this Power.

We kept saying to ourselves, “It is only a child.” A child, indeed, but the heart of the concentrated faith of thousands, the essence of their prayers, longings, hopes. Whether it is Lhasa or Rome — all are united by one wish: to find God and to serve Him. I closed my eyes and hearkened to the murmured prayers and the solemn music and sweet incense rising to the evening sky.

Soon the Dalai Lama had completed his tour round the Barkhor and vanished into the Tsug Lag Khang. The soldiers marched away to the music of their bands.

As if awakened from a hypnotic sleep, the tens of thousands of spectators passed from order into chaos. The transition was overwhelmingly sudden. The crowds broke into shouts and wild gesticulation. A moment ago they were weeping and praying or sunk in ecstatic meditation, and now they are a throng of madmen. The monk-guards begin to function. They are huge fellows with padded shoulders and blackened faces to make them more terrible. They lay about them with their whips, but the crowd press frantically round the statues of butter, which are now in danger of being overturned. Even those who have been bludgeoned come back into the fray. One would think they were possessed by demons. Are they really the same people who just now were bowing humbly before a child?

Next morning the streets were empty. The butter figures had been carried away and no trace remained of the reverence or the ecstasy of the night before. Market-stalls had taken the place of the stands which had carried the statues. The brightly coloured figures of the saints had melted and would be used as fuel for lamps — or would be made up into magic medicines.
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Re: Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

Postby admin » Wed Sep 04, 2019 5:30 am

9. Asylum Granted

Our first jobs — Athletic sports before the gates of Lhasa — A mixed population — We are finally allowed to stay.

Many people came to visit us. Tibetans journeyed from far and wide to Lhasa to attend the New Year Festival, among them people whom we had got to know on our journey. It was not hard for them to find us as we were still much talked of, and every child knew where we lived. Some brought us presents of dried meat, which is much appreciated in Lhasa. We learnt, moreover, from these people that the officials through whose districts we had passed had been severely censured by the Government. It depressed us to feel that persons who had received us in such a friendly manner had suffered such unpleasantness on our account. But it seemed that they bore us no grudge. We met a Ponpo whom we had bamboozled with our old travel permit and he only laughed and seemed glad to see us again.

The New Year’s celebrations did not pass off this year without a mishap. An accident occurred on the Barkhor which attracted much attention.

Every year they put up high flagstaff’s made of heavy tree trunks fitted into one another. These are brought from distant places and it is quite a business to carry them to Lhasa. It is managed in a very primitive way, and my indignation was aroused when I saw, for the first time, a procession coming in. It reminded me of the Volga boatmen. About twenty men drag each trunk which is attached to them by a rope round their waists. They sing a monotonous air as they trudge along, keeping step with one another. They sweat and pant, but their foreman, who leads the singing, gives them no pause for rest. This forced labour is in part a substitute for taxation. The carriers are picked up at villages on the road and dismissed when they come to the next settlement. The monotonous airs to which they drag their burden are said to distract their minds from the severity of their task. I should have thought they would do better to save their breath. The sort of fatalistic resignation with which they lent themselves to this back-breaking toil always used to infuriate me. As a product of our modern age, I could not understand why the people of Tibet were so rigidly opposed to any form of progress. There must obviously be some better means of transporting these heavy burdens than by man-handling them. The Chinese invented and used the wheel thousands of years ago. But the Tibetans will have none of it, though its use would give an immense impulse to transport and commerce and would raise the whole standard of living throughout the country.

When, later, I was engaged in irrigation works, I made various finds which strengthened my belief that the Tibetans had known and used the wheel many centuries ago. We uncovered hundreds of great blocks of stones as big as wardrobes. These could not have been carried save by mechanical means from the remote quarries where they had been hewn. When my workmen wanted to carry such a block from one place to another they had first to hew it into eight pieces.

I became more and more convinced that Tibet’s great days belonged to the past. There is a stone obelisk dating from A.D. 763 which bears witness to my theory. It records the fact that in that year the Tibetan armies marched to the gates of the Chinese capital and there dictated to the Chinese terms of peace, which included an annual tribute of fifty thousand bales of silk.

And then there is the Potala Palace, which must date from Tibet’s days of greatness. No one, today, would think of erecting such a building. I once asked a stonemason who was working for me why such buildings were no longer put up. He answered indignantly that the Potala was the handiwork of the gods. Men could never have achieved anything like it. Good spirits and supernatural beings had worked by night on this wonderful building. I found in this view another instance of the indifference to progress and ambition which characterised the attitude of the men who dragged the tree-trunks.

To return to my story. When the tree-trunks are brought into Lhasa they are bound together with strips of yak’s hide to form a thick mast nearly seventy feet high. Then a huge flag bearing printed prayers and extending from the top to the bottom of the pole is nailed on to it. On this occasion the trunks were probably too heavy for the yak-skin straps, for the whole mast broke into its component parts, which crushed three watchers to death and injured several others. The whole of Tibet took this for an evil omen and people prophesied a black future for the country. Catastrophes such as earthquakes and floods were foretold. Men spoke of war and looked meaningly towards China. Everyone, even those who had had an English education, was a prey to superstition.

Nevertheless they did not carry the men wounded in this accident to their Lamas, but to the British Legation, where there was a hospital with a number of beds for Tibetans. The English doctor had plenty of work. Every morning there was a queue of clients waiting before his door, and in the afternoon he visited his patients in the town. The monks tolerated in silence this intrusion into their territory. They could hardly do otherwise, because it was impossible to ignore the doctor’s success.

The policy of the Government towards medicine is a dark chapter in the history of modern Tibet. The doctors of the British and Chinese Legations were the only qualified medical men in a population of three and a half million. Doctors would find a rich field of activity in Tibet, but the Government would never consent to allow foreigners to practise. The whole power was in the hands of the monks, who criticised even government officials when they called in the English doctor.

It was a hopeful omen for our future when Aufschnaiter was summoned by a high monastic official and commissioned to build an irrigation canal. We were speechless with joy! This was our first step towards a settled existence in Lhasa and it was the monks who had put us on the road.

Aufschnaiter began at once to work on his measurements. I wanted to help him as he had no trained assistant, so I walked out to his work-place on the Lingkhor. An indescribable scene awaited us. There squatted hundreds, nay thousands, of monks wearing their red cowls and busy doing something for which privacy is generally regarded as essential. I did not envy Aufschnaiter his place of work. We went obstinately on with our job, looking neither to the right nor to the left, but vowed to ourselves to move as soon as possible from the neighbourhood.

Aufschnaiter made good headway and in a fortnight was ready to start digging. A hundred and fifty workers were placed at his disposal, and we began to feel that we were important contractors. But we had yet to learn the methods of work practised in this country.

In the meantime I had also found a job for myself. I was still an invalid, and Tsarong’s garden was the best place for a man in my condition; but I kept wondering what I could do to make it more beautiful. Then I had an inspiration. I would make a fountain.

I took measurements and made drawings and soon had prepared a beautiful plan. Tsarong was enthusiastic. He chose the servants who were to help me, and I sat comfortably in the sunshine and directed my gang. Underground pipes were soon laid and a pool dug. Tsarong insisted on taking a hand personally in the cementing. Since the erection of the famous iron bridge he had been an authority on reinforced concrete. Then we had to build a cistern on the roof of the house to supply the fountain with water. It was pretty hard work pumping the water up into the cistern, but I made a virtue of necessity and used the hand pump for training my muscles.

At last the great moment arrived and for the first time a jet of water, as high as the house, sprang from my fountain. We were all as happy as children. This was the only fountain in Tibet and from now on it was the piece de resistance at Tsarong’s garden parties.

New impressions and an unwonted activity almost made us forget our cares. One day Thangme brought us a newspaper in Tibetan, and showed us an article about ourselves, which related in a very friendly spirit how we had burst our way through the mountain barriers and reached Lhasa; and how we were now begging for the protection of this pious, neutral country. We thought that these friendly lines could only have a favourable influence on public opinion and hoped they might lend some support to our petition. It is true that the journal in question would have been of little account in Europe. It appeared once a month and was published at Kalimpong in India. Its circulation did not exceed five hundred copies, but it was read rather extensively in Lhasa in certain circles, and individual numbers were sent to Tibetologues throughout the world.

The New Year celebrations were not yet at an end, though the most important ceremonies had been performed. Now came the athletic gathering on the Barkhor in front of the Tsug Lag Khang. As an old athlete I was particularly interested and every day at sunrise found me at the games, which started early in the morning. We had been lucky enough to secure places at a window on the second floor of the Chinese Legation, from which we watched, well concealed behind a curtain. That was our only way of getting round the order forbidding anyone to sit above the ground floor in the presence of the Regent, who sat, enthroned behind a muslin curtain, on the first floor of the Tsug Lag Khang. The four Cabinet Ministers watched through the windows.

The first events were wrestling bouts. I could not make up my mind whether the wrestlers’ methods were more like the Greco-Roman or the catch-as-catch-can style. They obviously had their own rules. Here a fall is given when any part of the body except the feet touches the ground. There are no fists of competitors, nor any preliminary announcements. A felt mat is spread out and men come out of the crowd and take each other on. The combatants wear only a loin-cloth and shiver in the cold morning air. They are all well-grown, muscular fellows. They jig around with wild gestures under the noses of their opponents and assume an air of swaggering courage. But they have no notion of the art of wrestling and would be easily vanquished by a real wrestler. The bouts are soon over and a new pair comes on the scene. One never seems to see a keen struggle for victory. Winners get no special distinction, but winners and losers both receive white scarves. They bow to the Ponpo, who hands them the scarves with a benevolent smile, and prostrate themselves three times in honour of the Regent; after which they rejoin the crowd the best of friends.

Next came a weight-lifting competition. The weight is a heavy, smooth stone, which must have seen hundreds of New Year festivals. It has to be lifted and carried round the flagstaff. Very few people can perform this feat. There is much laughter when a competitor swaggers up to the stone with an air of overweening confidence and then finds that he can hardly lift it off the ground; or when it slips out of his hands, threatening to squash his toes in its fall.

Then suddenly, one hears the far-off thud of galloping horses. Weight-lifting comes to an end. The horse-races are starting. Here come the beasts in a thick cloud of dust. In these races there is no staked-out course. The riderless horses take their own line often through the crowd, whom the monk-soldiers have been trying to drive out of the way with their cudgels. These races, like some of the other events, arc hard to understand. The unridden beasts start off in a mass some miles outside the town and burst through the excited public, who unwillingly withdraw to the side of the track in order to let them go by on their way to the winning-post. Only horses bred in Tibet are allowed to enter, and each horse carries the owner’s name on a cloth on his back. There is keen competition between the stables, but when the Dalai Lama or a Minister has a horse running, it is obvious that he has got to come in first. When it looks as if an outsider is likely to beat an “official” horse, grooms run out and stop him before he gets to the post. The races are followed with tremendous excitement. The crowd and the servants of owners howl and cry to encourage the runners, while the noble lords who own the animals try to look dignified. The whole field storms madly past towards the winning-post, which lies a little way to the back of the town.

The cloud of dust kicked up by the hooves of the horses had scarcely time to settle before the first of the foot-runners came panting up. And what a rabble they were! Anyone can take part in a foot-race, from old men to small boys. Here they come — with bleeding, blistered feet, out of breath and with distorted faces. One can see that they have never been in training in their lives. Many drop out long before completing the five-mile course, having gained nothing by their efforts except the laughter of the bystanders.

The last of the runners are still limping in when the next event is started. This time it is a mounted race with the riders wearing historic costumes. They are greeted with cries of enthusiasm and use their whips wildly to get the last ounce out of their beasts. The crowd wave their arms and shout, a horse bucks and his rider flies in an arc into the midst of the spectators. Nobody minds. This is the last athletic event of the meeting, and afterwards the prize-winners come forward, each carrying a wooden square showing in what order he reached the post. There are about a hundred runners and almost the same number of riders in the two events. They receive coloured or white scarves from the judges, but there is no applause from the spectators.

To close the proceedings a test of horsemanship is held in a huge field outside Lhasa. We hurried along with the crowd and were glad to be invited by one of the nobles into his tent. These festival tents offer a wonderful picture. They are pitched in serried ranks and each is furnished in a manner corresponding to the station of its owner. Many of them are draped with silks and brocades and decorated with gorgeous ornaments. Add to them the rich robes of the men and women and you have a real symphony in colour. Civil officials of the fourth rank and upwards wear glossy yellow silk robes with large plate-shaped hats with brims of blue-fox fur. (These furs come from Hamburg! Tibetans find their own foxes are not good enough.)

Competition in smartness of dress is not confined to the women. The men take their part. Their Asiatic love of finery puts them in contact with many parts of the world. Thus blue foxes come from Hamburg, cultured pearls from Japan, turquoises from Persia via Bombay, corals from Italy, and amber from Berlin and Konigsberg. I have often written letters for rich noblemen to addresses all over the world ordering this or that article de luxe. Pomp and decoration are here a necessity. They have to be displayed to advantage in clothes and furnishings. The common people enjoy no luxury themselves but appreciate it in their betters.

The great festivals are really an occasion for displaying pomp and power, and the high dignitaries know that they owe it to the people to make a good show. When, on the last day of the feast, the four Cabinet Ministers exchange their costly head-dresses for the red-fringed hats of their servants in order to show for a moment their equality with the people, the enthusiasm and admiration of the public know no bounds.

This test of horsemanship is the most popular of all spectacles. It is probably a survival of former great military parades. In the past the feudal lords had at certain times to march their troops past their overlord and thus show their readiness for war: but this significance has long disappeared. Nevertheless there are many features of these games which recall the warlike days of Mongol influence, when marvellous feats of horsemanship were the order of the day.

We had occasion to admire some incredibly skilful performances by Tibetan horsemen. Every noble family enters a certain number of participants for these games and of course there is the utmost keenness to choose the best men so that the team may do well in the final classification. Competitors have to show off their skill in riding and shooting. When I saw what they could do, I simply could not get over it! They stood upright in the saddle and while their horses were galloping past a hanging target, swung up their matchlocks and shot into the bull’s-eye. Before they had reached the next target, twenty yards away, they had exchanged their muskets for bows and arrows. Shouts of joy acclaimed the mounted archer who hit the mark. It is incredible how adroit the Tibetans are at changing from one weapon to another.

At these festivities the Tibetan Government displays typical hospitality, even towards foreigners. Splendid tents of honour are put up for all the foreign legations, and servants and liaison officers see to it that the guests have everything they want.

I noticed an unusual number of Chinese on the sports ground. They are easily distinguishable from the Tibetans though they belong to the same racial family. The Tibetans are not markedly slit-eyed; they have pleasant, refined faces and red cheeks. The rich Chinese costumes of the past have in many cases given way to European suits, and many Chinese, in this respect more progressive than the Tibetans, wear spectacles. Most of the Chinese in Lhasa are merchants who maintain prosperous trade relations with their own country. They enjoy living in Tibet and many settle down permanently in Lhasa. One reason for this is that most Chinese are passionate opium-smokers, and there is no explicit prohibition of opium-smoking in Tibet. Sometimes a Tibetan, seduced by the example of the Chinese, takes to the opium pipe. If he does, he is likely to be punished. There is no danger that opium-smoking may become a national vice. The vigilance of the authorities is far too keen. They already consider tobacco-smoking to be a vice and control it very closely and, though one can buy any sort of cigarette in Lhasa, there is no smoking in offices, in the streets or at public ceremonies. When the monks take control during the New Year they even forbid the sale of cigarettes.

That is why all Tibetans are snuff-takers. The laity and the monks use their own preparation of snuff, which they find stimulating. Everyone is proud of his own mixture and when two Tibetans meet, the first thing they do is to take out their snuffboxes and exchange a pinch of snuff. Snuff-boxes too are a subject for pride. One finds them in all materials from yak-horn to jade. The hardened snuff-taker spreads his dose on his thumbnail, sniffs it up and then blows a cloud of dust out of his mouth and never dreams of sneezing. If anyone burst out into a fearful sneeze, it was always I, and the company never failed to laugh.

There are also Nepalese in Lhasa, richly clad and stout of body. One can see, even at a distance, that they are prosperous. By virtue of an old treaty they are exempt from taxation, and they have the means to exploit this favoured situation thoroughly. The finest businesses in the Barkhor belong to them. They are expert dealers, with a sixth sense for a good bargain. Most of them leave their families at home and go back to them from time to time; unlike the Chinese, who are apt to marry Tibetan women to whom they make model husbands.

At official festivities the representatives of Nepal outdo even the gaily clad Tibetans in brilliance of dress, and the red tunics of the Gurkhas, who form their bodyguard, are conspicuous from afar. These Gurkhas have acquired a certain reputation in Lhasa. They alone venture to contravene the prohibition against fishing. When the Government hear of such breaches of the law, they send a solemn protest to the Nepalese Legation. This gives rise to a nice little comedy. The guilty persons must of course be punished, as the Legation sets much store on good relations with the Tibetan Government. But as a matter of fact more important persons than mere soldiers are often involved — indeed many high-class Tibetans enjoy a plate of fish when they can get it. The poor culprits receive a terrible telling-off and are sentenced to be whipped, but the chastisement is not meant to hurt.

No one would dare to go fishing in Lhasa. In the whole of Tibet there is only one place where fishing is allowed, and that is where the Tsang Po river runs through a sandy desert. Here there are no crops and no pasture for animals: in fact there is nothing to eat but fish, and so the law has been relaxed. The people of this region are looked down upon, like the slaughterers and blacksmiths.

In point of numbers the Moslems form an appreciable part of the population of Lhasa. They have a mosque of their own and enjoy full freedom to practise their religion. (One of the best characteristics of the Tibetan people is their complete tolerance of other creeds. Their monastic theocracy has never sought the conversion of infidels.) Most of the Moslems have immigrated from India and have intermingled with the Tibetans. Their religious zeal led them at first to demand that their Tibetan wives should be converted, but here the Tibetan Government stepped in and made it a condition that native women could marry Moslems only if they kept to their own faith.

At the festival it is possible to pick out examples of all the population groups. One sees Ladhakis, Bhutanese, Mongolians, Sikkimese, Kazaks and representatives of all the neighbouring tribes, among whom one finds Hui-Huis — Chinese Moslems from the province of Kuku-Nor. These people own the slaughterhouses situated in a special quarter outside the Lingkhor. Buddhists look askance at them because they take the life of animals, but they are allowed to have their own place of worship.

At the end of the festival the nobles and notables march back to the town in a glittering procession. The common people stand by the roadside and admire the splendour of their demi-gods. They have had their fill of excitement and drama, and the faithful will feast for long on the memory of these tremendous ceremonies at which the God-King showed himself to them. Workaday fife begins again. Shops are opened and bargains driven as keenly as ever. Dice-players appear at street corners and the dogs, who during the “Lenten” fast have migrated to the outskirts of the Lingkhor, come back to the town.

Our life continued peacefully. Summer approached. My sciatica got better and nothing was said about our expulsion. I was receiving regular treatment from the English doctor, but on fine days I was able to work in the garden. And I had a lot to do, for when it was known that I was responsible for Tsarong’s fountain and various other rearrangements in his grounds, notables came, one after another, and asked me to do the same for them.

Aufschnaiter was very busy making his canal. From early morning till evening he was at his work-place, for work stopped only on feast days. It was a fortunate thing that he had been employed by the monks, for though the lay nobles play an important part in the administration of the country, a small group of monks has the last word in everything. For this reason I felt no little satisfaction when one day I was summoned to the garden of the Tsedrungs.

The monks of this foundation are officials who form a sort of monastic order. Brought up to be strictly loyal to their own community, they have become far more powerful than the secular officials. They provide the immediate entourage of the Dalai Lama, and all the personal servants of the young god belong to this order. His chamberlains, his tutor and his personal guardians are all Tsedrung monks of high standing. Moreover the Dalai Lama attends the meetings which they are obliged to hold daily, to discuss the interests of their community.

The officials of this order are, without exception, strictly trained. Their school is situated in the east wing of the Potala and their teachers come according to tradition from the famous cloister of Mondroling, which specialises in Tibetan calligraphy and grammar. Anybody can enter the school, but adoption into the order is very difficult. A rule dating from many centuries prescribes that the members of the Tsedrung order shall not exceed 175.

When the student has reached his eighteenth year and has passed his examinations, he can enter the order with powerful patronage. Beginning at the bottom he may, if sufficiently capable, attain to the third class in the order. The Tsedrung monks wear, in addition to the usual red cowls, garments distinctive of their rank. Most of the students in the Tsedrung school come from the people and they provide a useful counterpoise to the influence of the hereditary nobles. They have a wide field of activity as there are no government offices in which there is not at least one monastic official to every layman. This system of dual control is considered an insurance against the exercise of dictatorial power, which is one of the standing dangers of feudalism.

It was the High Chamberlain who had sent for me. He proposed that I should rearrange the garden of the Tsedrungs. That was a great chance for me. I was told that additions were to be made to the Dalai Lama’s garden as well, and if my work was found satisfactory, I might be employed there. I set to work at once with the utmost zeal. They placed a number of men under my orders and we soon got things moving. I now had no time for the private lessons in English and mathematics which I was giving to some young nobles.

Suddenly, just as I was beginning to feel sure of our position in view of the powerful protection we now enjoyed, I had a fearful shock. One morning we received a visit from Mr. Kyibub, a high official at the Foreign Ministry and the last of the four Tibetans who had been educated at Rugby many years ago. He was clearly upset by his mission. After many apologies and expressions of regret he told us that the English doctor had now certified that I was fit to travel and that the Government expected us to depart at once. In confirmation he showed us the certificate, which stated that though I was not completely cured, I could travel without endangering my life.

This was a stunning and unexpected blow to Aufschnaiter and me. We pulled ourselves together and endeavoured politely and calmly to present our side of the question. We explained that my illness might recur at any moment. What would I do if, in the middle of an arduous journey, I found I could not move a step further? Moreover the hot season in India had just begun. No one who had been living for so long in the healthy highland air of Tibet could endure the transition without prejudice to his health. And what was to happen to the tasks with which we had been charged by the highest authorities, and which we felt bound to carry to completion? We promised to submit another petition to the Government.

From this day forth we heard never a word more about an order of expulsion, though for a while we lived in daily expectation of it.

In the meantime we had come to feel at home in Lhasa, and the people had got used to us. We received no more visits from curious people — only from friends. The British Legation seemed convinced that we were not dangerous, for though Delhi had asked for our surrender, the point was not pressed. The Tibetan authorities assured us that we were not considered undesirable.

We were now earning so much that we were no longer dependent on Tsarong’s hospitality. We made many friends during the course of our work and time passed very quickly. The only thing for which we hankered was letters from home. We had now been over two years without news. Still we comforted ourselves with the thought that our life was very tolerable and that we had many reasons for satisfaction. We had a good roof over our heads and were no longer struggling to exist. We did not miss the appliances of Western civilisation. Europe with its life of turmoil seemed far away. Often as we sat and listened to the radio bringing reports from our country we shook our heads at the depressing news. There seemed no inducement to go home.
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Re: Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

Postby admin » Wed Sep 04, 2019 5:51 am

10. Life in Lhasa— I

The youngest son of the Great Mother — The procession to Norbulingka — The Tibetan religion — Drought and the Oracle of Gadong — Daily life — Doctors, healers and soothsayers.

All my previous experiences were put in the shade by the first official party which I attended at the home of the parents of the Dalai Lama. It was by chance that I was there. I was working in the garden, where I had some new plots to lay out, when the Great Mother sent for me and told me to leave my work for the day and join her guests. With some embarrassment I joined the brilliant throng in the reception room. Some thirty nobles were gathered there all in their finest robes and the scene was one of dignified splendour. The reception was to celebrate the birth of our hostess’s youngest son, born three days before. I haltingly stammered my congratulations and offered a white scarf which I had managed to borrow. The Great Mother smiled graciously. It was wonderful to see her walking unconcernedly about the room and entertaining her guests. The women here recover from their confinements with miraculous speed, and make very little fuss about childbirth. No doctors are called in but the women help one another. Every woman is proud to have a lot of healthy children. The mother invariably nurses her own children and sometimes goes on suckling them for three or four years.

When a child is born in a noble family, the infant at once gets a special nursemaid, who must never leave it day or night. Great celebrations follow the birth of a child, but there is nothing like our baptismal ceremony, and there are no godfathers. Before giving the infant its name (or rather names, as every child has several) the parents consult a Lama, who decides what the infant shall be called only after studying the astrological aspects of the case. If the child subsequently suffers a serious illness, it is usual to give him fresh names. One of my grown-up friends once changed his name after an attack of dysentery, to my perpetual confusion.

At the celebration of the birth of the Dalai Lama’s little brother we were entertained to a Lucullan feast, at which we sat on cushions at little tables in due order of precedence. For two consecutive hours the servants served course after course — I counted forty, but that was not the end. To cat through such a dinner required special training. I must be excused from mentioning all the delicacies that were offered to us, but I remember that they included all sorts of Indian spiced dishes and ended up with soup of noodles. For drinks we had, among other things, beer, whisky and port. By the end of the repast many of the guests were tipsy, but that is no disgrace in Tibet; it contributes to the general merriment.

The party broke up soon after the banquet. Horses and servants provided by the host waited outside to take the guests home. Invitations to other parties were launched indiscriminately and it needed a discerning ear to distinguish between those which were meant seriously and those which were just a form of politeness.

Aufschnaiter and I were often invited to this house and I was soon on terms of cordial friendship with Lobsang Samten. This attractive youth was just entering upon his career as a monk. As the brother of the Dalai Lama he had brilliant prospects. One day he was to play a great part as the intermediary between his brother and the Government. But the burden of a great position was already beginning to weigh him down. He could not choose his acquaintances freely. Whatever he did and wherever he went, all sorts of inferences were drawn. When he called on a high functionary on some official occasion, his entry into the room caused an awestruck silence and everyone, even Cabinet Ministers, rose from their seats to show respect to the brother of the God-King. All this might have turned a young man’s head, but Lobsang Samten never lost his modest demeanour.

He often talked to me about his young brother who lived a lonely life in the Potala. I had already noticed that all the guests at parties hid themselves when the figure of the Dalai Lama appeared walking on the flat roof of the Palace. Lobsang gave me a rather touching explanation of this. The young God possessed a number of excellent telescopes and field-glasses and it amused him to watch the life and doings of his subjects in the town. For him the Potala was a golden prison. He spent many hours daily praying and studying in the dark palace rooms. He had little free time and few pleasures. When the guests at a merry party felt themselves being looked at, they vanished as soon as possible from the field of vision. They did not want to sadden the heart of the young ruler, who could never hope to enjoy such distractions!

Lobsang Samten was his only friend and confidant and had access to him at all times. He served as the link between him and the outer world and had to tell his brother everything that was going on. I learned from Lobsang that he was much interested in our activities and that he had often watched me through his telescope as I worked in the garden. He also told me that his brother was much looking forward to moving into his summer residence at Norbulingka. The fine weather had come and he felt himself cramped in the Potala and longed to be able to take exercise out of doors.

Now the season of sandstorms was over and the peach-trees were in blossom. On the neighbouring peaks the last remnants of the snow shone blindly white in the warm sunshine, giving that peculiar charm to the springtime which I remembered in our mountain scenery at home. One day the summer season was officially declared to have begun and summer clothes might be worn. One had no right to leave off one’s furs when one wanted to. Every year, after considerations of the omens, a day was fixed on which the nobles and monks put on summer dress. The weather might have already been very warm, or snow or storms might follow. That did not matter. Summer dress must be worn from that date only. The same thing happens in autumn, when winter dress is officially resumed. I continually used to hear complaints that the change-over had come too soon or too late and that people were stiffing or half-frozen.

The change of clothing is accompanied by a ceremony that lasts for hours. Servants bring the new clothes bound up in bundles on their backs. The monks have an easier passage. They merely change their fur-brimmed hats for plate-shaped papier-mache head-dress. The whole appearance of the town is changed when everyone suddenly appears in new clothes.

There is, however, one other occasion for a change of costume, and that is when the whole official world accompanies the Dalai Lama in a gorgeous procession to the Summer Garden. Aufschnaiter and I looked forward to watching it. We felt that we might get a close-up view of the Living Buddha.

It was a glorious summer day and the whole town moved out through the western gate along the two-mile stretch which separates the Potala and the Norbulingka palaces. It was quite a job finding room to walk without being trodden on.

I was sorry I had no camera to take pictures of the variegated crowds. Of course only a colour film would do it justice. This was a day of rejoicing for everyone, the opening day of summer, and I was glad for the boy who was going to exchange his gloomy prison for a lovely summer garden. He had little enough sunshine in his life.

Splendid and imposing as the Potala Palace is externally, it is miserably dark and uncomfortable as a dwelling-place. It is probable that all the God-Kings were glad to get away from it as soon as possible, for the Summer Garden residence of Norbulingka was planned as long ago as the reign of the seventh Dalai Lama, but only completed by the thirteenth.

This monarch was a great reformer and at the same time a man of modern ideas. He actually imported for his own use three automobiles. These were taken to pieces at the frontier and carried by coolies and yaks over the mountains to the capital where an Indian-trained mechanic reassembled them. This man was then appointed as chauffeur to His Majesty. He often used to talk to me sadly about his three cars, which now stood idle, but not unguarded, in a shed. They were two Austins and a Dodge. For a short while they had been the sensation of Tibet, and now they mourned for their dead lord and rusted in honourable decay. The story of how the thirteenth Dalai Lama used his automobiles to escape from his winter prison still provokes laughter. In the autumn he used to return with pomp and circumstance to the Potala, but as soon as the crowds were out of the way he would get into one of the cars and drive back to Norbulingka.

We heard the blare of copper horns and trumpets. The procession approached. The murmurs of the crowd were hushed and a reverent silence reigned, for the head of the column was in sight. A host of serving monks formed the vanguard. With them they carried the God- King’s personal effects done up in bundles, each bundle wrapped in a yellow silk cloth. Yellow is the colour of the reformed Lamaistic Church, which is also known as the Yellow Church. An old legend tells why this colour was chosen.

Tsong Kapa, the great reformer of Buddhism in Tibet, was standing on the day of his entry into the monastery of Sakya at the tail of a line of novices. When it was his turn to be robed the supply of red hats had run out. In order that he should not be hatless someone grabbed the first hat that came to hand and put it on his head. It chanced to be a yellow one. Tsong Kapa never gave up wearing it and so yellow came to be adopted as the colour of the Reformed Church. The Dalai Lama always used to wear a yellow silk cap at receptions and ceremonies, and all the objects in regular use by him were of this colour. The use of yellow was a privilege which he alone possessed.

Soon we saw the God-King’s favourite birds being carried by in their cages. Now and then a parrot called out a welcoming word in Tibetan, which the faithful crowd received with rapturous sighs as a personal message from their God. At an interval behind the servants came monks with banners decorated with texts. Next came a band of mounted musicians wearing brightly coloured, old-fashioned garb and playing old-fashioned instruments, from which they produced curious, whimpering sounds. After them followed an army of monks of the Tsedrung order, also on horseback and marshalled in order of rank. Behind them grooms led the favourite horses of the Dalai Lama, splendidly caparisoned. Their bridles were yellow and their bits and saddles of pure gold.

Then came a flock of high dignitaries and senior members of the God-King’s household, the latter all monks with the rank of abbot. These are the only persons, except his parents and brothers and sisters, who have the right of speech with the Dalai Lama. Alongside them marched the tall figures of the bodyguard — huge fellows chosen for their size and strength. I was told that none of them is under six feet six inches in height and one of them measures eight feet. Their padded shoulders make them look even more formidable and they carry long whips in their hands. The only sound to be heard came from them as in deep bass voices they called on the crowd to make way and take off their hats. This was obviously part of the ceremonial as the people were already standing in dead silence with bowed heads and folded hands by the roadside.

Then followed the Commander-in-Chief of the Army. He held his sword at the salute. Compared with the silks and brocades of the other dignitaries his khaki uniform looked strikingly modest. However, as he was free to choose the trimmings of his dress, his badge of rank and epaulettes were of pure gold. On his head he wore a sun-helmet.

And now approached the yellow, silk-lined palanquin of the Living Buddha, gleaming like gold in the sunlight. The bearers were six-and-thirty men in green silk cloaks, wearing red plate-shaped caps. A monk was holding a huge iridescent sunshade made of peacock’s feathers over the palanquin. The whole scene was a feast for the eyes — a picture revived from a long-forgotten fairy-tale of the Orient.

Round us all heads were bowed in deep obeisance and no one dared to raise his eyes. Aufschnaiter and I must have been noticeable with our heads only slightly bent. We absolutely had to see the Dalai Lama! And there he was — bowing to us with a smile behind the glass front of his sedan-chair. His finely cut features were full of charm and dignity, but his smile was that of a boy, and we guessed that he, too, was curious to see us.

The procession had passed its peak. Now came the secular authorities. The four Cabinet Ministers rode on splendid horses on either side of the Sovereign. Behind them came another magnificent chair, carried by fewer bearers, in which sat the Regent, Tagtra Gyeltsap Rimpoche, styled “the Tiger Rock,” an old gentleman of seventy-three. He looked sternly before him and gave no smile of greeting. He seemed not to see the people. Strict and severe in the performance of his duties, he has as many enemies as friends. After him rode the representatives of the Three Pillars of the State, the abbots of Sera, Drebung and Ganden. Then came the nobles in due order of rank, each group wearing the costume appropriate to its status. The junior orders wore absurd little caps which just covered their top-knots and were fastened with a ribbon under their chins.

Deep in contemplation of the spectacle I suddenly heard the sound of familiar music. Yes — no mistake about it, the British National Anthem! The bano of the bodyguard had taken up its station halfway along the route, and the Royal Chair must just have come up to them. So, to honour the God, they played “God Save the Queen.” I have generally heard it better played but it has never caused me such bewilderment. I learned later that the bandmaster had been trained in the Indian Army. He had noticed that this air played an important part at all ceremonies, so he brought the music back with him. It has been set to Tibetan words but I have never heard them sung. The brass band finished the anthem creditably with the exception of a few wrong notes by the trumpets due to the rarefied air, and then the pipers of the police band played a selection of Scottish airs.

Tibetan music knows no harmonies, but its melodies are pleasing to our ears. In the same piece they pass easily from the gloomy to the gay, and changes of rhythm are frequent.

The procession vanished behind the gates of the Summer Palace and the crowds dispersed, mostly to spend the rest of the day in the open air. The nomads, sweating in their warm sheepskin cloaks, strike their tents and move off to their highland homes in the Changthang. No Tibetan is anxious to go on a pilgrimage to India in summer, and no nomads come willingly to Lhasa in the warm weather. The capital is only 12,000 feet above sea-level, and the nomads, most of whom live at 15,000 feet, find the warmth oppressive.

We walked home deeply impressed by all that we had seen. We could not have witnessed a better example of the distribution of authority in Tibet than in the procession which had moved by before us — with the Dalai Lama and the Regent as the high peaks, and the different grades tapered downwards to front and rear. It was significant of their power in the state that the monks marched in front.

Religion is the heart of the fabric of the State. Pilgrims from the remotest parts of the Changthang undergo countless hardships in order to come once a year and witness this brilliant manifestation of their religious faith; and they feed on the memory during their hard and lonely fives. The daily fife of Tibetans is ordered by religious belief. Pious texts are constantly on their lips; prayer-wheels turn without ceasing; prayer-flags wave on the roofs of houses and the summits of the mountain passes; the rain, the wind, all the phenomena of nature, the lonely peaks of the snow-clad mountains, bear witness to the universal presence of the gods whose anger is manifested by the hailstorm, and whose benevolence is displayed by the fruitfulness and fertility of the land. The fife of the people is regulated by the divine will, whose interpreters the Lamas are. Before anything is undertaken, they must test the omens. The gods must be unceasingly entreated, placated or thanked. Prayer-lamps burn everywhere, in the house of the noble and in the tent of the nomad the same faith has kindled them. Earthly existence is of little worth in Tibet and death has no terrors. Men know that they will be born again and hope for a higher form of existence in the next life, earned by pious conduct in this one. The Church is the highest court of appeal, and the simplest monk is respected by the people and addressed by the title of Kusho, as if he were a member of the nobility. In every family at least one of the sons is dedicated to the cloister in token of reverence for the Church and to give the child a good start in life.

In all these years I have never met anyone who expressed the slightest doubt about the truth of Buddha’s teaching. There are, it is true, many sects, but they differ only in externals. One cannot close one’s heart to the religious fervour which radiates from everyone. After a short time in the country, it was no longer possible for one thoughtlessly to kill a fly, and I have never in the presence of a Tibetan squashed an insect which bothered me. The attitude of the people in these matters is really touching. If at a picnic an ant crawls up one’s clothes, it is gently picked up and set down. It is a catastrophe when a fly falls into a cup of tea. It must at all costs be saved from drowning as it may be the reincarnation of one’s dead grandmother. In winter they break the ice in the pools to save the fishes before they freeze to death, and in summer they rescue them before the pools dry up. These creatures are kept in pails or tins until they can be restored to their home waters. Meanwhile their rescuers have done some- thing for the good of their own souls. The more life one can save the happier one is.

I shall never forget an experience I had with my friend Wangdula. We went one day to the only Chinese restaurant and there saw a goose running round the courtyard apparently on its way to the cooking-pot. Wangdula quickly took a banknote of considerable value from his pocket and bought the goose from the restaurant keeper. He then had his servant carry the goose home, and for years afterwards I used to see the lucky creature waddling about his place.

Typical of this attitude towards all living creatures was a rescript issued in all parts of the country to persons engaged in building operations — this was during the three years which the young Dalai Lama spent in meditation. It was pointed out that worms and insects might easily be killed during the work of building, and general construction of buildings was forbidden. Later on, when I was in charge of earthworks, I saw with my own eyes how the coolies used to go through each spadeful of earth and take out anything living.  

It follows from this principle that there is no capital punishment in Tibet. Murder is regarded as the most heinous of crimes, but the murderer is only flogged and has iron fetters forged on to his ankles. It is true that the floggings are in fact less humane than the death penalty as it is carried out in Western hands. The victim often dies an agonising death after the penalty has been inflicted, but the religious principle has not been infringed. Criminals condemned to a life in chains are either shut up in the state prison at Sho or sent to a district governor who is responsible for their custody. Their fate is certainly preferable to that of the convicts in the prisons who are only permitted to leave their gaol on the birth-and death-day of the Buddha, when they may beg for alms in the Lingkhor chained to fellow prisoners.

Theft and various minor offences are punished with public whipping. A board is slung round the neck of the offender on which his offence is written, and he has to stand for a few days in a sort of pillory. Here again charitable people come and give him food and drink. When highwaymen or robbers are caught they are usually condemned to have a hand or a foot cut off. I was horrified to see in what manner wounds so inflicted were sterilised. The limb is plunged into boiling butter and held there. Even that does not deter evildoers. A governor told me of criminals who held out their hands for punishment with an impudent gesture and after a few weeks resumed their life of crime. In Lhasa such savage forms of punishment have now been discontinued.

The penalties for political offences are very strict. People still speak of the monks of Tengyeling who forty years ago sought to come to terms with the Chinese. Their monastery was demolished and their names blotted out.

There is no organised system of law courts in Tibet. The investigation of offences is entrusted to two or three persons of noble rank, but corruption is unfortunately very prevalent; in fact very few nobles have a high reputation for integrity. The sums received as bribes are regarded by many as part of the perquisites of the feudal system. If a defendant considers that he has been unjustly condemned, he is allowed to appeal to the Dalai Lama. If he is thus proved innocent, he receives a free pardon; and if not his penalty is doubled.

In Lhasa the city magistrate officiates permanently as judge, except during the twenty-one days following the New Year, when all authority is exercised by the monks. The magistrate is assisted by a couple of assessors and they are kept very busy for, in addition to the pilgrims, many bad characters come to the capital.

After the Dalai Lama had moved to his summer residence the weather became very warm, but not unpleasantly so. At this season the day temperature never exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit and the nights are cool. The air is very dry and rain falls seldom. Soon everybody is praying for rain. There are a number of springs round Lhasa, but almost every year they dry up. When that happens the people have to fetch their water from the river Kyichu, which runs down clear and cold from the glaciers.

When the springs have ceased to flow and the barley fields arc dry and withered, the Government decrees that every citizen must water the streets till the order is withdrawn. At once the whole town gets busy and everyone hurries to the river with jugs and buckets and carries the water back to the city. The nobles send their servants to fetch the water, but when they have brought it, they take a hand in pouring it on the streets and on their neighbours. There is a regular water carnival in which all participate without distinction of rank or station. Streams of water flow from the windows and roofs on to the heads of the passers-by, and it is bad form to take offence if one is wet through. The children have the time of their lives. For my part, being tall and conspicuous, I got more than my share of soaking. Everyone thought that the “German Henrigla” was fair game.

While the water-fight is going on in the street, the Oracle of Gadong, the most famous rainmaker in Tibet, is summoned to the garden of the Dalai Lama. Here are gathered together the highest officers of the Government, and the Grand Lama himself presides over the ceremony. The rainmaker, a monk, soon falls into a trance. His limbs begin to move compulsively and he gives utterance to strange groans. At that moment one of the monastic officials solemnly begs the oracle to vouchsafe rain and thereby save the harvest. The movements of the rainmaker become more and more ecstatic, and high-pitched words escape him. A clerk takes down the message and hands it to the Cabinet Ministers. Meanwhile the body of the entranced medium, now no longer possessed by the divinity, sinks unconscious to the ground and is carried out.

After this performance everyone in Lhasa excitedly waits for the rain. And rain it does. Whether one believes in miracles or looks for a logical explanation, the fact is that soon after this drama is enacted, it always does rain. The Tibetans do not doubt that the Protecting Deity enters the medium’s body while he is in a trance and hears and grants the prayers of the people.

That explanation naturally did not satisfy me and I tried to find a more scientific solution. I wondered if perhaps the intensive watering of the streets had caused evaporation, or if the monsoon rains had spilled over into the highlands of Tibet. The British Legation had set up a meteorological station and measured the rainfall scientifically. It amounted to an average of about fourteen inches a year and mostly occurred at this season. Aufschnaiter later installed a water-gauge on the Kyichu and recorded the first rise in the river level on almost the same day every year. Had he followed the rainmaker’s methods he could have set himself up as a successful oracle.

In former times the rainfall in Lhasa must have been much heavier. There used to be great forests, which must have made for rainier and cooler weather. The deforestation of centuries had done its work in the provinces. Lhasa itself, with its meadows and groves of willows and poplars, was a green oasis in the treeless valley of the Kyichu.

In Lhasa we were constantly invited out and often consulted. Thus we came to know the life of the town from every angle. We had opportunities for studying the details of public administration and family life, viewpoints, manners and morals. Something new turned up every day and many mysteries became common-places, but not all. One thing had certainly changed in our situation. We were no longer outsiders. We belonged.

The bathing season had come. Old and young, great and small flocked to the gardens by the river and enjoyed themselves swimming and paddling in the shallow water. Smart people organised comfortable picnic parties and put up their own tents. You could see many young women who had studied in India proudly displaying their modern bathing-dresses. In the intervals of splashing about in the water the bathers picnicked and played dice, and in the evening every party burnt incense by the riverside in gratitude to the gods for a lovely day.

I was much admired for my prowess as a swimmer. Tibetans do not know much about swimming as the water is too cold for learning. Those who can swim at all can just keep themselves afloat. Now they had an expert among them. I was invited right and left, of course with the idea that I should show off my skill, but my sciatica made swimming a painful pastime, as the water was very cold — never above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes I used to dive in order to give my friends pleasure, but not often. Still there were times when my presence was of service. I managed to save three people from drowning, for there were some dangerous places in the river where obstructions had created whirlpools and undercurrents.

One day I was the guest of Surkhang, the Foreign Minister, and his family, who had put up their tent beside the water. The Minister’s only son Jigme (meaning “Fearless”) was there on a holiday from school in India. He had learnt how to swim, more or less, at school. I was floating downstream when I suddenly heard cries and saw people gesticulating wildly on the bank and pointing to the water. I hurriedly swam to land and ran to the tent. From there I saw Jigme being whirled round in a swirling eddy. I at once dived in and though the whirlpool caught me too I was a strong swimmer and managed to get hold of the unconscious lad and bring him to the bank. As a former instructor, I knew how to revive, him, and in a short time he was breathing again to the great joy of his father, who shed tears and overwhelmed me with expressions of gratitude. I had saved a life and that was accounted a great merit.

As a result of this episode my relations with the Surkhang family became intimate and I had an opportunity to study a marital combination which even in Tibet was quite out of the ordinary.

The Minister was separated from his first wife. The second, the mother of Jigme, was dead. Surkhang now shared the young wife of a nobleman of lower rank. In the marriage contract Jigme was brought in as the third husband, because his father did not wish to leave all his fortune to his widow. Similar complications are found in many families. I once came across a case in which a mother was the sister-in-law of her own daughter. In Tibet one finds polygamy and polyandry, but most people are monogamous.

When a man has several wives, his relations with them are different from those that prevail in a Moslem harem. It is common practice for a man to marry several daughters of a house in which there is no son and heir. This arrangement prevents the family fortune from being dispersed. Our host Tsarong had married three sisters and had obtained permission from the Dalai Lama to take their family name.

In spite of the frequently unusual relationships created by these alliances, broken marriages are not commoner in Tibet than with us. This is largely due to the fact that these people are not inclined to let their feelings run away with them. When several brothers share the same wife, the eldest is always the master in the household and the others have rights only when he is away or amusing himself elsewhere. But no one gets short measure as there is a superfluity of women. Many men live a celibate life in monasteries. There is a cloister in every village. The children of irregular alliances have no right to inherit, and all the property goes to the children of the legitimate wife. That is why it is not so important which of the brothers is the father of the child. The great thing is that the property remains in the family.

Tibet knows nothing about the drawbacks of overpopulation. For centuries the number of inhabitants has remained about the same. In addition to the practices of polyandry and monasticism infant mortality contributes to this state of things. I calculate that the average expectation of life among the Tibetans is only about thirty years. A great number of small children die and among the whole mass of officials there is only one septuagenarian.

I had read in many books about Tibet that the host is accustomed to offer his wife or daughter to his guest. If I had counted on that, I should have been badly disappointed. Sometimes it happened that a pretty young servant girl was light-heartedly offered to one, but the girls don’t give themselves without being courted. Of course loose girls can be found in all parts of the world, and even in Lhasa there are certain beauties who make love on a professional basis.

In former times marriages were arranged by the parents, but today the young people choose their own partners. They marry very young, the girls at sixteen and the boys at seventeen or eighteen at latest. The aristocracy may only marry in their own class and this rule is strictly applied. Relatives may not marry one another except after seven generations, in order to avoid inbreeding. The Dalai Lama alone may permit exceptions to these rules. Occasionally capable men of the people are promoted to the nobility and that brings a little fresh blood into the small circle of about two hundred families which constitute the aristocracy.

Divorces are rare and have to be approved by the Government. Very drastic penalties are inflicted on unfaithful spouses, for example cutting off the nose. But, as a matter of fact, I never heard of a case where this punishment was carried out. They once showed me an old woman without a nose, who was alleged to have been detected in infidelity — but it might just as well have been a case of syphilis.

Venereal disease is very common in Tibet. Many cases occur in Lhasa but not much importance is attached to them. They are generally neglected and the doctor is called in when it is too late to do much good. The ancient remedy of mercury is known to the monks in the schools of medicine.

What a lot could be done for the future of Tibet if medical and sanitary conditions were improved! Surgery is completely unknown in the country. Aufschnaiter and I used to panic at the thought of an attack of appendicitis. Every suspicious pain used to alarm us. It seemed absurd in the twentieth century to die of this illness. The Tibetans know nothing of operations on the human body except the lancing of boils. The use of instruments in confinements is likewise unknown. The only connection Tibetans have with surgery is in the activities of the people who dissect corpses, the Domdens. These often report to the relatives on the cause of death or inform interested students of medicine when they find any interesting feature in a corpse.

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Mounted soldiers in period uniforms, during traditional celebrations that commemorate Tibetan victories over Moslem armies

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The Dalai Lama's small brother

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Guests in Lhasa are served beer by such fabulously-dressed girls as these

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The Monks' Dance at the foot of the Potala, during the New Year's festivities.

The schools of medicine are unfortunately opposed to all progress. The doctrines taught by Buddha and his apostles are an overruling law which may not be tampered with. There are two schools, the smaller situated on the Chagpori or Iron Mountain, and the larger down below in the town. Every monastery sends a number of intelligent youngsters to these schools. The course lasts from ten to fifteen years. Learned old monks give instruction to the boys, who sit cross-legged on the ground with their tablets on their knees. Coloured illustrations are often displayed on the wails. I was once present when a teacher was explaining by means of illustrations the symptoms of poisoning caused by a certain plant. The pupils were shown pictures of the plant, the symptoms, the antidotes and their reactions — just like the wall-diagrams in our schools.

Astronomy is an integral part of medical science. The yearly lunar calendar is put together in the schools of medicine after old works have been consulted. Eclipses of the sun and moon are carefully recorded and monthly and yearly weather forecasts prepared.

In the autumn the whole school goes off to search for herbs in the mountains. The boys enjoy the expedition tremendously though they are kept very busy. Every day they camp in a fresh place and at the end of their excursion they drive their heavily laden yaks to Tra Yerpa. This is one of the holiest places in Tibet. It contains a sort of temple in which the herbs are sorted and laid out to dry. In winter the youngest of these little monks have to grind the dried herbs into powders, which are kept in carefully labelled air-tight leather bags by the abbot in charge of the school. These schools serve at the same time as pharmacies from which anyone can get medicine gratis or for a small present. The Tibetans are really advanced in the know- ledge of herbs and their healing properties, and I have often had recourse to them. Their pills did not do my sciatica much good, but I staved off many a cold and fever with their herb-teas.

The abbot of the Medical School of Lhasa is at the same time the Dalai Lama’s personal physician — an honourable but dangerous charge. When the thirteenth Dalai Lama died at the age of fifty-four all kinds of suspicions were openly voiced, and the abbot of the time could consider himself lucky to have escaped with loss of rank. He might have been sentenced to a flogging.

In the towns and monasteries one can get oneself vaccinated against smallpox, but no other forms of inoculation are practised and many lives are lost needlessly in epidemics for want of prophylactic treatment. What saves Tibet is its cool climate and pure mountain air. But for them the universal dirt and the wretched sanitary conditions would surely engender catastrophic plagues. In season and out we preached the necessity of better sanitation and had thought out a drainage scheme for Lhasa. Superstition is the enemy. We found that the people had more confidence in the laying-on of hands and faith-healing than in the ministration of the monks of the schools of medicine. The Lamas often smear their patients with their holy spittle. Tsampa, butter and the urine of some saintly man are made into a sort of gruel and administered to the sick. The wooden prayer-stamps which are dipped in holy water and then applied to the painful spot do no one any harm. Nothing ranks higher as a remedy for illness than objects that have belonged to the Dalai Lama. All the nobles used to show me with pride relics of the thirteenth Dalai Lama carefully sewn up in little silk bags. Tsarong, as his former favourite, possessed many articles of personal use which had belonged to him and it astonished me that Tsarong and his son, who had been educated in India, were superstitious enough to set store by these relics.

Many men and women live by fortune-telling and casting horoscopes. Characteristic of the streets of Lhasa are the little old women who crouch beside the pilgrims’ road and tell the future for a small fee. They ask you the date of your birth, make a small calculation with the help of their rosaries, and you go on your way consoled by their mysterious words. The greatest confidence is placed in the soothsaying powers of Lamas and Incarnations. One does not do a thing without consulting the omens. No one would think of going on a pilgrimage or taking up a new office before ascertaining on what date it will be lucky to start.

Not long ago there lived in Lhasa a very celebrated Lama, whose visits and consultations were booked up for months ahead. He used to travel with his disciples from place to place receiving hospitality. His patients gave him so many presents that he and his group lived very comfortably on them. He had such a reputation that even Mr. Fox, the English radio-operator, who for years had been a martyr to gout, arranged for the Lama to visit him. But poor Fox missed his turn as the old man died before he could come.

The old Lama had originally been a simple monk. After studying for twenty years in one of the greatest monasteries, he passed his examinations brilliantly and retired to a hermitage for several years. He lived in one of the lonely cells which one finds scattered over the whole country and in which monks settle down to a period of meditation. Many of them have themselves walled in by their disciples and live on nothing but tsampa and tea. This monk became celebrated for his exemplary life. He never ate food which life had been taken to provide, and even abstained from eggs. He was reputed to need no sleep and never to use a bed. This latter detail I can confirm as he once lived near me for three days. He was also said to perform miracles. Once his rosary caught fire from the powerful rays which emanated from his own hand. He presented to the town of Lhasa a great gilded statue of Buddha which he paid for out of the gifts and contributions he had received from his patients and admirers.

There was only one female Incarnation in Tibet. Her name, being interpreted, was “Thunderbolt Sow.” I often used to see her at ceremonies in the Barkhor. She was then an insignificant-looking student of about sixteen, wearing a nun’s dress. However, she was the holiest woman in Tibet and the people entreated her to bless them wherever she went. Later on she became abbess in a convent by Lake Yamdrok.

Lhasa was always full of rumours and stories about saintly nuns and Lamas, and I would gladly have investigated some of their miracles. But one must not offend against people’s beliefs. The Tibetans were happy in their own convictions and had never tried to convert Aufschnaiter or me. We contented ourselves with studying their customs, visiting their temples as spectators and making presents of white silk scarves as etiquette prescribed.
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Re: Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

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II. Life in Lhasa— II

The State Oracle — Autumn in Lhasa — My Christmas party— Foreigners and their life in Tibet.

Just as the people apply to Lamas and soothsayers for advice and help in the cares of daily life, so the Government consults the State Oracle before taking important decisions. Once I asked my friend Wangdula to take me to an official consultation, and so one morning we rode out to the Nechung Monastery. At that time a nineteen-year-old monk was the mouthpiece of the Oracle.

He was brought up in simple circumstances but had attracted much attention by his gifts as a medium. His technique was not so striking as that of his predecessor (who had co-operated in the discovery of the present Dalai Lama), but much was expected of him. I have often wondered whether it was by an unheard-of effort of concentration that he was able so quickly to throw himself into a trance before large crowds of people, or whether he used drugs or other expedients. In order to function as an oracle, the monk has to be able to dislodge his spirit from his body, to enable the god of the temple to take possession of it and to speak through his mouth. At that moment the god is manifested in him. That is the belief of the Tibetans, and Wangdula was convinced of its truth.

We talked about these things during our five-mile ride to the cloister. Hollow, eerie music greeted us at the gate of the temple. Inside the spectacle was ghastly. From every wall looked down hideous, grimacing faces, and the air was filled with stifling fumes of incense. The young monk had just been led from his private quarters to the gloomy temple. He wore a round metal mirror on his breast. Attendants robed him in gay silks and led him to his throne. Then everyone drew back from round him. No sound could be heard except the hollow music. He began to concentrate. I watched him closely, never taking my eyes from his face — not the slightest movement of his features escaped me. He looked as if the life were fading out of him. Now he was perfectly motionless, his face a staring mask. Then suddenly, as if he had been struck by lightning, his body curved upward like a bow. The onlookers gasped. The god was in possession. The medium began to tremble; his whole body shook and beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. Servants went to him and placed a huge, fantastic head-dress on his head. This was so heavy that it took two men to carry it. The slender body of the monk sank deeper into the cushions of the throne under the weight of his monstrous mitre. It is no wonder, I thought, that these mediums die young. The spiritual and physical strain of these seances must be killing.

The trembling became more violent. The medium’s heavily laden head wavered from side to side, and his eyes started from their sockets. His face was swollen and covered with patches of hectic red. Hissing sounds pierced through his closed teeth. Suddenly he sprang up. Servants rushed to help him, but he slipped by them and to the moaning of the oboes began to rotate in a strange exotic dance. Save for the music, his groans and teeth-gnashings were the only sounds to be heard in the temple. Now he started beating on his gleaming breastplate with a great thumb-ring, making a clatter which drowned the dull rolling of the drums. Then he gyrated on one foot, erect under the weight of the giant head-dress, which just now two men could hardly carry. The attendants filled his hands with barleycorns, which he threw into the awestruck crowd of onlookers. All bent low before him, and I feared lest I be noted as an intruder. The medium became calmer. Servants held him fast and a Cabinet Minister stepped before him and threw a scarf over his head. Then he began to ask questions carefully prepared by the Cabinet about the appointment of a governor, the discovery of a new Incarnation, matters involving war and peace. The Oracle was asked to decide on all these things. Often the question had to be repeated several times before the medium began to mumble. I tried to pick out intelligible words but made nothing of the sounds. While the Minister stood humbly there trying to understand the answers, an old monk took them down with flying pen. He had done this hundreds of times in his life as he was also secretary to the late Oracle. I could not prevent myself from suspecting that perhaps the real Oracle was the secretary. The answers he wrote down, though ambiguous, suggested a line to be followed and relieved the Cabinet of a heavy load of responsibility. When an oracle goes on giving bad advice, they make short work of the mouthpiece. He is relieved of his office. This always seemed to me illogical. Did the god speak through the medium or did he not?

In spite of the risks, the post of State Oracle is much sought after. It carries with it the office of Dalama, corresponding to the third rank in the orders of nobility, and its holder is Prior of the Cloister of Nechung with all its benefices.

The last questions put by the Minister to the Oracle remained unanswered. Was the medium exhausted or was the god out of humour?

I left the temple and stood in the blinding sunlight feeling quite benumbed by what I had seen. My European mentality boggled at the experience. I subsequently attended many consultations of the Oracle, but have never been able to arrive even at an approximate explanation of the riddle.

It was always a curious experience to meet the State Oracle in ordinary life, I could never quite get accustomed to sitting at the same table with him and hearing him noisily gulping his noodle soup. When we met in the street, I used to take off my hat and he bowed and smiled in return. His face was that of a nice-looking young man, and bore no resemblance to the bloated, red-flecked, grimacing visage of the ecstatic medium.

Another occasion on which the State Oracle plays a great part is that of the so-called Great Procession, when the Dalai Lama is carried into the city to visit the cathedral. This ceremony is called the Great Procession to distinguish it from the procession to the Summer Garden which I have already described.

On this occasion the whole of Lhasa is afoot; there is hardly standing room anywhere. There is a tent pitched on a piece of open ground, and round it are stationed monkish guards, who as usual are engaged in keeping curious people back with their whips. This tent conceals a great mystery. In it the Dalama of Nechung is preparing to go into a trance. In the meantime the God-King is slowly approaching in his sedan-chair with his six-and-thirty bearers. Now the Holy One has halted before the tent out of which the god-possessed monk reels with staggering steps. His face is swollen, hissing tones proceed from his mouth, and the weight of his head-dress almost bears him to the ground. Waving the bearers aside, he breaks through the line and puts his shoulders under the shafts and runs for a few steps. He looks like upsetting his Holy Burden, but all is well. The other bearers take the strain, and the Dalama falls to the ground in a faint and is carried off in a litter, which is waiting to receive him. The procession then proceeds on its stately way. I have never been able to understand the exact meaning of this ritual. Perhaps it is meant to symbolise the subjection of the Protecting Deity to the higher powers of the Living Buddha.

In addition to the State Oracle and the Rainmaker, there are in Lhasa at least six mediums, including an old woman who is reckoned to be a manifestation of a protecting goddess. She was prepared, for a small fee, to fall into a trance and allow the goddess to speak. On some days she went through this performance four times!

There are also mediums who, while in a state of trance, can bend long swords into a spiral. Several friends of mine keep such swords lying before their house altars. I have made various attempts to emulate this feat, but could not begin to do it.

The consultation of Oracles originated in pre-Buddhistic times when the gods demanded human sacrifices, and I think the ritual has continued almost unchanged since those early days. I was always deeply impressed by these uncanny performances, but was glad to think that my own decisions were not subject to the dictation of an oracle.

By the time the autumn came we had already been several months in Lhasa and were thoroughly acclimatised. This is the best season of the year. The flower gardens, in which I had done so much work, were in full bloom, and the trees had just begun to change colour. There was fruit in abundance — peaches, apples and grapes from the southern provinces. Splendid tomatoes and marrows were displayed in the market, and it was during this season that the gentry gave their great parties at which an unbelievable choice of delicacies was offered to their guests.

It was also the right time of year for excursions, but unfortunately no Tibetan would climb a mountain for pleasure. On special days the monks go on a pilgrimage to some sacred mountain peak, and the nobles send their servants with them to propitiate the gods, to whom they burn incense on the summits. The windy mountain heights resound with prayers and new flags are put up, while crows fly around waiting to eat up the offerings of tsampa. It must be added that everyone is happy to be back in town after two or three days in the mountains.

Aufschnaiter and I made a point of climbing all the peaks in the neighbourhood. They offered no technical difficulties as an attraction but the views from them were splendid. To the south we could see the Himalayas, and quite near us towered a 23,000-foot peak of the Nyenchenthanglha range over which we had scrambled eight months before on our way down to Lhasa.

There are no glaciers to be seen from the town. The assumption that one finds snow and ice everywhere in Tibet is not true. We should have loved to go ski-ing, but even if we could have repeated our experiment with home-made skis, the distances were too great. We should have needed horses, tents and servants. Sport in uninhabited regions is a costly business.

So we had to content ourselves with climbing expeditions. Our equipment was not exactly professional. We wore army boots and other articles of clothing — surplus stores sold to Tibet by American dealers. They were good enough for our purposes. The Tibetans could not get over their astonishment at the speed with which we completed our tours. Once I had to light a bonfire of incense on a mountain-top for my friends to see from the roofs of their houses. Otherwise no one would have believed that we had really got there. Aufschnaiter and I used to walk in one day as far as our friends’ servants did in three. The first Tibetan in whom I managed to create some enthusiasm for mountain walks was my friend Wangdula, who was a very good stayer. Later on other friends accompanied us and all greatly enjoyed the views and took pleasure in the wonderful mountain flowers which we found.

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The Forbidden City of Lhasa. Lhasa lies on a 12,000-foot plateau amid the Himalayas, at approximately the same latitude as New Orleans.

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Two thousand feet up the sacred peak of Chomo Lari, the author rests in the thin air.

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Masked priests dance in the Tibetan New Year before the Potala.

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Jewels and a ton of gold adorn the tomb of the thirteenth Dalai Lama. Spires on the tomb’s roof represent baskets holding Buddhist scriptures. Bells are strung to ring out the doctrine, while sculpted figures repel evil spirits.

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Vivid religious art on the walls of the Potala.

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The Dalai Lama’s mother, right, and sister.

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A three-year-old boy, selected as the incarnation of a high-ranking lama, begins his parade through Lhasa to the monastery he will rule.

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The noon hour is signaled by trumpet from atop a temple on Chagpori Hill.

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Children learn their alphabet under the eye of a tutor.

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The high rank of a cabinet minister’s wife is indicated by her adornment.

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Tibetan noblewomen in their elaborate headdress.

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Attendants carry incense sticks behind the Dalai Lama’s instructor, far right, and the God-King’s elder brother.

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Helmeted monks greet the Living Buddha’s caravan.

My favourite expedition was to a little mountain lake a short day’s march from Lhasa. The first time I went there was during the rainy season, when it was feared that the waters would overflow and flood the town. According to an ancient legend this lake is connected by a subterranean channel with an underground lake said to exist beneath the cathedral. Every year the Government used to send monks to propitiate the spirits of the lake with prayers and offerings. Pilgrims, too, used to go there and throw rings and coins into the water. By the lake stood a few stone huts in which one could find shelter. I found that the lake did not threaten the safety of the town in the slightest degree. Even if it had overflowed no harm would have been done. It was a peaceful, idyllic little place. Herds of wild sheep, gazelles, marmots and foxes sauntered casually by, and high in the blue the lammergeyer wheeled his flight. To all these creatures man was not an enemy. No one would dare to hunt in the neighbourhood of the Holy City. The flora round the lake are of a kind to quicken the pulse of any botanist. Marvellous yellow and blue poppies grow on the shore. They are a speciality of Tibet, which elsewhere you will find only at Kew.

These expeditions did not quite satisfy my appetite for sport. I kept wondering what else I could do, and at last the idea came to me to make a tennis-court. I managed to interest a good many people in the idea and prepared a list of prospective members of the Lhasa L.T.C. I also collected some funds in advance. The list of members was very imposing and had an almost inter- national character. There were Indians, Sikkimese, Nepalese and of course numbers of the young gentlemen of Lhasa. These had hesitated at first about joining, in view of the attitude of the Government towards football. But I was able to allay their fears by pointing out that tennis was a sport which did not attract onlookers or cause contention. Even the Church must realise that it was an innocent game. Besides, there was already a tennis-court at the British Legation.

I then engaged workmen and got them to level a piece of ground near the river. It was not easy to find the right kind of soil to surface the court with, but in a month it was all ready. I was very proud of the job. We had already ordered nets, racquets and balls from India and we organised a small party to start off the Lhasa Tennis Club.

There was keen competition among the children to become ball boys. They were fearfully clumsy, having never before had a ball in their hands. But when we invited members of the British Legation to play with us, the soldiers of the bodyguard of the Nepalese Mission came and fielded the balls for us. It was killing to see them running around in their splendid uniforms.

Soon we had collected quite a number of players. Incontestably the best was Mr. Liu, the secretary of the Chinese Legation; then came Mr. Richardson, the British Representative, a gaunt Scotsman, slim and tough in his professional work. He had one great hobby — his splendid flower and vegetable garden. When one visited him, one imagined oneself in a garden in fairyland.

Tennis-playing provided new occasions for pleasant social intercourse. Parties were arranged, now on our courts and now at the British Legation, after which we had tea and bridge. I regarded these meetings as my Sunday social outings and used to look forward to them with pleasure. One had to dress oneself decently and got the feeling, for the moment, of being back in the milieu from which one had come. My friend Wangdula proved his worth in this field too. He was a keen tennis-player and an excellent partner at bridge.

Our tennis-court had another advantage. We could play on it the whole year round. But in the season of dust-storms we had to be careful. Instead of wire-netting we had enclosed the court with high curtains, so when we saw the dust clouds gathering over the Potala, we had to look sharp and get them down before they were blown away by the storm.

In autumn Tibetans practise their age-old pastime of kite-flying. When the rains are over and the clear autumn weather has set in, the bazaars are full of brightly coloured kites. The sport begins punctually on the first day of the eighth month. But it is not just a children’s game, as it is with us. The opening day is a popular festival and the nobles are just as keen on the pastime as the common people. The first kite goes up over the Potala and very soon the sky is full of them. Children and grown-ups stand for hours on the roofs flying their kites with the intense concentration of chess or tennis champions. The kites are flown on lines of stout twine treated with glue and powdered glass. The chief object of the game is to cross your opponent’s line and cut through it. When that happens there are screams of joy from the roofs. The severed kite flutters slowly down and the children pounce on it. It now belongs to them. For a month this game is played in every hour of leisure. Then the season comes to a full-stop and the kites vanish as suddenly as they appeared.

One day as I was strolling through the bazaar looking at the kites a very odd thing happened. A complete stranger accosted me and offered to sell me a watch — that is, the remnants of a watch. It was old and rusty and had lost its dial. The man said it was broken and that he could do nothing with it. Being a European, perhaps I could repair it. I could pay anything I liked for it. I took the thing in my hand and at once recognised it. It was Aufschnaiter’s wrist-watch, which he had sold when we were in Western Tibet — a watertight Rolex. He had had it with him on the Nanga Parbat expedition. Aufschnaiter had got rid of it with a heavy heart. I thought he would like to have it back, even if it never went again. It was, anyhow, a curiosity. With little hope of success, I gave it to a clever Mohammedan craftsman to tinker with. He was enthusiastic about the mechanism and soon got it to go again. I gave it back to Aufschnaiter as a birthday present. You should have seen his face when he saw it!

In autumn the great horse-markets are held. Caravans with hundreds of horses come in from Siling in north-west China. There is lively bargaining, which the Tibetans are very good at, and high prices are paid for good animals. The nobles like to keep good stables and insist on having a new thoroughbred to ride every year. Of course only the rich can afford this. The common people, if they ride at all, use Tibetan ponies, but the nobility are expected to spend money on good horses. When they go out riding they take mounted servants with them. A Cabinet Minister, for example, is supposed to have six men in uniform with him. The number of horses a noble keeps varies according to his standing — some have as many as twenty.

I have often seen women riding. Their skirts are wide enough for them to ride astride. They often accompany their husbands on journeys that last for weeks, when they go on a pilgrimage or proceed to a new post. They wear a roof-like headdress to protect them against the sun and rub a dark-brown plant juice on their faces and cover their mouths with a shawl. When they ride through the streets in this make-up, one woman looks just like another, and I fear I have made many faux pas by not recognising friends on such occasions.

During these long horseback expeditions the little children sit on their nurses’ laps, and the bigger ones in a sort of cradle with wooden bars which they grip to keep from falling out.

We had an exciting time towards the beginning of December. An eclipse of the moon had been foretold and since early evening the roofs had been besieged by curious people waiting eagerly for the spectacle. When the shadow of the earth slowly began to creep over the face of the moon, a mutter went through the whole town. Soon all began to clap their hands and cry aloud in order to scare away the wicked demon that stood before the moon. When the eclipse was over the people returned happily to their houses and played games to celebrate the victory over the demon.

Christmas was drawing near and I had thought of a surprise. I wanted to entertain my friends to a real Christmas party with a tree and presents. I had received so much kindness and hospitality that I wanted to give my friends some pleasure for once in a way. Preparations kept me very busy. My friend Trethong, whose late father had been a Minister, lent me his house for a few days. I hired trained servants and cooks and bought small presents for my guests, such as electric torches, penknives, table-tennis sets and family games. I thought of special gifts for my host Tsarong and his family. The chief attraction was the Christmas-tree. Mrs. Tsarong lent me a juniper-tree in a beautiful pot and I decorated it with candles, apples, nuts and sweets. It looked very like the real thing.

The party began in the morning, as is usual in Lhasa. Wangdula supported me as Master of Ceremonies as I was still afraid of committing some social solecism. My guests were full of curiosity. They examined the tree from all sides and looked at the packages stacked beneath it. Everyone was full of excitement and anticipation, just like children at home. We passed the day in eating, drinking and playing games, and when it grew dark I invited my guests to go into another room. I then lit up the Christmas-tree and Wangdula put on his fur-coat inside out and played the part of Santa Claus. We put on the record “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht”: the door opened and with eyes wide with astonishment my guests clustered round the tree. Mr. Liu led the singing and some of the guests who had been at English schools knew the tune and joined in. It was a strange scene. A medley of races in the heart of Asia gathered round a Christmas-tree and singing the dear old Christmas hymn of our homes. I had become pretty good at controlling my emotions, but I must confess that at this moment I could not keep the tears from my eyes and I had a sudden attack of homesickness.

The cheerfulness of my guests and their pleasure in their Christmas presents — aided by a little alcohol — helped me over my homesickness. When my friends left they told me repeatedly how much they had enjoyed our German “New Year.”

A year ago we had thought a couple of pieces of white bread a wonderful Christmas gift in the lonely wastes of the Changthang. Today we sat round a table laden with good things in a company of friendly souls. We had no right to complain of our lot.

We did nothing in particular to celebrate the New Year of 1947. Aufschnaiter had finished his canal and had an important new work to execute. Lhasa had an old electric plant which had been put up twenty years before by one of the former Rugbeians. It was now in a terribly neglected state and gave practically no current. On working days there was just enough power to keep the machines in the Mint in motion, but only on Saturdays was there enough current for the needs of private houses.

Tibet produces its own paper money and coinage. The sang is the numismatic unit. It is divided and subdivided decimally into the sho and the karma. Paper money is made with the strong native paper brightly coloured and watermarked. The numbers are very skilfully painted on by hand, and all attempts at forgery have hitherto been foiled by the difficulty of imitating the numbers. The banknotes have a very good appearance. Gold, silver and copper coins are also used. They are stamped with the emblems of Tibet — mountains and lions, which also appear on postage stamps beside the rising sun.

As the operation of minting was so dependent on the electric current, Aufschnaiter was approached and asked to see if he could repair the old installation. He succeeded in convincing the authorities that there was not much to be gained by doing this and that the proper course was to make use of the water-power of the Kyichu river. The existing plant used the weakly flowing waters of a little tributary of the main stream. Fear was expressed that the gods would punish Lhasa if the waters of the holy river were misused for such a purpose, and great credit is due to Aufschnaiter who succeeded in talking the authorities over. He was instructed to start a survey at once and, in order to avoid a longish journey backwards and forwards every day, he took rooms outside the town in a garden house on a country estate.

We now saw one another much less often. My teaching work kept me in the town, and I was also giving tennis lessons. My pupils, big and small, made quite good progress but unfortunately Tibetans are not famed for their perseverance. Full of enthusiasm at the start, and ready for anything new, their interest flags before long. For this reason I kept losing pupils and replacing them, which was not very satisfactory for me. The children of good families whom I taught were without exception intelligent and wide-awake, and were not inferior to our children in comprehension. In the Indian schools the Tibetan pupils are ranked for intelligence with Europeans. One must remember that they have to learn the language of their teachers. In spite of that handicap they are often at the head of the class. There was a boy from Lhasa at St. Joseph’s College at Darjeeling who was not only the best scholar in the school, but also champion in all the games and sports.

Besides my lessons I had found various other ways of adding to my income. In Lhasa one can almost pick up money off the street. One only needs a little enterprise. I might for instance have started a dairy for fresh milk and butter or sent for an ice-machine from India to produce ices for eating. Watchmakers, shoemakers and gardeners were in great demand, and jobs in business houses, if one knew English, were easy to get. But we had no intention of becoming shopkeepers or merely earning money. We needed work which would at the same time procure us satisfaction. And more than anything we desired to make ourselves useful to the Government and thus in some measure repay their hospitality. We were consulted on all manner of subjects and were very glad to be of use. But we were regarded as maids of all work, and it was sometimes embarrassing to be asked for advice on subjects of which we knew much less than was supposed.

Once we were invited to regild the idols in a temple. By good luck we found in one of the books in Tsarong’s inexhaustible library a receipt for preparing gold paint from gold-dust. For this we had to order various chemicals from India; for the Nepalese of Lhasa, among whom are skilled gold- and silver- smiths, are very jealous of their secrets.

Tibet contains considerable deposits of gold, but modern methods of mining are unknown. Since ancient times they have been scooping out the soil in the Changthang with gazelle horns. An Englishman once told me that it would probably pay to treat by modern methods soil that has already been sieved by the Tibetans. Many provinces must today pay their taxes in gold- dust. But there is no more digging than is absolutely necessary, for fear of disturbing the earth-gods and attracting reprisals, and thus once more progress is retarded.

Many of the great rivers of Asia have their source in Tibet and carry down with them the gold from the mountains. But not till the rivers have reached neighbouring countries is their gold exploited. Washing for gold is only practised in a few parts of Tibet where it is particularly profitable. There are rivers in Eastern Tibet where the stream has scooped out bath-shaped cavities. Gold-dust collects in these places by itself and one has only to go and get it from time to time. As a rule the district governor takes possession of these natural gold-washings for the Government.

I always wondered why no one had thought of exploiting these treasures for personal profit. When you swim under water in any of the streams round Lhasa, you can see the gold-dust glimmering in the sunlight. But as in so many other parts of the country this natural wealth remains unexploited, mainly because the Tibetans consider this comparatively easy work too laborious for them.

[x]
The procession of the Dalai Lama from the Potala to the Summer Palace  

Just before our second Tibetan New Year in Lhasa, we received our first letters from home for three years. They had been a long time on the way. One of the envelopes had a Reykjavik postmark and had been round the world. You can imagine our joy at knowing that at last there was a line of communication between our distant, unforgotten homeland and the “Roof of the World” on which we lived. Unfortunately the line was a very slender one and the poor postal communication did not improve during all the years of our sojourn in Tibet. The news from Europe was not encouraging. In fact it strengthened our desire to remain where we were and make a permanent home in Lhasa. Neither of us had very close ties with our old homes. The time we had spent in this peaceful corner of the world had had a formative effect on our characters. We had come to understand the nature and mentality of the Tibetans and our knowledge of the language had progressed far beyond the stage of merely making ourselves understood. We could now handle all the formulae of polite conversation.

A small wireless set kept us in touch with the outside world. It had been presented to me by one of the Ministers who had asked me to pass on interesting political news, particularly that concerning Central Asia. It gave one a feeling of unreality to get such clear untroubled reception out of this little box. One had to remind oneself that in Lhasa there were no dentists with their electric drills, no tramways, no hairdressers with power-driven apparatus — in fact nothing to disturb the wireless listener.

I listened to the news the first thing every day and often found myself shaking my head and wondering at the things which men seemed to think important. Here it is the yak’s pace which dictates the tempo of life, and so it has been for thousands of years. Would Tibet be happier for being transformed? A fine motor road to India would doubtless raise the people’s standard of life very greatly, but by accelerating the tempo of existence it might rob the people of their peace and leisure. One should not force a people to introduce inventions which are far ahead of their stage of evolution. They have a nice saying here — “ One cannot reach the fifth storey of the Potala without starting at the ground floor.”

[x]
The Dalai Lama, accompanied by several of his advisers

It is a question whether the Tibetan culture and way of life do not more than balance the advantages of modem techniques. Where in the West is there anything to equal the perfect courtesy of this people? Here no one is made to lose “face,” and aggressiveness is unknown. Even political enemies treat each other with consideration and politeness and greet each other cordially when they meet in the street. The women of the upper class are cultivated and elegant. Their clothes reflect their good taste and they are perfect hostesses. People would have regarded it as a matter of course if we two bachelors had introduced one or more women into our menage to keep house for us. Our friends did indeed suggest that we ought at least to have one female companion. In moments of loneliness I often played with the idea, but attractive as I found many of the girls, I could not make up my mind to tie myself up. There were too few points of spiritual contact, without which a joint wife would not have satisfied me. I would have been happy to bring out a wife from home, but at first I could not afford to do so and later politics intervened.

So I lived alone, and my independence proved a great advantage when subsequently I came into close contact with the Dalai Lama. The monks would probably have disapproved still more of our meetings if I had been married. They live in strict celibacy and are forbidden to have anything to do with women. Unfortunately homosexuality is very common. It is even condoned as giving proof that women play no part in the life of those monks who indulge in it. It also often happens that monks fall in love with women, and ask for their release so as to be able to marry them. This is granted without difficulty. A monk, on leaving holy orders, if he is of noble birth, takes the rank corresponding to that which he held in the cloister; if he is of humble origin he loses his rank but can usually make a living in commerce. Severe penalties are inflicted on monks who get entangled with women without asking permission to leave the order.

In spite of my voluntary loneliness I found that time passed very quickly. My leisure hours were occupied with reading and visits. Aufschnaiter and I visited each other regularly since we had ceased to live together. We needed to exchange ideas. We were not completely satisfied with our activities and sometimes wondered if we could not make better use of our time. There was so much to be done in the field of exploration in this almost virgin land. We often thought of leaving Lhasa and wandering, as we once had done, through the country as poor pilgrims from station to station and thus getting to know Tibet as no European had ever done before. Aufschnaiter was always dreaming of spending a year by the Namtso, the great, mysterious inland sea, and studying its tides.

Our life in Tibet gradually lost its sensation of novelty, but that did not prevent us from realising how lucky we were to be here. Government offices often gave us letters to translate coming from all parts of the world, and written by persons of the most varied professions. They were mostly applications for permission to enter the country. Many of the applicants offered to work for the Government in return for board and lodging, with a view to getting to know the country. Others were sufferers from tuberculosis who hoped for a cure from the mountain air of Tibet. These latter were always answered and the answers conveyed the blessing and good wishes of the Dalai Lama and sometimes a present of money. No reply was ever sent to the other applications and no one received permission to come to Tibet. The unchangeable policy was to present Tibet as the Forbidden Land.

The foreigners whom I met during the five years of my stay in Lhasa were not more than seven in number.

In 1947, on the recommendation of the British Legation, a French journalist named Amaury de Riencourt was officially invited. He stayed three weeks in Lhasa. A year later Professor Tucci, the famous Tibetologist, arrived from Rome. This was his seventh visit to Tibet, but his first to Lhasa. He was reckoned to be the greatest authority on the history and civilisation of Tibet, and had translated numerous Tibetan books as well as publishing a number of original works. He always astonished Chinese, Nepalese, Indians and Tibetans by his knowledge of the history of their countries. I often met him at parties, and once before a large gathering he put me in a very false position by taking sides with the Tibetans against me in an argument about the shape of the earth. In Tibet the traditional belief is that the earth is a flat disk. This was being argued at the party and I stood up for the spherical theory. My arguments seemed to be convincing the Tibetans and I appealed to Professor Tucci to support me. To my great surprise he took up a sceptical attitude, saying that in his opinion all scientists ought continually to be revising their theories, and that one day the Tibetan doctrine might just as well prove to be true! Everyone chuckled as it was known that I gave lessons in geography. Professor Tucci stayed eight days in Lhasa and then went on a visit to the most famous monastery in Tibet, Samye; after which he left the country, taking with him scientific specimens and many valuable books from the Potala Press.

Other interesting visitors to Lhasa were the Americans, Lowell Thomas and his son, who came in 1949. They also remained for a week and attended many receptions given in their honour. They had an audience with the Dalai Lama. Both of them had cine-cameras and took some splendid pictures. The son wrote a slick, journalistic best-seller and the father, a radio-commentator in the U.S.A., made recordings for his future talks. I greatly envied them their splendid photographic equipment and especially their abundance of films. About that time I had joined with Wangdula in buying a Leica, but we always suffered from a shortage of films. The Americans made me a present of two colour films, my first and only ones.

The political situation at this juncture had caused a favourable answer to be given to the petition of the two Americans to be allowed to come to Tibet. The threatening attitude of China, although traditional, had now again become intensified. Every Chinese Government, whether Imperial, National or Communist, had always professed to regard Tibet as a Chinese province. This pretension was entirely contrary to the wishes of the Tibetans, who loved their independence and were clearly entitled to enjoy it. The Government had in consequence decided to admit the two Americans, who undertook to make a world-wide publicity campaign in favour of Tibetan independence.

In addition to these four guests of the Government, an English engineer and a mechanic came to Tibet on a professional mission. The engineer was employed by the General Electric Company and his job was to install the new machines for the electric works. He spoke very highly of the work that Aufschnaiter had already done. The mechanic, Nedbailoff, was a White Russian who had been wandering about Asia since the Revolution. He had finally landed in our internment camp at Dehra-Dun and in 1947 was about to be repatriated to Russia. In order to save his life he had fled to Tibet but was rearrested on the frontier. Finally it was decided to let him remain in Sikkim as he was a skilled mechanic. From there he was summoned to Lhasa to repair the machines of the old electric plant, but a few months after his arrival the armies of Red China invaded Tibet and he had to flee once more. I believe he finally ended up in Australia. His life was one continual flight. He was a natural adventurer and seemed proof against danger and hardship.

India’s declaration of independence settled the fate of the British Legation in Lhasa. The British staff were replaced by Indians, but Mr. Richardson stayed on until September 1950, as the Indians had no trained candidate for his post. Reginald Fox was taken over by the Tibetan Government as their radio-operator. He was instructed to put up wireless stations at all important strategic points, as the danger of a surprise invasion by the forces of Red China was growing daily. A trustworthy man was needed for Chamdo, a focal point in East Tibet, and Fox brought in a young Englishman named Robert Ford. I knew him slightly in Lhasa. He was fond of dancing and introduced the samba into Lhasa. At Tibetan parties there was a good deal of dancing. National dances not unlike those of the northern steppes were the most popular but the fox-trot was also favoured, though it was frowned on by elderly people, who thought it unseemly that partners should cling so closely to each other.

Ford went off with a large caravan to Chamdo and one could soon talk with him on the wireless telephone. It appears that radio amateurs all over the world competed for the privilege of talking to the lonely European in his remote outpost, and Ford and Fox received shoals of letters and presents. Unfortunately the notes that Ford made of these harmless conversations later proved his undoing. On his flight before the Chinese invaders he was cut off and captured. The wildest charges were brought against him. He was accused among other things of poisoning a Lama and the entries in his note-books were interpreted as espionage. This sympathetic and wholly innocent young man is still a prisoner in the hands of the Reds in spite of the efforts of the British Ambassador in Peking to get him released.

I met one other white man in the course of my stay in Tibet — the American Bessac. Later on I shall relate what happened to him.
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Re: Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

Postby admin » Wed Sep 04, 2019 6:23 am

12. An Attempted Coup d'Etat

An audience of the Dalai Lama — The conspiracy of the monks of Sera — Religious festivals in commemoration of the Buddha.

When my second Tibetan New Year in Lhasa came round I attended all the ceremonies of the festival from the beginning. Tens of thousands of people flocked into the town and Lhasa looked like a great encampment. This year they celebrated the beginning of the “Fire-Pig-Year.” The splendour of the ceremonies was no less than in the previous year, and I was of course particularly interested in the events I had missed the year before owing to my illness. The spectacle of which I have the liveliest recollection was the procession of a thousand soldiers in historic costumes. This custom commemorates an historical episode. Long ago a Moslem army marching on Lhasa was overtaken by heavy snowstorms at the foot of the Nyenchenthanglha mountains and completely snowed up. The Ponpos of the region brought the arms and armour of the frozen soldiers in triumph to Lhasa. Now they are brought out every year and displayed by a thousand men. The old standards are carried by; one hears the clink of chain-mail on men and horses; helmets bearing inscriptions in Urdu reflect the sunshine; the reports of the old muzzle-loaders are heard in the narrow streets; altogether a rare pageant of medieval pomp in this old-fashioned city. The parade was staged so beautifully that it gave an impression of absolute reality rather than of an accurate historical revival. The troops led by two generals marched across the Barkhor to an open space on the edge of the city. Tens of thousands of people awaited them there in the warmth of an enormous fire where flames were fanned by countless offerings of butter and grain. The crowd looked on entranced, while monks threw death’s-heads and the symbolic effigies of evil spirits into the fire. Cannons buried in the ground fired salutes towards the mountain peaks. The culminating moment was when the monk of the Oracle staggered towards the fire and after a short, wild dance collapsed on the ground. That was the moment for the people to burst out of their frozen immobility into ecstatic cries and gestures.

In 1939 the members of the only German expedition which ever came to Tibet were present at this festival. They barely escaped with their lives, for they had the temerity to try to film the Oracle and were at once stoned by the mob. They had to fly from the scene, climbing over garden walls and roofs. There was nothing political in the attitude of the mob nor any trace of xenophobia. It was inspired by the fanatical religious loyalty of the people, which is always capable of producing such outbreaks. Later on, when I was shooting films for the Dalai Lama, I had to be very careful. There were almost always excited scenes and I was very glad when I succeeded in taking a few shots on my own account.

At this New Year Festival the High Chamberlain informed us that we were on His Holiness’s reception list. Although we had seen the young God several times and had been honoured by his smiling recognition during the processions, we were greatly excited by the prospect of appearing before him at the Potala Palace. I felt that this invitation must have great significance for us and, in fact, it turned out to be the starting-point on the road which led me into intimacy with the young God-King.

On the appointed day we put on our fur coats, bought the most expensive scarves we could find in the town and, in the midst of a gaily-clad crowd of monks, nomads and women in their festal garb, climbed up the long flight of steps to the Potala. As we climbed, the view over the city became more and more impressive. From here we looked down on to the gardens and the villa-like houses. Our road led us past countless prayer-wheels which the passersby kept in movement. Then we passed through the great main gate into the interior of the Palace.

Dark corridors, their walls decorated with paintings of strange protecting deities, led through the ground-floor buildings to a courtyard. From there steep ladders, several storeys high, took one up to the flat roof. The visitors climbed them carefully and silently. Up above, a dense crowd was already assembled, as everyone has the right to receive the Great One’s blessing at the New Year.

On the roof there were a number of small buildings with gilded roofs. These were the apartments of the Dalai Lama. With monks leading the way, a long sinuous line of believers moved slowly towards a door. We two came directly after the monks in the line. When we came into the hall of audience we craned our necks to get a sight of the Living Buddha over a forest of heads. And he, too, momentarily forgetful of his dignity, looked up eagerly to get a glimpse of the two strangers of whom he had heard so much.

In the posture of the Buddha, leaning slightly forward, the Dalai Lama was sitting on a throne covered with costly brocade. For hours he had to sit and watch the faithful filing by and bless them as they passed. At the foot of the throne lay a mountain of money-bags and rolls of silk and hundreds of white scarves. We knew that we must not hand over our scarves directly to the Dalai Lama — an abbot would take them from us. When we found ourselves standing with bowed heads before the Presence I could not resist the temptation to look up. An eager, boyish smile lit up the charming face of the Dalai Lama and his hand raised in blessing was laid for an instant on my head. Everything happened very quickly: in a moment or two we were standing before a somewhat lower throne on which sat the Regent. He too laid his hand on us in blessing and then an abbot placed red amulet-scarves on our necks and we were asked to sit down on cushions. Rice and tea were served and, obedient to the custom, we threw a few grains on to the ground as an offering to the gods.

From our quiet corner we had a wonderful view of all that went on. An endless host of people filed by the young God- King to receive his blessing. With their heads bowed in humble obeisance and their tongues hanging out, they presented a strange picture. None dared look up. A light touch with a sort of silken mop replaced the laying-on of hands with which we and the monks had been honoured. None of the visitors came empty-handed. Some brought only threadbare scarves, but there were pilgrims with a retinue of bearers laden with gifts. Every offering is immediately registered by the Treasurer and, if usable, added to the household stores of the Potala. The numerous silk scarves are afterwards sold or given to prize-winners in athletic contests. The money-offerings remain as the personal property of the Dalai Lama. They flow into the gold and silver rooms of the Potala, in which immense treasures have been accumulated for centuries and inherited by one Incarnation after another.

More impressive than the gifts is the expression of intense devotion on the faces of all these people. For many it is the greatest moment of their lives. They have often come many hundreds of miles on their pilgrimage, throwing themselves in the dust and sometimes walking on their knees. Some have spent months and years and suffered greatly from cold and hunger on their journey to receive the God-King’s blessing. It seemed to me that a touch from the silken mop was a meagre reward for such devotion, but one could not but recognise the expression of supreme happiness which lit up their faces when a monk laid a light scarf on the neck of each pilgrim. They carry these scarves to the end of their lives in lockets or sewn into wallets and deem them to be a protection against all evil. The quality of the scarf corresponds with the status of the recipient, but each of them has the mystical triple knot. These knotted scarves are prepared by the monks, but for Ministers and the most highly placed abbots the Dalai Lama ties the knots himself. The atmosphere of this crowded room, filled with the scent of incense and the smell of the butter-lamps, became very oppressive as time went on, and we were glad enough when the ceremony came to an end.

As soon as the last of the pilgrims had left the room the Dalai Lama rose and, supported by his servants, proceeded to his private apartments while we stood motionless with bowed heads. As we were leaving a monk came up and handed to each of us a crisp new hundred-sang note saying “Gyalpo Rimpoche ki sore re” — “This is a gift from the precious ruler.”

We were greatly surprised by this gesture, more especially when we learned that no one had hitherto received a gift in this form. It was typical of Lhasa that everyone in the town knew of the honour that had been done to us before we had mentioned it to a soul. We kept these notes as talismans for many years and when we finally left Tibet we had to admit that they had not disappointed us.

After the audience we took the opportunity of visiting the numerous holy places of the Potala in company with the pilgrims. The Potala, one of the most imposing buildings in the world, was constructed in its present form some three hundred years ago by the fifth Dalai Lama. Previously there had been on this site a fortress belonging to the kings of Tibet, which had been destroyed by the Mongols during one of their invasions. Huge stones were transported there by forced labourers, to be hewn by skilled masons — who were unassisted by any technical devices — into the gigantic building that rises sheer out of the rocks. When the fifth Dalai Lama suddenly died there was a danger that the work would never be completed, but the Regent, who could not count on the people’s loyalty to himself to finish this formidable work, withheld the news of His Holiness’s death. It was first announced that he was seriously ill and then that he had withdrawn himself from the world for meditation. This deception was continued for ten years until the Palace was finished. Today when one looks at this unique building, we can understand and excuse the fraud that made its completion possible.

We found on the roof of the Potala the grave of the ruler to whom the building owes its origin. The remains of the fifth Dalai Lama rest in a shrine near those of the other God-Kings. There are seven of these tombs before which monks sit and pray to the muffled sound of drum-taps. If one wants to reach the stupas* one has to climb up steep ladders — a dangerous venture. There is little light to see by, and the rungs are slippery with the dirt of centuries. The greatest stupa is that of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, which is built several storeys deep into the Palace. Over a ton of gold was used to supply the gold plate with which the walls of this tower are faced.

After visiting a number of temples we came to the western part of the Potala, where 250 monks are lodged. Namgyetratsang, as this section is called, is narrow and full of corners and not inviting to the European eye, but the view from its little windows makes up for the gloomy and inconvenient interior. I could not help thinking how attractive Lhasa, with its cubical houses and flat roofs, looked from this eminence. We were too high up to see the dirt in the narrow streets.

In the following years I had several opportunities of staying in the Potala as the guest of friends who lived there. Life in this religious fortress resembles, one supposes, that of a medieval castle. Hardly an object belongs to the present day. In the evening all the gates are closed under the supervision of the Treasurer, after which watchmen go through the whole Palace to see that everything is in order. Their shouts, ringing along the corridors, are the only sounds in the oppressive stillness. The nights are long and peaceful. Everyone goes to bed early. In contrast to the brisk social life in the city there are no parties or entertainments. From the shrines of the holy dead emanates an atmosphere of mortality, dim and solemn, which makes the whole Palace feel like an enormous tomb. I could very well understand that the young ruler was happy when he could move to his Summer Garden. A lonely child without parents or playmates must lead a dreary life in the Potala. He found distraction only in the rare visits of his brother LobsangSamten, who brought him greetings from his parents and told him all the news of the town.

The Dalai Lama possesses an elephant, the only one in the country, which was presented to him by the Maharajah of Nepal, in whose country there are many religious adherents of the God-King. Many Nepalese enter the monasteries of Tibet and devote their lives to religion. They form separate communities in the cloisters and are reputed to be very apt pupils. The Maharajah originally gave two elephants to the Dalai Lama as a token of his respect, but one of them did not survive the journey over the Himalayas, though the seven-hundred-mile road to Lhasa was carefully cleared of stones. Special stables were prepared at all the halting-places for these beasts, one of which, at least, reached the capital in good shape, to the great satisfaction of everyone. No one had ever seen so gigantic an animal. They called him “Langchen Rimpoche.” He had a house to himself on the north side of the Potala and often took part in processions festooned with precious brocade. Riders, whose horses were not accustomed to such monsters, gave him a wide berth.

During the New Year Celebrations the father of the Dalai Lama died. Everything conceivable had been done to keep him alive. Monks and medicine men had tried every kind of remedy. They had even prepared a doll into which they charmed the patient’s sickness and then burnt it with great solemnity on the river bank. It was all to no purpose. To my way of thinking they would have done better to call in the English doctor, but of course the family of the Dalai Lama must always be a model of orthodoxy and must not swerve from traditional practice in times of crisis.

The body was taken, as usual, to a consecrated plot outside the town where it was dismembered and given to the birds to dispose of. The Tibetans do not mourn for the dead in our sense of the word. Sorrow for the parting is relieved by the prospect of rebirth, and death has no terrors for the Buddhist. Butter-lamps are kept burning for forty-nine days, after which there is a service of prayer in the house of the deceased. And that is the end of the story. Widows or widowers can marry after a short time and life resumes its wonted course.

In 1947 Lhasa had a minor civil war. The former Regent, Reting Rimpoche, who had voluntarily resigned his office, seemed once more ambitious for power. Reting had many adherents among the people and the officials, who stirred up ill-feeling against his successor. They wanted to see Reting back at the helm. They decided on action. The coup d'etat was to be effected by the modern expedient of a bomb. This was delivered as a present from an unknown admirer in the house of a high monastic official, but before the parcel reached the Regent the infernal machine exploded. Luckily no one was killed. It was through this unsuccessful outrage that the conspiracy was disclosed. The energetic Tagtra Rimpoche acted with speed and decision. A small army led by one of the Ministers marched to Reting’s monastery and arrested the former Regent. The monks of the Monastery of Sera revolted against this action and panic broke out in the town. The dealers barricaded their shops and took away their goods for safety. The Nepalese took refuge in their Legation, carrying with them all their valuables. The nobles shut the gates of their homes and armed their servants. The whole town was in a state of alert.

Aufschnaiter had seen the columns marching towards Reting and came at top speed from his country home into the town, where he and I organised the defence of Tsarong’s mansion. People were less preoccupied with the political crisis than with the fear that the monks of Sera, who numbered many thousands, would break into Lhasa and pillage the town. And there were others who had no confidence in the army, which was to some extent equipped with modern weapons. Military revolutions were not unknown in the history of Lhasa.

The arrival of Reting as a prisoner was awaited with excitement, but in the meantime he had been conveyed secretly to the Potala. The monks, who had planned to set him free, were deceived by this action but, in fact, from the moment that their leader was arrested their cause was lost. Strong in their fanaticism, they refused to surrender and wild shooting soon began. It was not until the Government bombarded the town and Monastery of Sera with howitzers and knocked down a few houses that the resistance ceased. The troops succeeded in overpowering the monks and peace returned to the capital. For weeks the authorities were occupied in bringing the culprits to justice and many severe floggings were inflicted.

While the bullets were still pinging through the town the news of the death of the rebellious ex-Regent spread like wildfire among the people. Whispered rumours went round about the manner of his death. Many thought he was the victim of a political murder, but more believed that by dint of concentration and his inflexible will he had projected himself into the next world without the formality of dying. The town was suddenly full of the most unbelievable stories of the miracles attributed to him and of the superhuman powers he possessed. On one occasion, when a pilgrim’s earthenware cooking-pot was boiling over, he is said to have closed it in with his hands by drawing the sides over the top just as if the clay had been still soft and plastic.

The Government refused to confirm or deny the rumours. Probably few people knew what had really happened. The late Regent had made many enemies during his term of office. On one occasion he caused a Minister who was plotting a rebellion to have his eyes put out. Now he had paid for this crime. As usually happens during political upheavals, innocent people often had to pay the penalty for the guilt of others. The former proteges of Reting were dismissed from their posts. One of the prominent men in his party actually killed himself. This was the only case of suicide that I heard of during all my stay in Tibet.

The prison had not room enough for all the condemned persons, so the nobles had to take the responsibility for lodging them and keeping them in custody. As a result one found in almost every house a convict in chains with a wooden ring round his neck. It was not until the Dalai Lama officially assumed the powers of a ruler that an amnesty was granted to political and common law offenders. Most of the monks of Sera had fled to China. It usually happened that when there was a rising in Tibet the Chinese had a finger in the pie. All the property of the rebels was confiscated by the Government and sold at public auction. The houses and pavilions of Reting Rimpoche were demolished and his beautiful fruit trees transplanted into other gardens. The monastery was thoroughly ransacked by the soldiers, and for many weeks afterwards gold cups, brocades and other valuable objects kept turning up in the bazaars. The sale of Reting’s property realised several million rupees for the Treasury. Among his effects were hundreds of bales of English woollen goods and eight hundred costumes of silk and brocade. This shows how rich one could become in Tibet. Reting was a man of the people with no background. His career had started when as a boy he was recognised as an Incarnation.

______________

Notes:

* Stupa — a Buddhist Shrine.
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Re: Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

Postby admin » Wed Sep 04, 2019 7:15 am

13 - Commissions from the Government

Work in tie Garden of Jewels — In my own house — World politics affect even Tibet — The Dalai Lama’s visit to the monasteries — Agricultural problems of Tibet — We introduce skating.

The religious ceremonies held in commemoration of Buddha’s birth and death during the fourth month of the Tibetan year gradually obliterated the memory of the rising. In the autumn we were invited by the Government to draw up a new plan of the town. Aufschnaiter interrupted his work and we began to make a survey. No proper plan of the city had ever been made. In the last century secret agents from India had brought some sketch-maps home with them but they had been drawn from memory and were quite inaccurate. Now we were able to make use of Tsarong’s theodolite and with our measuring-lines went through all parts of the Holy City. We could only work in the early morning for, as soon as the streets began to fill, we were surrounded by a swarm of curious people. We had been given two policemen by the Government, as we could not keep the people off by ourselves. But even so we had difficulties. The passers-by found it interesting to look into Aufschnaiter’s survey glass, from the wrong end of course, and our operations were considerably hampered. It was no pleasure to trudge through the filthy streets in the biting morning cold and we needed the whole winter to collect the material for our survey. We had to climb on to the roofs, so as to be able to mark out the houses in the different blocks; and I had to collect more than 1,000 different names of householders, all in the Tibetan script. When the copies were ready for the Dalai Lama and all the important Government offices, a new parlour game was introduced. People learned how to read the plan and amused themselves by sporting their own houses on it.

At this time the Government had the idea of installing a modern drainage and electric system on which they wanted to employ Aufschnaiter and me. Neither of us had studied the technique of these subjects but my comrade had an excellent knowledge of mathematics, acquired whilst studying to become an agricultural engineer, and, of course, when in doubt we had recourse to the relevant text-books. Aufschnaiter was already being paid a monthly salary in rupees, and I received my appointment as a salaried official in 1948. I have kept my letter of appointment and am still proud of it.

A few months after our audience with the Dalai Lama, I was summoned in the middle of the night to the Norbulingka Palace and informed that the rising waters of the river threatened to overflow on to the Summer Palace. The monsoon rains convert the gently flowing stream with uncanny speed into a rushing river, in places more than a mile wide. When I arrived on the scene I found the old embankment on the point of giving way. In pouring rain and by the faint light of lanterns the bodyguard, under my directions, set to work to build a new dyke. We managed to strengthen the old dyke sufficiently to keep it un- breached for the moment, and next day I bought up all the jute sacks that were to be had in the bazaar and had them filled with clay and sods of turf. Five hundred soldiers and coolies worked at high pressure and we were able to erect new defences before the old dam burst.

At the same time the weather Oracle was summoned from Gadong and during the following days he was my neighbour in one of the houses in the Palace grounds. Both of us had the same mission — to control the floods. It was fortunate that we had not to rely solely on the Oracle and that we had an alternative force of a thousand hands at work. Just as we were throwing the last spadefuls of earth on the dam, the Oracle tottered on to the bank and went through his dance. On the same day the rain stopped, the floods receded, and we both received the commendation of the Dalai Lama.

I was afterwards asked if I could do something of a permanent nature to dam the floods that threatened the Summer Palace every year. I willingly agreed, as I felt confident that with Aufschnaiter’s help I could find some means of controlling the flood-water. I knew that the Tibetans always built their dykes with perpendicular walls and realised that that was why they breached so easily.

We began the work in the spring of 1948, and had to complete it before the monsoon. I was given a force of 500 soldiers and 1,000 coolies. No contractor in Tibet had ever had so many hands. I insisted on another innovation and convinced the Government that the work would be completed much more quickly if forced labour were not employed. So every man received his pay daily and good humour reigned in the works. Of course one cannot compare the productivity of Tibetan workers with that of Europeans. The physical strength of the natives was much inferior to that of our workmen. They looked with astonishment at me when I impatiently took a spade and showed them how to dig. And there were many interruptions and pauses. There was an outcry if anyone discovered a worm on a spade. The earth was thrown aside and the creature put in a safe place.

The low productivity of the people must be due to their insufficient diet. The poor man fives generally on tsampa, butter-tea and a few radishes with some paprika. The whole day long they were brewing butter-tea in the works: everyone got his portion, and soup was served out at midday.

In addition to my soldiers and coolies I had a fleet of forty yak-skin boats. The boatmen — who are associated with the skins of animals and are, consequently, in conflict with the tenets of Buddhism — are regarded, like the leatherworkers, as second-class citizens. An example of the way in which they are treated remains in my recollection. One of the Dalai Lamas on his way to the monastery of Samye had crossed a pass over which the boatmen always used to go on their way to the river. The pass became sanctified by the passage of the God-King and from that time onward no boatman was allowed to use it. With their boats on their backs they were obliged to climb over a much higher and more difficult pass with a corresponding waste of time and energy. The boats weigh over 200 pounds and the passes are always higher than 16,000 feet. That gives one an idea of the extraordinary power of religion in Tibet over the daily life of the people. It always saddened me to see men trudging by with their boats on their backs. They marched upstream along the bank with slow and measured steps; they could never have rowed against the current. Every boatman was followed by a sheep with a pack on its back. The sheep, as well-trained as a dog, needed no lead and when its master took to the water again it would jump into the boat by itself.

The forty boats employed on the building of my dam had to bring granite from a quarry which lay upstream of us. This was no easy task for the boats — their sides had to be strengthened with boards to prevent the stones from breaking through. The boatmen were men of fine physique and their pay was higher than that of the other workmen. I noticed that they were not so humble as other “second-class citizens.” They had formed a guild of their own and were proud to belong to it.

A happy chance ordained that the Ponpo of Tradun should be one of my collaborators. His duty was to pay the wages every evening. We had the best recollections of one another and often talked about the time when we were in Tradun — a wretched time for me! Today I could laugh about it. When we first met he was on a tour of inspection with twenty servants and treated us with courtesy and friendship. Who would have thought that one day we should be working side by side and that I should be, more or less, his chief? I often could not realise that four years had passed since our first meeting. Four years in which I seemed to have become half a Tibetan! I often caught myself making typical Tibetan gestures, which I saw a hundred times a day and came unconsciously to imitate. As my work served to protect the garden of His Holiness, my chiefs were monks of the highest rank. The Government, too, took great interest in my activities. On several occasions the whole Cabinet rode out to see the works with their secretaries and servants and complimented both of us on our success, besides giving us scarves of honour and presents of money. On these occasions the workers were also given money and were granted a half-holiday.

My dykes were actually ready in June: just in time, as the first flood-water came down soon after. That year the river was very high but the dykes did their job. On the land that used to be flooded we planted willows whose fresh green leaves gave an added beauty to the Summer Garden.

While I was at work erecting embankments to protect the Garden of Jewels, I was often invited by high monastic officials to supper and to stay the night. I was certainly the first European who was permitted to stay in the Potala and the Summer Garden Residence. Thus I had many opportunities to admire the beautiful grounds and the splendid fruit trees and conifers which had been brought from all parts of Tibet. A host of gardeners looked after the flowers and trees and kept the paths in order. The park is surrounded by a high wall, but it is accessible to visitors wearing Tibetan dress. Two men of the bodyguard inspect arrivals at the gate and see to it that no European hats or shoes find their way into the park. They obligingly exempted me from this rule except for the garden parties, when I used to sweat under the weight of a fur-fined hat. The guard presents arms to nobles of the fourth rank and upwards, and I also got a salute.

In the middle of the park is the private garden of the Living Buddha, surrounded by a high, yellow wall. It has two gates strongly guarded by soldiers through which, apart from His Holiness, only the abbots appointed as his guardians may pass. Not even Cabinet Ministers are admitted. Through the foliage one can glimpse the golden roofs of temples but the cry of the peacocks is the only sound which escapes to the outside world. No one knows what happens in this inner sanctuary. Many pilgrims come to visit this wall and follow a path that leads clockwise round it. At short intervals there are dog-kennels built into the wall, whose savage, long-haired tenants bark when anyone comes too near. The yak-hair leashes prevent the dogs from attacking, but their hoarse growling sounds a discordant note in this peaceful world. Afterwards, when I was privileged to enter the secret garden through the gates in the yellow wall, I made friends, as far as one could, with these rough fellows.

Every year dramatic performances are given on a great stone stage outside the inner garden. Vast throngs of people come to see the plays, which go on for seven days from sunrise to sundown. They are performed by groups of male actors and are almost entirely of a religious character. The actors are not professionals. They come from the people and belong to all sorts of professions. When the drama-week is over they go back into private life. The same plays are performed year after year. The words are sung in a kind of recitative, and an orchestra of drums and flutes sets the rhythm for the dances. Only the comic parts have spoken lines. The beautiful and valuable costumes belong to the Government and are kept in the Summer Palace.

One of the seven groups of actors, the Gyumalungma, is famous for its parodies. It was the only group which I was really able to appreciate. One could not but be astonished at their frankness. It is a proof of the good humour and sanity of the people that they can make fun of their own weaknesses and even of their religious institutions. They go so far as to give a performance of the Oracle, with dance and trance and all, which brings down the house. Men appear dressed as nuns and imitate in the drollest fashion the fervour of women begging for alms. When monks and nuns begin to flirt together on the stage, no one can stop laughing and tears roll down the cheeks of the sternest abbots in the audience.

The Dalai Lama witnesses these performances from behind a gauze curtain at a window in the first floor of a pavilion in the inner garden, behind the yellow wall. The officials sit in tents on either side of the stage. At noon, on their way to a common meal prepared in the kitchen of the Dalai Lama, they file past the window of the ruler.

When the drama-week in the Summer Garden is over, the actors are invited to play in the houses of noblemen and in monasteries. In this way the theatrical season lasts for a month. The performances are besieged by the public, and the police often have to intervene to keep order.

During this year my personal circumstances had improved very greatly. I was self-supporting, and thought myself entitled to a house of my own in which I could live an independent life. I never forgot my indebtedness to Tsarong who had opened his house to us and helped us to get a footing in Lhasa. Since I had been earning money, I had paid him a rent. Recently I had received many offers from friends temporarily transferred to the provinces to let me their houses and gardens with some of their servants thrown in.

I finally decided on one of the houses of the Foreign Minister Surkhang, which was, according to Tibetan ideas, one of the most modern buildings in the town. It had massive walls and a whole frontage of small glass window-panes, but too many rooms for my needs. That problem was easily dealt with. I closed those I did not need and lived in the others. I chose the room with most early morning sunshine for my bedroom. By my bed stood my wireless and on the walls I pasted coloured illustrations from an Alpine calendar, which somehow — probably with a consignment of Swiss watches — had found its way to Lhasa. The cup- boards and chests were brightly painted and carved, as one finds them in our peasants’ houses. All the floors were of stone and my servant took pride in polishing them till they shone like a mirror. He used to smear them with candlegrease and then slide about the rooms in woollen shoes, combining business with pleasure. There were coloured rugs in every room. As in Lhasa the ceilings are all supported on columns, the individual carpets are generally small. There are in Lhasa celebrated carpet-weavers who come to the houses of the nobles, and weave carpets of the desired size and shape on the spot. They sit on the ground with a wooden frame in front of them and knot the brightly coloured hand-spun wool into classic designs: dragons, peacocks, flowers and the most varied forms of ornamentation grow under their practised fingers. These carpets last for generations. The wool is incredibly durable and the colours, made from bark from Bhutan, green nutshells and vegetable juices, remain fresh for ages.

I had a writing-table and a large drawing-board made for my living-room. The local carpenters are very clever at restoring old pieces of furniture, but when it comes to making anything new they are lamentably inadequate. In all crafts and professions creative capacity is neglected, and neither in schools nor in private enterprises are experiments encouraged.

In my living-room there was a house-altar which my servants tended with particular devotion. Every day seven bowls were filled with fresh water for the gods, and the butter-lamps were never allowed to go out. I lived in constant fear of burglars as the idols wore diadems of pure gold and turquoises. Fortunately my servants were very trustworthy and in all these years I never missed anything.  

My roof, like all others, had a tree for prayer-flags in every corner. I fixed the aerial of my wireless on to one of these. Every house has a stove for incense and other luck-bringing appurtenances and I used to take particular care that everything was kept in good order and no national customs infringed or neglected.

My house soon became a real home, and it was always a great pleasure to me to come back after work or paying visits. My servant Nyima would be waiting for me with hot water and tea and everything was tidy, peaceful and comfortable. I had some trouble to preserve my privacy, for in Tibet the servants are accustomed to remain within call or to come in without notice and pour out the tea. Nyima respected my wishes, but he attached himself very closely to me and whenever I went out at night, he used to wait for me at the house-gate of my host, even though I had told him to go to bed. He feared that I might be set upon as I came home, and that was why he always turned up armed with a revolver and a sword and ready to risk his life for his master. I could not resent this devotion.

His wife and children lived in the house and gave me a fresh object-lesson in the love of the Tibetans for their children. If one of them fell sick Nyima spared no expense to bring the best Lama to his bedside. For my part I did what I could to keep my servants in good health, as I liked to see cheerful faces round me. I was able to send them to the Indian Foreign Mission for vaccination and treatment, but I had to be always after them as Tibetans usually pay no attention to sickness in grown-up persons.

In addition to my personal servant, who received a monthly wage of about £5, the Government gave me a messenger and a groom. Since I had been working at the Norbulingka, I was entitled to ride a horse from the royal stables whenever I needed one. Properly speaking I was supposed to ride a different horse every day, as the Master of the Stables had to be careful to see that none of the horses was overworked. He would have forfeited his post if any of them had lost condition. As one may imagine, I found the continual change disagreeable. The horses were always out at grass on the beautiful pastures of the Norbulingka, and when they came into the narrow streets and traffic of the town they shied at everything they saw. At last I got them to allow me to ride the same horse for a whole week and to ring the changes on three horses only, so that I and my mounts could get accustomed to one another. My horses had yellow reins — the royal colour — and when mounted on one of them I, theoretically, had the right to ride up into the Potala or round the Ring, which was forbidden even to Ministers.

My stable, kitchen and servants’ quarters were situated in a garden next door to my house — enclosed by a high wall. The garden was of a good size and I was able to lay out many beds for flowers and vegetables. There was room, too, for badminton and croquet on the lawn and I put up a ping-pong table as well. I grew some vegetables in a small greenhouse and managed to obtain valuable contributions to my meals early in the year. All my visitors had to admire my beds, of which I was very proud.

Mr. Richardson gave me the benefit of his experience and I devoted my mornings and evenings to gardening and my industry was soon rewarded. In my first year I managed to grow tomatoes, cauliflowers, lettuces and cabbages. It was extraordinary how big everything grew without losing quality. But the explanation was really simple. It was essential to see that the roots got enough moisture. The dry air and the warm sunshine then created a hothouse atmosphere in which everything flourished luxuriantly. The problem of watering is not so easy, as there are no pressure pipes here and one cannot use hoses to sprinkle the garden. One has to lay out the beds in such a way that a runnel of water can be carried through them. I had two regular women helpers in the garden. They did all the weeding, and that says a good deal, as weeds grow apace in this soil. So do flowers and fruits, and the rewards of industry are great. From a bed measuring seventy square yards I took over 400 pounds of tomatoes, some of which weighed half a pound. Other vegetables throve equally well. I do not believe that there are any kinds of European vegetable which would not succeed here, although the summer is so short.

About this time we began to feel the repercussions of world politics even in the peaceful town of Lhasa. The civil war in China assumed a more and more disquieting aspect, and it was feared that trouble might arise among the Chinese residents in Lhasa. In order to show that Tibet considered itself independent of Chinese politics, the Government decided one day to give the Chinese Minister his conge. About a hundred persons were affected by this decision, against which there was no appeal.

The Tibetan authorities acted with typical craft. They chose a moment when the Chinese radio-operator was playing tennis to go to his home and take possession of his transmitting-set. When he heard about the order to leave that his chief had received, he could no longer communicate with the Chinese Government. The post and telegraph offices in the city were closed for a fortnight and the world thought that Tibet was having another civil war.

The expelled Chinese diplomats were treated with exquisite courtesy and invited to farewell parties. They were allowed to change their Tibetan money for rupees at a favourable rate and were given free transport to the Indian frontier. They did not understand exactly what had happened to them but all were sorry to go. Most of them returned to China or Formosa. Some travelled direct to Peking, where Mao Tse-tung had already established his seat of government.

Thus the century-old quarrel between China and Tibet broke out again. Communist China interpreted the expulsion of the Minister and his staff as an affront, not as a gesture of neutrality, which the Tibetans meant it to be. In Lhasa it was fully realised that a Red China would constitute a grave threat to the independence of Tibet and to the Tibetan religion. People quoted utterances of the Oracle and pointed to various natural phenomena which seemed to confirm their fears. The great comet of 1948 was regarded as a portent of danger and freak births among domestic animals were held to be ominous. I too felt anxious, but my anxiety was based on a sober estimate of the situation. Asia’s future looked black.

About this time the Government decided to send four high officials on a world tour. The members of this mission had been carefully selected for their culture and progressive ideas, as it was desired to show the world that Tibet was a civilised country.

The leader of the mission was Finance-Secretary Shekabpa, and the other members were a monk named Changkhyimpa; Pangdatsang, a rich merchant; and General Surkhang, a son of the Foreign Minister. The two last named spoke a little English and had some idea of Western habits and customs. The Government saw that they were supplied with a trousseau of European suits and overcoats of the best quality and cut; in addition they took with them splendid silk robes to be worn at official receptions, for they were to travel as a national delegation. They went first to India and from there flew to China. After staying in that country for some time they travelled by air to San Francisco, via the Philippines and Hawaii. In America they stopped in many places and visited numerous factories, especially those which handled Tibetan raw materials.

Their programme in Europe was similar. Their whole journey lasted nearly two years and every letter received from them caused excitement in Lhasa. By the time they returned they had found new buyers for Tibetan wool, and brought with them a mass of prospectuses for agricultural machinery, looms, carpet-making machines and so on. Their baggage also contained a dismantled jeep which the chauffeur of the thirteenth Dalai Lama reassembled. It was driven once, and then withdrawn from the public eye. Many of the nobles must have wished to buy an automobile just then, but it seems the time was not yet ripe. In America the mission bought gold ingots, which were brought to Lhasa under a heavy guard.

While the four delegates were enjoying their world tour, the political situation in Asia had greatly altered. India had been granted independence, the Communists had conquered the whole of China; but all these events had made little impression in Lhasa, where the Dalai Lama’s traditional visit to the monasteries was considered more important than world politics.

Every young Dalai Lama must, before officially attaining his majority, visit the monasteries of Drebung and Sera, where he gives proof of maturity by partaking in a religious discussion. The preparations for this journey had been the main topic of conversation for months. His Holiness was, naturally, to be accompanied by the nobles, and the monks of Drebung had constructed a special palace to house him and his retinue.

One day the procession set out in customary splendour on the five-mile road to the monastery, where the four arch-abbots of Drebung with a glittering retinue received the Divine Visitor and led him into his palace. On the same day I too rode to Drebung, for some of the monks with whom I had made friends had invited me to stay there during the festivities. I had always wanted to get to know the life of a monastery from the inside. Up to now, like any other pilgrim, I had enjoyed only fleeting glances at the temples and gardens. My friends took me to one of the numerous standard-pattern stone houses, where I was given Spartan lodgings. Pema, a monk who was soon to take his final examinations and already had pupils of his own, acted as my guide to the monastic city and explained to me the layout and organisation. No comparison can be drawn between this and any of our religious institutions. Behind these cloister walls the hands of Time’s clock seem to have been put back a thousand years; there is nothing to show that one is living in the twentieth century. The thick grey walls of the buildings have an age-old appearance, and the overpowering smell of rancid butter and unwashed monks has sunk deep into the stone-work.

Every house has from fifty to sixty inhabitants and is divided into tiny cells. There is a kitchen on every floor and plenty of food to eat. The average monk has no other mundane satisfaction, but the more intelligent ones buoy themselves up with the prospect of reaching high positions to reward their zealous studies. They have no private property except for their butter-lamps and an ikon, or maybe an amulet-box. A simple bed is the only concession to comfort. Absolute obedience is the rule. The students enter the monastery as children and immediately don the red cowl, which they are to wear for the rest of their lives. Dining the first years they have to perform the most menial services for their teachers. The intelligent ones learn how to read and write and are admitted to examinations. Only a few succeed in passing out from one grade into another, and most of them remain all their fives in the servant class. The elect are those who after studying the teaching of Buddha for thirty or forty years are able to pass the final tests. They are then qualified for appointment to the highest offices in the Church. The monasteries are the high schools for religious education, and the staff of all purely religious institutions is chosen from their graduates. The monastic officials of the Government receive their education in the Tsedrung School.

The final examinations of the monastic schools are held once a year in public in the Cathedral. From the whole of Tibet only twenty-two candidates are admitted to the examination. After a severe viva voce test held under the auspices of the Dalai Lama’s own teachers, the five best candidates are promoted to the highest monastic grade. The student who passes first may become a hermit and devote himself to religious exercises, or he may enter public life with the possibility of one day becoming Regent. This happens rarely, because that high post is usually reserved for Incarnations, but cases have occurred in which a man of the people — neither a noble nor a Living Buddha — has been appointed to this great office. The last time this happened was in 1910 when the thirteenth Dalai Lama fled to India before the invading Chinese, and a delegate had to be appointed to represent him.

The ten thousand monks of Drebung are divided into groups, each of which has its own temple and garden. Here they spend the morning hours in communal religious exercises, after which they get their butter-tea and soup, only returning to their houses for study in the afternoon. However, they have enough free time to take walks and play simple games. They are also allowed to cook any supplementary food they may receive from their own communities. The groups are organised as far as possible according to their places of origin. In some houses you will find only Mongolians or Nepalese, or students from a particular town such as Shigatse.

Within the monastery, of course, no living creature may be killed, but the cold climate makes it necessary to eat some meat: so the communities send supplies of dried yak-meat, and, it must be said, fresh meat is often to be had in one of the neighbouring villages.

In addition to free food and lodging the monks receive a little pocket-money derived from Government grants and the gifts of pilgrims. However, when a monk possesses outstanding gifts, he generally finds a patron among the nobles or the wealthy tradespeople. The church in Tibet is very rich, owning, as it does, most of the land, and the revenues of enormous estates are enjoyed by the monasteries. Every monastery has its own dealer, who procures provisions and other necessities. One would hardly believe what enormous sums are spent on the upkeep of the monasteries and their inmates. I once helped a monk with his accounts and noted that during the first month of the year, which all the monks spend in Lhasa, the Government supplied them with three tons of tea and fifty tons of butter, in addition to pocket-money to the value of something over £40,000.

The red-cowled forms are not all gentle and learned brothers. Most of them are rough, tough fellows for whom the whip is not discipline enough. The worst of them belong to the unauthorised but tolerated organisation of the Dob-Dobs, or monkish soldiery. They wear a red armband and blacken their faces with soot. In their belts they stick a huge key which they can use as a cosh or a missile and they often have a sharp cobbler’s knife in their pockets. Many of them are well-known bullies. Their gait is provocative and they are quick to strike. Sensible people give them a wide berth. In the war against the Chinese Communists they formed a battalion which gained a reputation for courage. In peacetime, too, they have opportunities for getting rid of their superfluous energy, as the Dob-Dobs of the different monasteries are always at war with one another. It is fair to add that their differences are not always settled by violence, and that some of their pugnacity is expended in athletic contests between rival monasteries. Drebung is usually the victor, having a larger choice of athletes than its competitors. As a former sports instructor I used often to go to Drebung, and the monks were always glad to have me taking part in their training. This was the only place in Tibet where I found men with athletic figures and trained muscles.

The great monasteries of Drebung, Sera and Ganden — the three Pillars of the State — play a decisive role in the political life of Tibet. Their abbots, together with eight government officials, preside over the National Assembly. No decision is taken without the assent of these clerics, who naturally are interested, first and foremost, in the supremacy of the monasteries. Their intervention has prevented the realisation of many progressive ideas. At one time they looked on Aufschnaiter and me as thorns in their flesh, but when they saw that we had no political ambitions and that we fitted ourselves into the customs of the land and carried out undertakings from which they, too, profited, they withdrew their opposition to us.

The monasteries are, as I have said, the high schools of the Church. For that reason every Lama — and there are more than a thousand of them in Tibet — must be educated in a monastery. These Incarnations are a constant attraction for pilgrims, who come in their thousands to visit them and receive their blessing.

Even during the Dalai Lama’s visit to Drebung these Incarnations attended all the ceremonies and sat in the front seats — a regular concourse of the gods! Meanwhile, a religious discussion was held every day in the shady cloister gardens between the ruler and one of the abbots. This is one of the most intimate acts in the religious life of Lamaism, and I never had the slightest hope of being allowed to witness it.

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Fashioned out of butter, such effigies are carried round Lhasa as part of the processions

However, one day as I was breakfasting with Lobsang, he asked me if I would like to come with him. I owe it to this unexpected gesture on his part that I was privileged to witness a drama which no other person of another faith has certainly ever witnessed. As I was in the company of the Dalai Lama’s brother no one thought of preventing me from entering the sequestered garden. A strange scene unfolded itself. In front of a dark grove of trees a great multitude of red-cowled monks, perhaps two thousand of them, squatted on the gravel, while from a high place the Dalai Lama preached from Holy Writ. For the first time I heard his clear boyish voice. He spoke without any embarrassment and with the assurance of a grown man. This was his first public appearance. The fourteen-year-old boy had been studying for many years and now his knowledge was being tested before a critical audience. This first appearance might have fateful consequences. It is true that he would never be allowed to renounce his prescribed career, but his performance that day would show whether he was destined to be the instrument of the monks or their ruler. Not all of his predecessors had been as able as the fifth and the thirteenth Dalai Lamas. Many of them remained throughout their lives puppets in the hands of the men who had trained them, and the destiny of the country was controlled by the Regents. People spoke of the intelligence of this boy as miraculous. It was said that he had only to read a book to know it by heart; and it was known that he had long taken an interest in all that happened in his country and used to criticise or commend the decisions of the National Assembly.

Now that it came to debating, I saw that his powers had not been exaggerated. The Dalai Lama sat down on the gravel, so as not to emphasise the superiority of his birth, while the abbot in whose monastery the discussion was taking place stood before him and punctuated his questions with the conventional gestures. The Dalai Lama answered all the questions which were put to him, even the “teasers,” with readiness and good humour and was never for a moment put out of countenance.

After a while the antagonists changed places and it was the Dalai Lama who put questions to the seated abbot. One could see that this was not an act prepared to show off the intelligence of the young Buddha; it was a genuine contest of wits in which the abbot was hard put to it to hold his own.

When the debate was over the young God-King mounted once more on to his golden throne and his mother, the only woman present, handed him tea in a golden cup. He stole a friendly glance at me as if to assure himself of my approval of his performance. For my part I was deeply impressed by what I had seen and heard, and felt genuine admiration for the presence of mind of this God-Boy from a humble family. He almost persuaded me to believe in reincarnation.

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Skating, introduced to the Tibetans by the author, came to be known as “Walking on Knives”

At the end of the religious debate everyone prayed in chorus. It sounded like a litany and lasted a long time. After that the Dalai Lama, supported by his abbots, returned to the Palace. I had always wondered at the senile gait of the Dalai Lama, and now learned that it is part of the ritual and that all these different movements are prescribed. It is supposed to be an imitation of the gait of the Buddha, and at the same time is designed to enhance the dignity of the Dalai Lama.

I would have very much liked to take a few pictures of this unique ceremony, but as it turned out, I was lucky not to have my camera with me. On the next day there was a great fuss when my friend Wangdula (without my knowing anything about it) tried to photograph the Dalai Lama as he was going round one of the monasteries. He had already taken one successful photo, when a zealous monk denounced him. Wangdula was brought before the Regent’s secretary and closely interrogated. As a punishment for his offence he was degraded, and told that he was lucky not to be expelled from the monastic order. In addition his camera was confiscated — all this in spite of the fact that he was a nobleman of the fifth grade and the nephew of a former Regent. For a while the monks talked of nothing except this incident, but Wangdula himself took it very calmly. He knew all about the ups and downs of official life.

The next item in the Dalai Lama’s programme was his progress to the summit of Mount Gyambe Utse, a peak over 17,000 feet high, which dominates the monastery of Drebung.

Early one morning a large, mounted caravan set out, consisting of at least one thousand men and several hundred horses. The first objective was a settlement halfway up the mountain. The Dalai Lama’s horse was led by two head grooms. On the way various rest places had been prepared. Each of these was furnished with a throne spread with carpets. Towards evening the caravan reached the halfway station. Incense was burnt as a thank-offering for safe arrival and prayers were said. At this place tents had been pitched, and here the party passed the night. Yaks had been prepared for the next day’s journey, and before dawn the Dalai Lama and his high dignitaries set out on the ride up to the summit. The monks of Drebung had already prepared a path of sorts for this pilgrimage. When the party reached the top, prayers were uttered and offerings made to the gods.

Below in the valley the people waited in crowds for the moment when the incense-smoke should rise from the peak. They knew that their ruler was up there praying for the welfare of his people. I myself had climbed to the summit the day before and now watched the ceremony from a discreet distance. Among the other spectators were flocks of choughs and ravens, who could smell the offerings of tsampa and butter and waited, croaking, for the moment to swoop down on the remains.

For most of those who accompanied the Dalai Lama this was the first time they had ever been on a mountain-top. The younger members of the party seemed to take great pleasure in the experience and pointed out to one another different details of the beautiful panorama. In contrast the older monks and officials, mostly corpulent seniors, had no eyes for the beauties of the landscape, but sat exhausted while their servants ministered to them.

On the same day the party rode the whole way back to the monastery. A few days later the Dalai Lama visited the monastery of Sera and engaged in a similar public debate. His advisers had had some misgivings in regard to a visit to Sera, in view of the recent revolt of the monks. But the enthusiastic reception offered him in this monastery was a proof, if one were needed, that he stood high above all cliques and party squabbles.

Meanwhile my life proceeded undisturbed. I was in the service of the Government, for whom I translated the news and articles from newspapers and now and then built small dams and irrigation channels. I regularly went to visit Aufschnaiter at his canal works outside the town. In the course of his excavations he had made some most interesting finds. Workmen had unearthed fragments of potsherds, which Aufschnaiter had carefully collected and begun to put together piece by piece. As a result of his repairs he had a collection of really beautiful vases and jugs, shaped quite differently from those made today. He gave the workmen rewards for what they found, and ordered them to dig with the utmost care and to call him immediately if they uncovered anything of interest. Every week there were discoveries. Graves containing perfectly preserved skeletons with bowls and semi-precious stones beside them were opened. My comrade had found a new occupation for his leisure hours. He took immense trouble with his collections, which dated back thousands of years. He was very proud of them and had reason to be, as he had been the first to come upon proof of a former Tibetan civilisation. None of the Lamas whom he consulted could throw fight on his finds, and there was no mention in the old history books of an epoch in which the Tibetans used to bury their dead and put gifts in their graves.

Aufschnaiter wanted to place his discoveries at the disposal of an archaeological museum in India, and when the Chinese Communists invaded Tibet, we took the collections, carefully packed, away with us.

Not long afterwards I had an unexpected opportunity to get out of Lhasa and learn something of a new part of the country. Some friends had asked me to look at their estates and make suggestions for their improvement. They had managed to get the Government to grant me leave of absence and I was able to visit their properties one after another. The conditions which I found were completely medieval. The peasants still used wooden ploughs with an iron share. These were drawn by dzos. (The dzo is a cross between an ox and a yak, and is a very good draught animal. It looks very like the yak, and the milk of the cows, which has a high fat content, is much prized.)

One of the problems which the Tibetans have done little to solve is that of watering their fields. The springtime is generally very dry, but no one thinks of carrying water on to the land from the snow-swollen brooks and rivers.

The estates of the landed gentry are often very large. It sometimes takes a whole day to ride across a property. Many serfs are attached to every estate; they are given a few fields to cultivate for their own profit, but are obliged to spend a certain time working for their landlord. The estate managers, who are often merely trusted servants of the landlord, boss the serfs like little kings. Their own master lives in Lhasa, where he works for the Government and has little time to bother about the property. However, his public services are frequently rewarded by gifts of land, and there are noble officials to whom in the course of their careers as many as twenty large farms have been given. The official who falls from grace is equally likely to be dispossessed of his estates, which pass into the hands of the Government. Nevertheless there are many families who have been living in their castles for centuries and bear territorial names. Their ancestors often built these fortresses on the rocky promontories which dominate the valleys. When built on the plain, they are surrounded by moats, but these are now dry and empty. The ancient weapons preserved in the castles testify to the warlike spirit of their former lords, who had constantly to be ready to defend themselves against the attacks of the Mongols.

I was days and weeks on my tour, and riding through unknown country was a welcome change after life in Lhasa. I was not always on horseback. During part of the time I was floating in a yak-skin boat down the mighty Brahmaputra, stopping to visit monasteries which attracted me and taking photographs.

When I got back to Lhasa it was already winter. The small tributary of the Kyichu was already frozen — and that caused us to think of something new. With a small group of friends, including the Dalai Lama’s brother, we founded a skating club. We were not the first people in Tibet to go in for this sport. The staff of the British Legation had practised skating to the immense astonishment of the natives. We were actually their heirs, because we acquired their skates, which they had bequeathed to their servants when they left. Our first efforts were very funny and we always had a good many onlookers to laugh at us and to wonder who would be the next to fall on his head or break through the ice. Parents noted with horror the enthusiasm of their children, determined at all costs to learn how to skate.

The old-fashioned, unsporting noble families could not conceive that anyone would wantonly tie a knife to the sole of his boot and slither about on it.
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Re: Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

Postby admin » Wed Sep 04, 2019 7:31 am

14. Tibet Prepares for Trouble

Photographer to the Living Buddha — Tibetan hospitality — Reorganisation of the Army and intensification of religious observance — Printing presses and books — I build a cinema-hall for the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama had heard from his brother about our new sport, but unfortunately our rink was invisible from the roof of the Potala. He would have dearly liked to see us disporting ourselves on the ice, but as that was impossible he sent me his cine-camera with instructions to film the rink and the skaters for him. As I had never taken a film-picture I made a careful study of the prospectus and instructions before going to work. Then I made my picture and had the film sent to India by the Foreign Ministry to be developed. In two months it was in the hands of the Dalai Lama. It had come out very well. Through this film I made my first personal contact with the young ruler of Tibet. It seems curious that a product of the twentieth century should have been the starting-point of a relation which in spite of all conventions eventually became a close friendship.

Soon after this Lobsang Samten told me that his brother wished me to film different ceremonies and festival scenes for him. I was astonished to see how great was his interest in these pictures. He always sent me the most precise instructions, sometimes in writing and sometimes verbally through Lobsang Samten. He advised me how to make the most favourable use of the light in certain positions or, maybe, he would send word to say that this or that ceremony was due to start punctually. I too was able to send a message telling him when during a procession to keep his eyes fixed in the direction of my camera.

Naturally I did my best to avoid being conspicuous during these ceremonies. He, too, regarded this as important and told me to keep in the background, and if I could not do this, to refrain from taking a picture. Obviously I could not avoid being seen, but as soon as it became known that I was filming and photographing under instructions from His Holiness I was not interrupted. In fact the dreaded Dob-Dobs often made the crowd give way to let me have a free field of vision: and when I asked them to pose for me, they obeyed like lambs. In this way I was enabled to make numbers of unique pictures of religious ceremonies. In addition to the cine-camera I always had my Leica with me and took many photographs of unusual scenes for myself.

I took some beautiful pictures of the cathedral. The Tsug Lag Khang, as it is called, was built in the seventh century and contains the most precious statue of Buddha in Tibet. The origin of this temple dates from the reign of the famous King Srongtsen Gampo. His two wives were princesses, and both belonged to the Buddhist faith. One of them came from Nepal and founded the second-greatest temple of Lhasa, the Ramoche; while the other was a Chinese and brought the golden idol with her from China. The King, who followed the ancient religion, was converted by his wives to Buddhism, which became the state religion. He then caused the cathedral to be built as a home for the golden idol. This building has the same defects as the Potala. Externally it is grand and imposing, but internally it is dark, full of corners and unfriendly. It is packed with treasure, which is daily added to by fresh offerings. Every Minister on appointment must buy new silk-embroidered costumes for the statues of the saints and a butter-dish of solid gold. Loads of butter are burnt unceasingly in the lamps, and summer and winter the air is full of rancid- smelling smoke. The only creatures who benefit by the offerings are the mice, which climb in thousands up and down the heavy silk curtains and gorge on the butter and tsampa in the bowls. It is dark in the temple: not a ray of light penetrates from the outside and only the butter-lamps on the altars shed their flickering gleam. The entrance to the Holy of Holies is usually closed by a heavy iron curtain, which is only raised at stated hours.

In a dark, narrow passage I found a bell hanging from the roof. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw on it the inscription “Te Deum Laudamus.” It was probably the last surviving relic of the chapel which the Catholic missionaries had built in Lhasa many centuries ago. They had not been able to maintain themselves in Tibet and had been obliged to leave. It may be that the preservation of this bell in their Cathedral is due to the deep respect which Tibetans feel for all religions. I would gladly have learned more about the chapel of the Jesuits and Capuchins, but no trace of the building survives.

In the evening the cathedral is filled with worshippers. The curtain is raised and a long queue waits before the altar of the Buddha. Each worshipper touches the statue with bowed head and makes a small offering. Holy water, tinted with saffron, is poured into his cupped hand by a monk. Part of this he drinks and the rest he sprinkles over his head. Many monks spend their whole fives in the cathedral. Their duty is to keep watch over the treasures and to fill the butter-lamps.

An attempt was once made to install electric fight in the cathedral, but a fixe occurred owing to a short circuit and everyone connected with the installation was dismissed. So there was no more talk of artificial fight.

Before the cathedral is a terrace of flagstones, polished like mirrors and hollowed out by the prostrations of worshippers over a thousand years. When one looks at these hollows and recognises the expression of deep devotion on the faces of the worshippers, one understands why a Christian mission could never succeed in Lhasa. A Lama from the Drebung on a visit to Rome to convert the Catholics would recognise the futility of his mission when he saw the steps of the holy staircase worn down by the knees of countless pilgrims, and would leave the Vatican with resignation. Christianity and Buddhism have much in common. They are both founded on the belief in happiness in another world and both preach humility in this fife. But there is a difference as things are today. In Tibet one is not hunted from morning till night by the calls of “civilisation.” Here one has time to occupy oneself with religion and to call one’s soul one’s own. Here it is religion which takes up most room in the life of the individual, as it did in olden days in the West.

Beggars take up their station by the cathedral door. They know very well that man is charitable and considerate when he is in the presence of God. In Tibet, as in most other places, beg- gars are a public nuisance. While I was building my dam the Government determined to put the sturdy beggars to work. They rounded up the thousand beggars of Lhasa and picked out seven hundred men who were fit for employment. These were put on the job and received food and pay for their work. On the next day only half of them turned up and a few days later they were all absent. It is not lack of work or dire necessity that makes these people beggars, nor, in most cases, bodily infirmity. It is pure laziness. Begging offers a good livelihood in Tibet and no one turns a beggar from the door. And if a beggar only gets some tsampa and a penny or so from each client, the produce of two hours’ “work” suffices to keep him going for the day. Then he sits idly by the wall and dozes happily in the sunshine. Many beggars have horrible diseases which deserve sympathy, but they exploit their deformities by thrusting them on the notice of the passer-by.

One of the most attractive features in Tibetan life is the habit of going to meet, and seeing off, one’s friends. When anyone goes away, his friends often put up a tent on his road several miles out of the town and wait for him there with a meal to speed him on his way. The departing friend is not allowed to go till he has been loaded with white scarves and good wishes. When he comes back the same ceremony is observed. It sometimes happens that he is welcomed at several places on his way home. In the morning, maybe, he first catches sight of the Potala; but on his way into the town he is held up at tent after tent by his welcoming friends, and it is evening before he arrives in Lhasa, his modest caravan swollen to stately proportions by his friends and their servants. He comes home with the happy feeling that he has not been forgotten.

When foreigners arrive they are met by a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who conveys the greetings of the Minister to them and arranges for their lodgings and entertainment. New Ambassadors are received with military honours and presented with silk scarves by a delegate of the Cabinet. In Lhasa there is a special quarter for guests, where they and their servants and animals are accommodated, and where they find gifts awaiting them on arrival. It would be true to say that in no country in the world are travellers treated with greater attention and hospitality.

During the war aeroplanes on their way from India to China often lost their way. This is probably the most difficult air-route in the world, as the passage of the Himalayas puts a heavy strain on the skill and experience of the pilot who, once he has lost his bearings, finds it very difficult to right himself owing to the inadequacy of the maps of Tibet.

One night the droning of motors was heard over the Holy City and caused general alarm. Two days later news came from Samye that five Americans had landed there in parachutes. The Government invited them to come to Lhasa on their way back to India. The airmen must have been greatly astonished at being received in tents some way out of the city, and offered a hearty welcome with butter-tea and scarves. We were told in Lhasa that they had lost their bearings completely and that the wings of their plane had grazed the snow slopes of the Nyenchenthanglha. After this they had turned back, but finding that they had too little fuel to reach India they decided to scrap their plane and jump. Except for a sprained ankle or two and a broken arm they came down safely. After a short stay in Lhasa, they were convoyed by the Government to the Indian frontier, riding horses and as comfortable as one can be on trek in Tibet.

The crews of other American planes which came down in Tibet during the war were not so lucky. In Eastern Tibet the remains of two crashed planes were found; the members of the crews had all been killed. Another plane must have crashed south of the Himalayas in a province whose inhabitants are savage jungle folk. These people are not Buddhists, but naked savages reputed to use poisoned arrows. From time to time they come out of their forests to exchange skins and musk for salt and beads. On one of these occasions they offered objects which could only have come from an American aeroplane. Nothing more was ever heard of this disaster. I would have liked to go in search of the site of the accident, but the distance was too great.

The political situation of Tibet was gradually getting worse. The Chinese had already solemnly declared in Peking that they were going to “liberate” Tibet. Even in Lhasa people were under no illusions about the gravity of this threat. In China the Reds had always carried out what they had taken in hand.

The Tibetan Government set to work feverishly to reorganise the army under the supervision of a Cabinet Minister. Tibet had a standing army, to which every district contributed its quota in proportion to the number of the inhabitants. This conception of compulsory military service differs from ours in that the State is only interested in numbers and not in individuals. A man called up for service can buy a substitute. Often enough these substitutes remain in the army all their lives.

The military instructors have served in India and understand the use of modern weapons. Hitherto the words of command had been given in a mixture of Tibetan, Hindi and English. The new Defence Minister’s first decision was that all orders were to be given in Tibetan. A new National Anthem was composed to replace “God Save the Queen,” the tune of which had hitherto been played at important military parades. The text consisted of a glorification of the independence of Tibet and a tribute to its illustrious ruler, the Dalai Lama.

The flat pasture lands round Lhasa were transformed into training grounds for the troops. New regiments were formed and the National Assembly decided to call on the richer classes to furnish and equip another thousand men. It was left to them to enlist in person or to find substitutes. Courses were organised for the training as officers of monks and civil officials. There was a great deal of patriotic enthusiasm.

In the former peaceful days people had not bothered much about the army. The district communities had had to supply their contingents with provisions and supplementary pay. Now the authorities recognised the importance of regular organisation and established fixed rates of pay for officers and men.

It was not easy, at the outset, to supply the needs of the new army. The whole transport system was overworked. The necessary grain had often to be fetched from far-distant depots. These storehouses, which are to be found in all regions where crops are plentiful, are huge, windowless, stone buildings ventilated by holes in the walls. Here the grain can lie for decades without going bad, owing to the dryness of the air. But now they were quickly emptied, for provisions would have to be stored in the neighbourhood of the fighting line, if it came to war. Nevertheless the country was not threatened with a shortage of foodstuffs. If a wall were built round Tibet, no one would suffer from cold or starvation, as everything necessary for the needs of the three million inhabitants is found in the country in one form or another. The military kitchens supplied plentiful meals and the soldiers’ pay enabled them to buy cigarettes and chang. The troops were contented.

In the Tibetan army it is easy to recognise the difference between officers and men. The higher his rank the more gold decorations an officer wears. There seem to be no proper regulations about dress. I once saw a general who in addition to his gold epaulettes had a collection of glittering objects pinned on his breast. He had probably spent too much time looking at foreign illustrated papers and had decorated himself accordingly, for there are no Tibetan military medals. Instead of mentions and distinctions the Tibetan soldier receives more tangible rewards. After a victory he has a right to the booty, and so looting is the general rule. He is, however, obliged to deliver the weapons he has captured. A good example of the utility of this system can be found in the battles against the bandits. The local Ponpos are entitled to call on the Government for aid when they can no longer cope with the robbers. Small military detachments are then sent to help them. In spite of the ruthless manner in which the bandits fight, service in these commandos is very popular. The soldiers have their eye on the plunder and ignore the danger. The soldier’s right to the spoils of war has been the cause of a great deal of trouble. In a case with which I was personally connected, it cost the lives of several persons.

When the Chinese Communists occupied Turkestan, the American consul, Machiernan, with a young American student named Bessac and three White Russians, fled to Tibet, having first requested the U.S.A. Embassy in India to ask the Tibetan Government for travel facilities. Messengers were sent from Lhasa in all directions to instruct the frontier posts and patrols to make no difficulties for the fugitives. The party travelled in a small caravan over the Kuen Lun mountains. Their camels stood the journey well, and they obtained fresh meat by shooting wild asses. By ill-luck the Government messenger was late in arriving at the spot where the party was to cross the frontier. Without challenging or finding out who was approaching them, the soldiers of the outpost, tempted by the sight of a dozen heavily laden camels, fired on the caravan, killing on the spot the American consul and two of the Russians. The third Russian was wounded and only Bessac escaped unhurt. He was taken prisoner and brought with the wounded man to the nearest District Governor. On the way the two men were insulted and threatened by the soldiers, who had first shared among themselves the spoils and had been overjoyed to find such valuable objects as field-glasses and cameras. Before they reached the next Ponpo the Government messenger came up with the escort, with orders to treat the Americans and their party as guests of the Government. This caused a change of attitude. The soldiers outdid one another in politeness: but the damage could not be undone. The Governor sent a report to Lhasa, and the authorities, horrified by the news, did their utmost to express their regret in every possible way. An Indian-trained hospital orderly w’as sent with presents to meet Bessac and his wounded companion. They were invited to come to Lhasa and asked to bear witness for the prosecution against the soldiers who had already been arrested. A high official who spoke a little English rode out to meet the approaching travellers. I attached myself to him thinking that it might be some comfort to the young American to have a white man to talk to. I also hoped to convince him that the Government could not be blamed for the incident, which it deeply regretted. We met the young man in pouring rain. He was as tall as a hop-pole and completely dwarfed his little Tibetan pony. I could well imagine how he felt. The little caravan had been months on the road, always in flight from enemies and exposed to dangers, and their first meeting with the people of the country in which they sought asylum brought three of their party to their deaths.

New clothes and shoes were waiting for them in a tent by the wayside and in Lhasa they were put up in a garden-house with a cook and a servant to look after them. Fortunately the Russian, Vassilieff, was not dangerously wounded and was soon able to hobble about the garden on crutches. They remained for a month in Lhasa, during which time I made friends with Bessac. He bore no grudge against the country which had at first received him so ill. He asked only that the soldiers who had ill-treated him on the way to the District Governor should be punished. He was requested to be present at the execution of the sentence, so as to make sure there was no deception. When he saw the floggings, he asked that the number of lashings should be reduced. He took photographs of the scene, which later appeared in Life as a testimonial to the correct attitude of the Tibetan Government. Everything was done to pay the last honours to the dead according to Western customs. So it is that three wooden crosses stand today over their graves in the Changthang. Bessac was received by the Dalai Lama and afterwards left for Sikkim, where he was met by fellow-countrymen.

The troubled times brought many fugitives to Tibet, but none were so unlucky as this party. Another camel caravan which came through the Changthang belonged to a Mongolian prince, who brought with hi m his two wives, one a Pole and the other a Mongol. I was full of admiration for these two women who had performed such a tremendous journey, and my astonishment was not lessened when I saw their two charming children, who had stood the hardships of the road equally well.

It is clear that in these critical times the Government desired to mobilise not only the material means of defence but also the spiritual forces of the people. For this end religion, the most powerful element in the life of the country, had to be invoked. New ordinances and new officials were employed in the service of this policy. The officials were given plenty of money and a free hand to organise the campaign. All the monks in Tibet were ordered to attend public services at which the Kangyur, the Tibetan Bible, was to be read aloud. New prayer-flags and prayer-wheels were set up everywhere. Rare and powerful amulets were brought out of old chests. Offerings were doubled and on all the mountains incense-fires burned, while the winds, turning the prayer-wheels, carried supplications to the protecting deities in all the corners of heaven. The people believed with rocklike faith that the power of religion would suffice to protect their independence. In the meantime Radio Peking was already sending out messages in Tibetan promising that Tibet would soon be freed.

More people than ever streamed to the religious festivals which, in the early days of 1950, surpassed in pomp and splendour anything I had ever seen. It seemed as if the whole population of Tibet had gathered, in pious enthusiasm, in the narrow streets of Lhasa. But I could not banish the thought that their touching faith would never move the golden gods. If no help came from outside, Tibet would soon be roughly awakened from its peaceful slumbers.

The Dalai Lama had again charged me to take pictures of the festivals, so I was able to see everything from a point of vantage. Four weeks after the “Great” New Year Festival there is a “Small” Prayer Festival which only lasts for ten days, but perhaps surpasses the “Great” Festival in splendour. At this moment the spring verdure is beginning to show and the town presents an unforgettable aspect. This festival is the highlight of the year for the inhabitants of Sho. For two hours an immense banner hangs down from the Potala above the Sho quarter. This banner is certainly the largest in the world. It takes fifty monks to carry it to its place and unfold it. It is made of fine, heavy silk and adorned with figures of the gods in bright colours. While it is displayed from the Potala, a gay procession moves from Tsug Lag Khang to Sho and there, after solemn ceremonies, breaks up. It is followed by a curious ritual. Groups of monks perform primitive dances, gyrating slowly to the rolling of drums. They wear masks and are hung with rare, carved ornaments of bone. The people stare entranced at the uncanny figures. Some- times a whisper runs through the crowd. Someone thinks he has seen the Dalai Lama standing on the roof of the Potala three hundred feet above their heads and looking down through his telescope at the performance.

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The flight from Lhasa; nearing Gyantse

Sho, which stands at the foot of the Potala, is the home of the State printing-press — a high, dark building from which never a sound issues into the outer world. There is no humming of machines and only the voices of the monks echo through the halls. Wooden blocks lie piled on long shelves. They are used only when a new book is printed. The preparation of a new book entails endless work. The monks must first cut out small wooden boards by hand, as there are no saw nulls here, and then carve the squiggling letters one by one in the birchwood boards. When they are ready the tablets are carefully placed in order. Instead of printer’s ink they use a mixture of soot, which the monks make by burning yak-dung. Most of them get black from head to foot during their work. At last the separate plates are printed off on handmade Tibetan paper. The books are not bound. They consist of loose pages printed on both sides and enclosed by two carved wooden covers. One can either order books in the printing-press or buy them from one of the booksellers in the Barkhor. At home they are generally kept in silk wrappers and carefully looked after. As their subject is always religious they are treated with great respect and usually placed on the house-altar. In every better-class house one finds the complete Bible, as well as the two hundred volumes of commentaries. So much reverence is paid to these books that nobody would think of placing one of the volumes on a chair. On the other hand they think little of the books which interest us. I once found a valuable book on the Tibetan language in a very unsuitable place. The early pages were missing. I took the book away and wrote in the missing pages from another copy, very pleased with my find.

The price of Tibetan books depends on the quality of the paper used. The Kangyur with its commentaries costs as much as a good house or a dozen yaks.

There is another very large printing-press at Narthang in the neighbourhood of Shigatse, and almost every monastery has the apparatus for printing books on local saints and the annals of their lamaseries.

The whole culture of Tibet is inspired by religion as it used to be in early days in our countries. The masterpieces of architecture and sculpture, of poetry and painting, glorify the faith and increase the power and reputation of the Church. There is as yet no conflict between religion and science, and consequently the content of most books is an amalgam of religious law and philosophic knowledge and wisdom gathered from experience.

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The golden roofs of the Monastery of Sera

Poems and songs are mainly manuscript, written on loose leaves and not gathered into collections. The poems of the sixth Dalai Lama form an exception to this rule. They are printed as a volume. I bought a copy in the bazaar and have often read them through. They give perfect expression to the poet’s yearning for love. I was not the only person to appreciate the verses of this lonely prisoner: many Tibetans love the poems of their long-dead ruler. He was an original figure in the line of the Dalai Lamas. He loved women and used to disguise himself and slip into the town to meet them. His people did not begrudge him his desire to satisfy the needs of his poetic soul.

The manuscripts copied by skilled monks, of which there are very many, cost even more than books. Their subject-matter is usually unpretentious and often anecdotal. One of the best- known is the collection of anecdotes written by the most famous Tibetan comic writer, Agu Thonpa, who commented in humorous fashion on the political and religious life of his time and is still immensely popular. At every party someone tells one of his stories to entertain the guests. The taste of the Tibetans for humour and comic situations has caused Agu Thonpa to be appreciated as a classic, and when I lived in Lhasa the leading comedian in the city bore his name.

Every year in autumn all private houses and temples in Lhasa (including even the Potala) are painted and tidied up. It is a dangerous job to paint the high perpendicular walls of the Potala and the same workmen are employed every year. These men hang on yak-hair ropes and pour the colour on the walls from small clay vessels. One sees them sitting in breakneck positions astride the ornaments or a cornice, giving them a fresh polish. Many places from which the rain cannot easily wash away the colour acquire a thick crust of limewash. It is a dazzling sight to see the blinding white walls of the Potala rising above Lhasa.

I was very pleased when the Dalai Lama instructed me to make a film showing this work in progress. It gave me a chance of recording something certainly unique in the world. In the early morning I used to climb the high stone stairway in the midst of a swarm of women carrying pails of whitewash up from the village of Sho. It takes a hundred coolies fourteen days to give the walls their new coat of colour. That gave me plenty of time for my shots and opportunities to experiment from every possible direction so as to get the most effective pictures. I took a special pleasure in filming the workmen swinging on their ropes between heaven and earth. For the purposes of my work I was allowed to enter any room in the palace. Many of them were pitch dark with their windows blocked by piles of lumber accumulated during the centuries, through which I had to fight my way to the fight. The effort was worth while. I found old, forgotten statues of the Buddha before which no butter-lamps now burned and, hidden beneath thick layers of dust, numbers of splendid thankas. The museums of the world would account themselves lucky to receive a fraction of the treasures mouldering there. In the basement of the Palace my guide showed me still another remarkable feature of this unique building. Wedges had been driven under the pillars which support the roof. The lofty building had subsided in the course of centuries, but the skilled craftsmen of Lhasa had succeeded in restoring it to its original level — a brilliant performance for a people with no modern technique. I succeeded in making a good picture of the painting of the Potala, and sent the film to India to be developed.

Lobsang Samten surprised me one day by asking me if I would undertake to build a room for showing films. His brother had expressed the wish that I should do so. Life in Lhasa had taught me that one should not say “no” even when asked to do things with which one is completely unfamiliar. Aufschnaiter and I were known as “Jacks of all trades” and we had already solved a lot of difficult problems. When I had ascertained what amount of current the Dalai Lama’s projector would need and how far the projector would have to be from the screen, I declared myself ready to undertake the work. I was then officially commissioned to execute it by the Dalai Lama’s abbot guardians. From that time the gates of the Inner Garden at the Norbulingka were always open to me. I started the job in the winter of 1949-50 after the young king had already returned to the Potala. After looking at all the buildings I chose an unused house adjacent to the inner side of the garden wall, which I thought I could transform into a cinema-theatre. The best masons in Lhasa and the soldiers of the bodyguard were placed at my disposal. I was not allowed to employ women, whose presence would have profaned the holy place. I used short lengths of iron screwed together into girders to support the ceiling, so as to dispense with the customary pillars. The theatre was sixty feet long and I had to build a platform for the projector. This was accessible both from the inside of the room and from the outside of the building. Some distance away from the theatre I erected a power-house for the motor and the generator. I did this at the express wish of the Dalai Lama, who did not want the sound of the motor to be audible in the theatre, as he was anxious not to upset the old Regent (the installation of a cinema in the Norbulingka was already revolutionary enough). I built a special room for the exhaust pipes, the noise of which was effectively deadened. As the old petrol motor was not altogether reliable, I proposed that the engine of the jeep should be made available to propel the generator in case of need. The Dalai Lama approved the suggestion, and as his will was law, the jeep was adapted to this purpose. We had some trouble at the outset because the garden gate was just too narrow to admit the jeep. However the young ruler, regardless of tradition, ordered the gateway to be widened. A new gate replaced the old one and all traces of the operation were removed as soon as possible, so that there should be nothing visible to attract the criticism of reactionary spirits. The strong point of this boy was that he was able to get his ideas put into action without alienating the sympathies of those around him.

So the jeep got its own little house and often came to the rescue when the old motor went on strike. The chauffeur of the thirteenth Dalai Lama helped me to do the wiring and soon the whole machine was going like clockwork. I took great pains to remove all traces of our building activities from the garden, and made new flowerbeds and paths on the ground which had been trampled by the workmen. And, of course, I took this unique opportunity to explore the closed garden thoroughly, little thinking that in the future I should often be in it as a guest.

When the spring came the Norbulingka was a vision of loveliness. The peach and pear blossom were in full bloom. Peacocks strutted proudly through the grounds and hundreds of rare plants stood in pots in the sunshine. In one corner of the park there was a small zoo, but most of the cages were empty. Only a few wildcats and lynxes remained. Formerly there were panthers and bears, but these had soon succumbed in their narrow dens. The Dalai Lama received many presents of wild animals, especially injured ones, which found a safe refuge in the Jewelled Garden.

In addition to the temples there were many small houses scattered about under the trees. Each v/as used for a special purpose — one was for meditation, another for reading and study, and others served as meeting-places for the monks. The largest building, several storeys high, stood in the centre of the garden and was half a temple and half a residence for His Holiness. The windows were too small for my liking, and I found the title “palace” too flattering for this ordinary house. It was certainly more attractive as a residence than the Potala, which was more like a prison than a palace, but it was rather dark. So was the garden. The trees had been allowed to grow untended for many years and in places they resembled a dense jungle. No one had ever attempted to clear them out. The gardeners complained that flowers and fruit simply would not grow in the shade of the big trees. I would have been very happy if they had allowed me to tidy up and rearrange the Inner Garden. There were many gardeners, but none with a sense of style. I did succeed in convincing the High Chamberlain that certain trees had to be cut down and I was allowed to supervise the work of felling them. The gardeners had little understanding of this sort of thing, and occupied themselves mainly with cultivating pot-flowers, which were left out in the open all day and placed under cover at night.

One of the doors in the wall of the Inner Garden led directly to the stables, which housed the favourite horses of the Dalai Lama and an onager which had been presented to him. These animals lived a contemplative, peaceful life tended by many grooms. They grew fat and soft as their master never rode or drove them.

The teachers and personal servants of the Dalai Lama lived outside the yellow wall in the Norbulingka park. They and the bodyguard, five hundred strong, lived in comfortable and (for Tibet) extraordinarily clean blocks of houses. The thirteenth Dalai Lama had taken a personal interest in the welfare of his troops. He had dressed them in uniforms of European cut and used to watch them exercising from one of his pavilions. I was struck by the fact that these soldiers had their hair cut in Western fashion in contrast to all other Tibetans. The thirteenth Dalai Lama had probably been favourably impressed by the appearance of British and Indian troops during his stay in India and had modelled his bodyguard on them. The officers lived in nice little bungalows with flowerbeds blooming all round them. The duties of officers and men were easy. They consisted mainly in mounting guard and turning out to march in ceremonial processions.

Long before the Dalai Lama moved into the Summer Residence I had finished my building. I wondered if he would be pleased with the theatre. I could count on learning his opinion of it all from Lobsang Samten, who was certain to be present at the first performance. The Dalai Lama would probably call on the film-man of the Indian Legation to work the apparatus. The Legation used frequently to show films, Indian and English, at its pleasant parties and it was a joy to see the childish enthusiasm with which the Tibetans watched these performances and especially the films showing scenes from distant lands. The question was how the young ruler would react to the pictures.

I was naturally present with my cine-camera to see the procession from the Potala to the Norbulingka. I had the usual difficulty in finding a suitable place from which to film the ceremony, but my attendant, a pock-marked giant of formidable aspect, made things easier for me. He carried my cameras and the crowds opened to let us through. He not only looked forbidding, but was in fact a very gallant fellow as the following anecdote shows.

It sometimes happens that leopards stray into the gardens of Lhasa. They must not be killed, so the people try to lure them into traps or catch them by any sort of device. One day a leopard got through into the Garden of Jewels. Harried on all sides and wounded in the foot by a bullet, it was driven into a corner where it stood at bay spitting at anyone who dared to approach it. Suddenly my attendant went for it with his bare hands and held it until other soldiers rushed up with a sack into which they forced it. The man was badly clawed and the leopard was lodged in the Dalai Lama’s zoo, where it soon died.

When the Dalai Lama passed by me in his sedan-chair and found me filming he gave me a smile. My private thought was that he was congratulating himself on his little cinema, but I am sure that no one else thought as I did; though what could be more natural for a lonely fourteen-year-old boy? Then a look at the humble and rapturous face of my attendant reminded me that for everyone else except myself, he was not a lonely boy but a god.
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Re: Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

Postby admin » Wed Sep 04, 2019 7:43 am

15. Tutor to the Dalai Lama

Face to face with Kundun — Friend and teacher to the Dalai Lama — Tibet is threatened by Red China — Earthquakes and other evil omens.

After filming the scenes in the Norbulingka I was riding slowly home when, a little way out of Lhasa, I was overhauled by an excited soldier of the bodyguard, who told me that they had been looking for me everywhere and that I must at once ride back to the Summer Garden. My first thought was that the cinema apparatus was out of order, as I could hardly imagine that the young ruler, still a minor, would override all conventions and summon me directly to see him. I immediately turned round and was soon back at the Norbulingka, where everything was now peaceful and still. At the door of the yellow gate a couple of monks were waiting. As soon as they saw me they signalled to me to hurry up and when I reached them they ushered me into the Inner Garden. There Lobsang Samten awaited me. He whispered something to me and put a white scarf in my hand. There was no doubt about it. His brother was going to receive me.

I at once went towards the cinema, but before I could enter the door opened from the inside and I was standing before the Living Buddha. Conquering my surprise I bowed deeply and handed him the scarf. He took it in his left hand and with an impulsive gesture blessed me with his right. It seemed less like the ceremonial laying-on of hands than an impetuous expression of feeling on the part of a boy who had at last got his way. In the theatre three abbots were waiting with bowed heads — the guardians of His Holiness. I knew them all well and did not fail to observe how coldly they returned my greeting. They certainly did not approve of this intrusion into their domain, but they had not dared openly to oppose the will of the Dalai Lama.

The young ruler was all the more cordial. He beamed all over his face and poured out a flood of questions. He seemed to me like a person who had for years brooded in solitude over different problems, and now that he had at last someone to talk to, wanted to know all the answers at once. He gave me no time to think over my answers, but pressed me to go to the projector and put on a film which he had long been wanting to see. It was a documentary film of the capitulation of Japan. He came with me to the apparatus and sent the abbots into the theatre to act as spectators.

I must have seemed slow and clumsy in handling the projector as he impatiently pushed me on one side and, taking hold of the film, showed me that he was a much more practised operator than I was. He told me that he had been busy the whole winter learning how to work the apparatus and that he had even taken a projector to pieces and put it together again. I observed then, for the first time, that he liked to get to the bottom of things instead of taking them for granted. And so, later on, like many a good father who wishes to earn the respect of his son, I often spent the evening reviving my knowledge of half-forgotten things or studying new ones. I took the utmost trouble to treat every question seriously and scientifically, as it was clear to me that my answers would form the basis of his knowledge of the Western world.

His obvious talent for technical things astonished me at our first meeting. It was a masterly performance for a boy of fourteen years to take a projector to pieces and then to reassemble it without any help, for he could not read the English prospectus. Now that the film was running well, he was delighted with the arrangements and could not praise my work too highly. We sat together in the projecting-room and looked at the picture through the peep-holes in the wall and he took the greatest pleasure in what he saw and heard, often clasping my hands excitedly with the vivacity of youth. Although it was the first time in his life that he had been alone with a white man he was in no way embarrassed or shy. While he was putting the next film on the reel, he pressed the microphone into my hands and insisted on my speaking into it. At the same time he looked through the peep-holes into the electrically fit theatre in which his tutors sat on carpets. I could see how keen he was to observe the wondering faces of the worthy abbots when a voice should suddenly come out of the loudspeaker. I did not want to disappoint him so I invited the non-existent public to remain in their seats as the next film would present sensational scenes from Tibet. He laughed enthusiastically at the surprised and shocked faces of the monks when they heard my cheerful, disrespectful tones. Such fight, unceremonious language had never been used in the presence of the Divine Ruler, whose gleaming eyes showed how he enjoyed the situation.

He made me turn the film which I had made in Lhasa while he looked after the switches. I was as curious as he was to see the results, as this was my first full-length picture. An expert could have picked out faults in it, but it seemed quite satisfactory to us. It contained my shots of the “little” New Year Festival. Even the formal abbots forgot their dignity when they recognised themselves on the flickering screen. There was a burst of laughter when a full-length picture appeared of a Minister who had gone to sleep during the ceremonies. There was no malice in their laughter, for each of the abbots had sometimes to struggle to keep awake during these endless festivities. All the same the upper classes must have got to know that the Dalai Lama had witnessed his Minister’s weakness, for afterwards whenever I appeared with my camera, everyone sat up and posed.

The Dalai Lama himself took more pleasure than anyone in the pictures. His usually slow movements became youthful and lively and he commented enthusiastically on every picture. After a while I asked him to turn a film which he had made himself. He very modestly said that he would not dare to show his ’prentice efforts after the pictures we had already seen. But I was anxious to see what subjects he had chosen for filming and persuaded him to put his roll on to the screen. He had not, of course, had a large choice of subjects. He had done a big sweeping landscape of the valley of Lhasa, which he turned much too fast. Then came a few under-lighted long-distance pictures of mounted noblemen and caravans passing through Sho. A close-up of his cook showed that he would have liked to take film portraits. The film he had shown me was absolutely his first attempt and had been made without instructions or help. When it was over he got me to announce through the microphone that the performance was over. He then opened the door leading into the theatre, told the abbots that he did not need them any more and dismissed them with a wave of the hand. It was again clear to me that here was no animated puppet, but a clear-cut individual will capable of imposing itself on others.

When we were alone we cleared away the films and put the yellow covers on the machines. Then we sat down on a magnificent carpet in the theatre with the sun streaming through the open windows. It was fortunate that I had long acquired the habit of sitting cross-legged, as chairs and cushions are not included in the Dalai Lama’s household furniture. At the start I had wished to decline his invitation to sit down, knowing that even Ministers were not supposed to sit in his presence, but he just took me by the sleeve and pulled me down, which put an end to my misgiving.

He told me that he had long been planning this meeting as he had not been able to think of any other way of becoming acquainted with the outside world. He expected the Regent to raise objections but he was determined to have his own way and had already thought up a rejoinder in case of opposition. He was resolved to extend his knowledge beyond purely religious subjects, and it seemed to him that I was the only person who could help him to do so. He had no idea that I was a qualified teacher, and had he known this it would probably not have influenced him. He asked my age and was surprised to learn that I was only thirty-seven. Like many Tibetans he thought that my “yellow” hair was a sign of age. He studied my features with childish curiosity and teased me about my long nose, which, though of normal size as we reckon noses, had often attracted the attention of the snub-nosed Mongolians. At last he noticed that I had hair growing on the back of my hands and said with a broad grin: “Henrig, you are as hairy as a monkey.” I had an answer ready, as I was familiar with the legend that the Tibetans derive their descent from the union of their god Chenrezi with a female demon. Before coupling with his demon-lover Chenrezi had assumed the shape of a monkey, and since the Dalai Lama is one of the Incarnations of this god, I found that in comparing me with an ape he had really flattered me.

With remarks such as this our conversation soon became unconstrained and we both lost our shyness. I now felt the attraction of his personality, which at our earlier fleeting contacts I had only guessed at. His complexion was much lighter than that of the average Tibetan. His eyes, hardly narrower than those of most Europeans, were full of expression, charm and vivacity. His cheeks glowed with excitement, and as he sat he kept sliding from side to side. His ears stood out a little from his head. This was a characteristic of the Buddha and, as I learned later, was one of the signs by which as a child he had been recognised as an Incarnation. His hair was longer than is customary. He probably wore it so as a protection against the cold of the Potala. He was tall for his age and looked like reaching the stature of his parents, both of whom had striking figures. Unfortunately, as a result of much study in a seated posture with his body bent for- ward, he held himself badly. He had beautiful aristocratic hands with long fingers which were generally folded in an attitude of peace. I noticed that he often looked at my hands with astonishment when I emphasised what I was saying with a gesture. Gesticulation is entirely foreign to the Tibetans, who in their reposeful attitudes express the calm of Asia. He always wore the red robe of a monk, once prescribed by Buddha, and his costume differed in no way from that of the monastic officials.

Time passed swiftly. It seemed as if a dam had burst, so urgent and continuous was the flood of questions which he put to me. I was astounded to see how much disconnected knowledge he had acquired out of books and newspapers. He possessed an English work on the second world war in seven volumes, which he had had translated into Tibetan. He knew how to distinguish between different types of aeroplanes, automobiles and tanks. The names of personages like Churchill, Eisenhower and Molotov were familiar to him, but as he had nobody to put questions to, he often did not know how persons and events were connected with each other. Now he was happy, because he had found someone to whom he could bring all the questions about which he had been puzzling for years.

It must have been about three o’clock when Sopon Khenpo came in to say that it was time to eat. This was the abbot whose duty it was to look after the physical welfare of the Dalai Lama. When he gave his message, I immediately rose to my feet meaning to take my leave, but the God-King drew me down again and told the abbot to come again later. He then, very modestly, took out an exercise book with all sorts of drawings on the cover and asked me to look at his work. To my surprise I saw that he had been transcribing the capital letters of the Latin alphabet. What versatility and what initiative! Strenuous religious studies, tinkering with complicated mechanical appliances, and now modern languages! He insisted that I should immediately begin to teach him English, transcribing the pronunciation in elegant Tibetan characters. Another hour must have passed, when Sopon Khenpo came in again and this time insisted that his master should take his dinner. He had a dish of cakes, white bread and sheep’s cheese in his hands which he pressed on me. As I wanted to refuse it, he rolled the food up in a white cloth for me to take home with me.

But the Dalai Lama still did not want to end our conversation. In wheedling tones he begged his cup-bearer to wait a little longer. With a loving look at his charge the abbot agreed and left us. I had the feeling that he was as fond of the boy and as devoted as if he had been his father. This white-haired ancient had served the thirteenth Dalai Lama in the same capacity and had remained in the service. This was a great tribute to his trustworthiness and loyalty, for in Tibet when there is a change of masters, there is a change of servants. The Dalai Lama proposed that I should visit his family who lived in the Norbulingka during the summer. He told me to wait in their house till he should send for me. When I left him he shook my hand warmly — a new gesture for him.

As I walked through the empty garden and pushed back the gate bolts, I could hardly realise that I had just spent five hours with the God-King of Tibet. A gardener shut the gate behind me and the guard, which had been changed more than once since I came in, presented arms in some surprise. I rode slowly back to Lhasa and, but for the bundle of cakes which I was carrying, I would have thought it was all a dream. Which of my friends would have believed me if I had told him that I had just spent several hours alone in conversation with the Dalai Lama?

Needless to say I was very happy in the new duties that had fallen to my lot. To instruct this clever lad — the ruler of a land as big as France, Spain and Germany put together — in the knowledge and science of the Western world, seemed a worthwhile task, to say the least.

On the same evening I looked up some reviews which contained details of the construction of jet planes about which my young pupil had that day asked me questions to which I did not know the answers. I had promised to give him full explanations at our next meeting. As time went on I always prepared the materials for our lessons, as I wanted to introduce some system into the instruction of this zealous student.

I had many set-backs on account of his insatiable curiosity, which drove him to ask me questions that opened up whole new regions. Many of these questions I could answer only to the best of my lights. In order, for example, to be able to discuss the atom bomb, I had to tell him about the elements. That led to a disquisition on metals, for which there is no generic word in Tibetan, so I had to go into details about the different sorts of metals — a subject which, of course, brought down an avalanche of questions.

My life in Lhasa had now begun a new phase. My existence had an aim. I no longer felt unsatisfied or incomplete. I did not abandon my former duties. I still collected news for the Ministry: I still drew maps. But now the days were all too short and I often worked till late into the night. I had little time for pleasures and hobbies, for when the Dalai Lama called me, I had to be free. Instead of going to parties in the morning, as others did, I came late in the afternoon. But that was no sacrifice. I was happy in the consciousness that my life had a goal. The hours I spent with my pupil were as instructive for me as they were for him. He taught me a great deal about the history of Tibet and the teachings of Buddha, He was a real authority on these subjects. We often used to argue for hours on religious subjects and he was convinced that he would succeed in converting me to Buddhism. He told me that he was making a study of books containing knowledge of the ancient mysteries by which the body and the soul could be separated. The history of Tibet is full of stories about saints whose spirits used to perform actions hundreds of miles away from their physical bodies. The Dalai Lama was convinced that by virtue of his faith and by performing the prescribed rites he would be able to make things happen in far-distant places like Samye. When he had made sufficient progress, he said he would send me there and direct me from Lhasa. I remember saying to him with a laugh “All right, Kundun, when you can do that, I will become a Buddhist too.”

Unfortunately we never got as far as making this experiment. The beginning of our friendship was darkened by political clouds. The tone of the Peking radio became more and more arrogant and Chiang Kai-shek had already withdrawn with his Government to Formosa. The National Assembly in Lhasa held one sitting after another; new troops were raised; parades and military exercises were carried out in Sho, and the Dalai Lama himself consecrated the army’s new colours.

Fox, the English radio expert, had much to do, as every military unit had to have at least one transmitting set.

The Tibetan National Assembly, by whom all important political decisions are taken, is composed of fifty secular and monastic officials. The Assembly is presided over by four abbots from Drebung, Sera and Ganden, each of whom has a monk and a finance secretary attached to him. The other members of the National Assembly, whether secular or religious, belong to the different government offices but none of the four Cabinet Ministers is a member. Custom provides that the Cabinet should meet in an adjoining chamber and should see all the decisions of the Assembly, without possessing the right of veto. The final decision in all questions belongs to the Dalai Lama or, if he is still a minor, to the Regent in his stead. Of course no one would dare even to discuss a proposal coming from such a high authority.

Until a few years ago the so-called Great National Assembly was convoked every year. This body was composed of officials together with representatives of the guilds of craftsmen — tailors, masons, carpenters and so on. These annual meetings of about five hundred persons were quietly discontinued. They had really no value except to satisfy the letter of the law. In effect the power of the Regent was supreme.

In these difficult times the State Oracle was frequently consulted. His prophecies were dark and did not help to raise the morale of the people. He used to say “A powerful foe threatens our sacred land from the north and the east.” Or “Our religion is in danger.” All the consultations were held in secret but the oracular utterances seeped through to the people and were spread abroad by whisperers. As is usual in times of war and crisis, the whole town buzzed with rumours like a beehive, and the strength of the enemy was swelled to fabulous dimensions. The fortune-tellers had a good time, for not only was the fate of the country in the balance but everyone was interested in his own personal welfare. More than ever men sought counsel of the gods, consulted the omens and gave to every happening a good or bad meaning. Far-sighted people already began to send away their treasures to be stored in the south or in remote estates. But the people as a whole believed that the gods would help them and that a miracle would save the country from war.

The National Assembly had soberer views. It had at last become clear to them that isolationism spelt a grave danger for the country. It was high time to establish diplomatic relations with foreign states and to tell the whole world that Tibet wished to be independent. Hitherto China’s claim that Tibet was one of her provinces had remained without contradiction. Newspapers and broadcasters could say what they liked about the country: there was never an answer from Tibet. In conformity with their policy of complete neutrality the Government had refused to explain themselves to the world. Now the danger of this attitude was recognised and people began to grasp the importance of propaganda. Every day Radio Lhasa broadcasted its views in Tibetan, Chinese and English. Missions were appointed by the Government to visit Peking, Delhi, Washington and London. Their members were monastic officials and young noblemen who had learnt English in India. But they never got farther than India, thanks to the irresolution of their own Government and the obstruction by the great powers.

The young Dalai Lama realised the gravity of the situation but he did not cease to hope for a peaceful outcome. During my visits I observed what a lively interest the future ruler took in political events. We always met alone in the little cinema-theatre, and I was able to understand often from trifling indications how much he looked forward to my coming. Sometimes he came running across the garden to greet me, beaming with happiness and holding out his hand. In spite of my warm feelings towards him and the fact that he called me his friend, I always took care to show him the respect due to the future king of Tibet. He had charged me to give him lessons in English, geography and arithmetic. In addition I had to look after his cinema and keep him conversant with world events. He had my pay raised on his own initiative, for though he was not yet constitutionally entitled to give orders, he had only to express a wish for it to be executed.

He continually astonished me by his powers of comprehension, his pertinacity and his industry. When I gave him for homework ten sentences to translate, he usually showed up with twenty. He was very quick at learning languages, as are most Tibetans. It is quite common for people of the upper class and business men to speak Mongolian, Chinese, Nepalese and Hindi. My pupil’s greatest difficulty was to pronounce the letter “F,” which does not occur in Tibetan. As my English was far from being perfect, we used to listen to the English news on a portable radio and took advantage of the passages spoken at dictation speed.

I had been told that in one of the government offices there were a number of English school books stored in sealed cases. A hint was given to the Ministry and on the same day the books were sent up to the Norbulingka. We made a little library for them in the theatre. My pupil was delighted at this discovery, which was something quite out of the ordinary for Lhasa. When I observed his zeal and thirst for knowledge I felt quite ashamed at the thought of my own boyhood.

There were also numerous English books and maps from the estate of the thirteenth Dalai Lama but I noticed that they looked very new and had obviously not been read. The late ruler had learnt much during his long journeys in India and China, and it was to his friendship with Sir Charles Bell that he owed his knowledge of the Western world. I was already familiar with the name of this Englishman and had read his books during my internment. He was a great champion of Tibetan independence. As political liaison officer for Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan, he had got to know the Dalai Lama on his flight to India. This was the beginning of a close friendship between the two men which lasted for many years. Sir Charles Bell was, doubtless, the first white man to come into contact with a Dalai Lama.

My young pupil was not yet in a position to travel, but that did not diminish his interest in world geography, which was soon his favourite subject. I drew for him great maps of the world and others of Asia and Tibet. We had a globe, with the help of which I was able to explain to him why Radio New York was eleven hours behind Lhasa. He soon felt at home in all countries and was as familiar with the Caucasus as with the Himalayas. He was particularly proud of the fact that the highest summit in the world was on his frontier, and like many Tibetans was astonished to learn that few countries exceeded his kingdom in area.

Our peaceful lessons were disturbed this summer by an untoward event. On August 15th a violent earthquake caused a panic in the Holy City. Another evil omen! The people had hardly got over their fright caused by the comet, which in the previous year had been visible by day and night like a gleaming horsetail in the heavens. Old people remembered that the last comet had been the precursor of a war with China.

The earthquake came as a complete surprise, without premonitory tremors. The houses of Lhasa began suddenly to shake and one heard in the distance some forty dull detonations, caused no doubt by a crack in the crust of the earth. In the cloudless sky a huge glow was visible to the east. The aftershocks lasted for days. The Indian radio reported great landslides in the province of Assam, which borders Tibet. Mountains and valleys were displaced and the Brahmaputra, which had been blocked by a fallen mountain, had caused immense devastation. It was not till a few weeks later that news came to Lhasa of the extent of the catastrophe in Tibet itself. The epicentre of the earthquake must have been in South Tibet. Hundreds of monks and nuns were buried in their rock-monasteries and often there were no survivors to carry the news to the nearest District Officer. Towers were split down the middle, leaving ruined walls pointing to the sky, and human beings, as if snatched by a demon’s hand, disappeared into the suddenly gaping earth.

The evil omens multiplied. Monsters were born. One morning the capital of the stone column at the foot of the Potala was found lying on the ground in fragments. In vain did the Government send monks to the centres of ill-omen to banish the evil spirits with their prayers, and when one day in blazing summer weather water began to flow from a gargoyle on the cathedral, the people of Lhasa were beside themselves with terror. No doubt natural explanations could have been found for all these happenings, but if the Tibetans lost their superstitiousness they would at the same time lose an asset. One has to remember that if evil portents can demoralise them with fear, good omens inspire them with strength and confidence.

The Dalai Lama was kept informed of all these sinister events. Though naturally as superstitious as his people, he was always curious to hear my views on these things. We never lacked matter for conversation and our lesson time was all too short. He actually spent his leisure hours with me, and few people realised that he was using his free time for further study. He kept punctually to his programme, and if he awaited my coming with pleasure, that did not prevent him from breaking off as soon as the clock told him that our conversation time was over, and that a teacher of religion was waiting for him in one of the pavilions.

I once learned by chance what store he set by our lessons. One day, on which many ceremonies were to take place, I did not expect to be called to the Norbulingka and so went with friends for a walk on a hill near the town. Before I started, I told my servant to flash me a signal with a mirror if the Dalai Lama sent for me. At the usual horn: the signal came and I ran at top speed back into the town. My servant was waiting with a horse at the ferry but, fast as I rode, I was ten minutes late. The Dalai Lama ran to meet me and excitedly grasped both my hands, calling “Where have you been all this time? I have been waiting so long for you, Henrig.” I begged him to pardon me for having distressed him. It was only then that I realised how much these hours meant to him.

On the same day his mother and youngest brother were present, and I showed them one of the eighty films which the Dalai Lama possessed. It was very interesting for me to see the mother and son together. I knew that from the moment of the official recognition of the boy as the Incarnate Buddha the family had no more claim on him as a son or brother. For that reason his mother’s visit was a sort of official event, to which she came in all her finery and jewels. When she left, she bowed before him and he laid his hand on her head in blessing. This gesture well expressed the relation of these two persons to one another. The mother did not even receive the two-handed blessing, which was accorded only to monks and high officials.

It very seldom happened that we were disturbed when we were together. Once a monk of the bodyguard brought him an important letter. The huge fellow threw himself three times to the ground, drew in his breath with a panting sound as the etiquette demands, and delivered the letter. He then withdrew from the room, walking backwards, and closed the door silently behind him. In such moments, I was very conscious how greatly I myself offended against the protocol.

The letter I have mentioned came from the eldest brother of the Dalai Lama, the abbot of Kumbum in the Chinese province of Chinghai. The Reds were already in power there and they were now hoping to influence the Dalai Lama in their favour through his brother Tagtsel Rimpoche. The letter announced that Tagtsel was on the way to Lhasa.

On the same day I visited the Dalai Lama’s family. His mother scolded me when I arrived. Her mother’s love had not failed to notice how much he depended on me and how often he had looked at the clock as he waited for my coming. I explained why I had not come in time and was able to convince her that my unpunctuality had not been due to casualness. When I left her she begged me never to forget how few chances of enjoying himself in his own way her son had. It was perhaps a good thing that she had seen herself how much our lesson horns meant to the Dalai Lama. After a few months everyone in Lhasa knew where I was riding about noon. As was to be expected, the monks criticised my regular visits, but his mother stood up for her son’s wishes.

The next time I came through the yellow gate into the Inner Garden I thought I noticed the Dalai Lama looking out for me from his little window, and it seemed as if he was wearing glasses. This surprised me as I had never seen him with spectacles on. In answer to my question he told me that he had for some time been having difficulty with his eyes and had therefore taken to wearing glasses for study. His brother had procured him a pair through the Indian Legation. He had probably damaged his eyes when he was a child, when his only pleasure was to look for hours together through his telescope at Lhasa. Moreover continuous reading and study in the twilight of the Potala were not exactly calculated to improve his sight. On this occasion he was wearing a red jacket over his monastic robe. He had designed it himself and was very proud of it, but he allowed himself to wear it only in his leisure moments. The chief novelty about this garment was the fact that it had pockets. Tibetan clothes do not have any, but the designer had noticed the existence of pockets in the illustrated papers and in my jackets and had realised how useful they might be. Now, like every other boy of his age, he was able to carry about with him a knife, a screw-driver, sweets, etc. He also now kept his coloured pencils and fountain pens in his pockets and was, doubtless, the first Dalai Lama to take pleasure in such things. He was also much interested in his collection of watches and clocks, some of which he had inherited from the thirteenth Dalai Lama. His favourite piece was an Omega calendar-clock which he had bought with his own money. During his minority he could only dispose of the money which was left as an offering at the foot of his throne. Later on the treasure vaults of the Potala and the Garden of Jewels would be open to him and, as ruler of Tibet, he would become one of the world’s richest men.
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Re: Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

Postby admin » Wed Sep 04, 2019 7:58 am

16. Tibet is Invaded

“Let the Dalai Lama have the power” — The recognition of the Incarnation — The Reds invade Tibet — Preparations for the Dalai Lama’s flight.

Now for the first time one heard voices saying in public that the majority of the Dalai Lama should be officially declared before he reached the normal age. In these difficult times the people wanted to have a young, unimpeachable sovereign on the throne and no longer to be at the mercy of the corrupt and unpopular clique which surrounded the Regent. The present regime was in no wise fitted to be a support and an example to a people on whom war was being forced.

About this time something unprecedented occurred in Lhasa. One morning we found posters on the walls of the street leading to the Norbulingka with the inscription “ Give the Dalai Lama the power.” In support of this appeal there followed a series of accusations against the Regent’s favourites. Naturally we talked about these posters at my next meeting with His Holiness. He had already heard about them from his brother. It was guessed that the monks of Sera were responsible for them. The Dalai Lama was not at all pleased with the turn things were taking; he did not consider himself ripe for the throne. He knew that he still had much to learn. For that reason he did not attach much importance to the posters and was more interested in carrying out our programme of studies. His greatest worry was whether his knowledge equalled that of a Western schoolboy of the same age, or whether he would, in Europe, be classed as a backward Tibetan. I was able to assure him quite honestly that he was above the average in intelligence and that it would be easy for him to catch up with the greater knowledge of European boys. It was not only the Dalai Lama who had an inferiority complex. One constantly hears Tibetans saying “We know nothing. We are so stupid!” But of course the fact that they say so proves the contrary. Tibetans are anything but dull-witted: and in making this judgment, they are confusing education with intelligence.

With the help of the Indian Legation I succeeded from time to time in getting drama films for our cinema. I wanted to build up a more comprehensive repertory in order to please the Dalai Lama. The first of the drama films I seemed was Henry V and I was very curious to see what the young ruler’s reaction to it would be. He allowed his abbots to be present at the performance and, when it grew dark, the gardeners and cooks who worked inside the yellow wall slipped into the theatre. The public squatted on the carpets on the floor of the theatre, while the Dalai Lama and I sat as usual on the steps leading from the auditorium to the projection room. I whispered to him a translation of the text as it was spoken and tried to answer his questions. Luckily I had taken some trouble to prepare myself, because it is not so easy for a German to translate Shakespeare’s English into Tibetan. The public were somewhat embarrassed by the love scenes, which I cut next time we turned the film. Kundun was enthusiastic about the picture. He was deeply interested in the fives of great men, and his interest was not limited to kings. He wished to know all about generals and men of science and to study their exploits. He watched a documentary film about Mahatma Gandhi several times. The Mahatma was a highly honoured figure in Tibet.

[x]
Tsarong’s daughter, with Aufschnaiter

[x]
a sedan-chair bears the young ruler southwards, away from the invading Chinese

I had already reason to approve of his taste. Once when we were selecting an assortment of films he put all the comic and purely entertaining pictures on one side and asked me to change them. His interest was in educational, military and cultural pictures. Once I thought to please him by showing him a particularly beautiful film about horses, but I had to admit that the subject did not attract him. “It is funny,” he said, “that the former body” — meaning thereby the thirteenth Dalai Lama — “ was so fond of horses and that they mean so little to me.”

At this time he was growing very quickly and displayed the usual characteristics of the awkward age. Once he let his exposure-meter fall and was as unhappy about it as a poor child who has broken his only toy. I had to remind him that he was the ruler of a great dominion and that he could buy as many exposure-meters as he liked. His modesty was a source of perpetual wonder to me. The average child of a rich tradesman was certainly far more spoilt than he was. His manner of life was ascetic and lonely, and there were many days on which he fasted and kept silence.

His brother Lobsang Samten, the only person who could freely keep him company, though older than he, was far less developed mentally. At the beginning of our lessons the Dalai Lama had insisted on his brother joining us, but for Lobsang this obligation was a torment and he constantly asked me to make excuses for his absence. He admitted to me that he could hardly understand anything of our conversation and that he always had to struggle to keep awake. On the other hand he had a much more practical understanding of government business and was already able to help his brother in carrying out his official duties.

Kundun received his brother’s frequent excuses with resignation, at which I was surprised as Lobsang had told me how quick-tempered he had been as a child. No trace of this quality remained; in fact he was really too collected and serious for his age. But when he laughed, he laughed as heartily as any ordinary child, and he was very fond of harmless jokes. Sometimes he used to pretend to box with me and often used to enjoy teasing me.

[x]
Tibet prepares for war against the Chinese invaders

Open as he was to the influence of Western thought, he had nevertheless to conform to the centuries-old traditions of his office. All objects which had served for the personal use of the Dalai Lama were regarded as sovereign remedies against illness or charms against evil spirits. There was great competition for the cakes and fruits which I used to bring home with me from His Holiness’s kitchen, and I could not give my friends greater pleasure than by sharing these things with them.

I knew how much the young king desired to lead his people one day out of the fog of gloomy superstition. We dreamt and talked endlessly about enlightenment and future reforms. We had already drawn up a plan. We proposed to bring to Tibet experts from small, neutral countries who had no interests in Asia. With their help we would build up systems of education and public health and train Tibetans to carry on the work. A great task was reserved for my friend Aufschnaiter. As an agricultural engineer in Tibet he would have more than enough to do for the rest of his life. He himself was enthusiastic about these ideas and asked for nothing better than to go on working here. For my part I wished to devote myself to organising education and dreamed of undertaking the great work of creating a university with its different faculties. But the future held out no prospect of realising our visions, and Aufschnaiter and I were clear-sighted enough not to feed on false hopes. It was inevitable that Red China would invade Tibet and then there would be no place for us two friends of Tibetan independence.

When we were already on intimate terms with one another I asked Kundun if he would not tell me something about his recognition as an Incarnation. I knew already that he had been born on June 6, 1935, in the neighbourhood of Lake Kuku-Nor, but when I congratulated him on his birthday, I was the only person who did so. Birthdays are unimportant dates in Tibet. They are generally not known and never celebrated. For the people the date of their king’s birth is quite without interest. He represents in his person the return to earth of Chenrezi, the God of Grace, one of the thousand Living Buddhas, who have renounced Nirvana in order to help mankind. Chenrezi was the patron god of Tibet and his reincarnations were always the kings of Bo — as the natives call Tibet. The Mongolian ruler Altan Khan, who had embraced Buddhism, gave the title of Dalai Lama to the Incarnations. The present Dalai Lama was the fourteenth Incarnation. The people regarded him rather as the Living Buddha than as a king, and their prayers were directed to him not as ruler so much as patron god of the land.

It was not easy for the young king to satisfy the demands made on him. He knew that he was expected to give divine judgments and that what he ordered and what he did were regarded as infallible and would become a part of historical tradition. He was already striving by means of week-long meditation and profound religious study to prepare himself for the heavy duties of his office. He was much less self-assured than the thirteenth Incarnation. Tsarong once gave me a typical example showing the dominating character of the late ruler. He wished to enact new laws but met with bitter opposition from his conservative entourage, who quoted the utterances of the fifth Dalai Lama on the same context. To which the thirteenth Dalai Lama replied, “And who was the fifth former body?” The monks, thereupon, prostrated themselves before him, for his answer had left them speechless. As an Incarnation he was, of course, not only the thirteenth but also the fifth and all the other Dalai Lamas as well. It entered my mind when I heard this story how lucky Tibet had been never to have had a ruler like Nero or Ivan the Terrible. But to a Tibetan such a thought could never have occurred, for how could an Incarnation of the God of Grace be other than good?

The Dalai Lama could give no satisfactory answer to my question about how he was discovered. He was only a small child when it happened and he had only a hazy remembrance of the event. When he saw how deeply I was interested in the matter, he advised me to ask one of the nobles who was present at his recognition.

One of the few living eyewitnesses of the event was the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Dzaza Kunsangtse. One evening he told me the story of this mysterious event. Some time before his death in 1933 the thirteenth Dalai Lama had given intimations regarding the manner of his rebirth. After his death, the body sat in state in the Potala in traditional Buddha-posture, looking towards the south. One morning it was noticed that his head was turned to the east. The State Oracle was straightway consulted, and while in his trance the monk Oracle threw a white scarf in the direction of the rising sun. But for two years nothing more definite was indicated. Then the Regent went on a pilgrimage to a famous lake to ask for counsel. It is said that every person who looks into the water of Cho Khor Gye can see a part of the future. When the Regent, after long prayers, came to the water and looked in its mirror he had a vision of a three-storeyed monastery with golden roofs, near which stood a little Chinese peasant house with carved gables. Full of gratitude for the divine direction, he returned to Lhasa and began to make preparations for a search. The whole nation took a lively interest in the business, feeling itself an orphan with no divine patron to protect it. With us it is generally, but mistakenly, believed that each rebirth takes place at the moment of the predecessor’s death. This docs not accord with Buddhist doctrine, which declares that years may pass before the god once more leaves the fields of Heaven and resumes the form of a man. Search-groups set out to explore in the year 1937. Following the signs which had been vouchsafed they journeyed eastward in quest of the Holy Child. The members of these groups were monks and in each group there was one secular official. They all carried with them objects that had belonged to the thirteenth Dalai Lama.

The group to which my informant belonged journeyed under the leadership of Kyetsang Rimpoche till they reached the district of Amdo in the Chinese province of Chinghai. In this region there are many monasteries, as the great reformer of Lamaism, Tsong Kapa, was born here. The population is partly Tibetan and lives peacefully side by side with Moslems. The group found a number of boys but none of them corresponded to the specifications. They began to fear that they would fail in their mission. At last after long wanderings they encountered a three-storeyed monastery with golden roofs. With a flash of enlightenment they remembered the Regent’s vision, and then their eyes fell on the cottage with carved gables. Full of excitement they dressed themselves in the clothes of their servants. This manoeuvre is customary during these searches, for persons dressed as high officials attract too much attention and find it hard to get in touch with the people. The servants, dressed in the garments of their masters, were taken to the best room, while the disguised monks went into the kitchen, where it was likely they would find the children of the house.

As soon as they entered the house, they felt sure that they would find the Holy Child in it, and they waited tensely to see what would happen. And, sure enough, a two-year-old boy came running to meet them and seized the skirts of the Lama, who wore round his neck the rosary of the thirteenth Dalai Lama. Unabashed the child cried “Sera Lama, Sera Lama!” It was already a matter for wonder that the infant recognised a Lama in the garb of a servant and that he said that he came from the Monastery of Sera — which was the case. Then the boy grasped the rosary and tugged at it till the Lama gave it to him ; thereupon he hung it round his own neck. The noble searchers found it hard not to throw themselves on the ground before the child, as they had no longer any doubt. They had found the Incarnation. But they had to proceed in the prescribed manner.

They bade farewell to the peasant family, and again returned a few days later — this time not disguised. They first negotiated with the parents, who had already given one of their sons as an Incarnation to the Church, and then the little boy was awakened from his sleep and the four delegates withdrew with him to the altar-room. Here the child was subjected to the prescribed examination. He was first shown four different rosaries, one of which — ^he most worn — had belonged to the thirteenth Dalai Lama. The boy, who was quite unconstrained and not the least bit shy, chose the right one without hesitation and danced round the room with it. He also selected out of several drums one which the last Incarnation had used to call his servants. Then he took an old walking-stick, which had also belonged to him, not deigning to bestow a glance on one which had a handle of ivory and silver. When they examined his body they found all the marks which an Incarnation of Chenrezi ought to bear: large, outstanding ears, and moles on the trunk which are supposed to be traces of the four-armed god’s second pair of arms.

The delegates were now sure that they had found what they sought. They telegraphed in a secret code via China and India a message to be conveyed to Lhasa, and immediately received instructions to observe the utmost secrecy, to avoid intrigues which might imperil the success of their mission. The four envoys took a solemn oath of silence before a thanka on which a likeness of Chenrezi was embroidered, and then went off to inspect other boys as a blind. One must remember that the search was being conducted on Chinese territory, which made caution essential. It would have been fatal to betray the fact that the real Dalai Lama had been discovered, for the Chinese could then have insisted on sending an escort of troops with him to Lhasa. The delegates accordingly asked the Governor of the province, a certain Ma Pufang, for permission to take the boy to Lhasa, where the Dalai Lama would be identified out of a number of candidates. Ma Pufang asked 100,000 Chinese dollars for the surrender of the child and this sum was at once paid over. This was a mistake, as the Chinese now perceived what importance the Tibetans attached to the child. They then asked for another 300,000 dollars. The delegates, conscious of their previous mistake, only gave a part of this sum which they borrowed from local Mohammedan merchants, promising to pay the balance when they came to Lhasa to the merchants who accompanied the caravan. The Governor agreed to this arrangement.

In the late summer of 1939 the four delegates, together with their servants, the merchants, the Holy Child and his family, started for Lhasa. They travelled for months before reaching the Tibetan frontier. There a Cabinet Minister was waiting for them with his staff. He gave the boy a letter from the Regent containing official confirmation of his recognition. Then for the first time homage was paid to him as Dalai Lama. Even his parents, who had certainly guessed that their son must be a high Incarnation, only now learned that he was no less than the future ruler of Tibet.

From this day the little Dalai Lama distributed blessings as naturally as if he had never done anything else. He has still a clear recollection of being borne into Lhasa in his golden palanquin. He had never seen so many people. The whole town was there to greet the new Embodiment of Chenrezi who at last after so many years returned to the Potala and his orphaned people. Six years had passed since the death of the “Previous Body” and of these nearly two had elapsed before the god re-entered a human body. In February 1940 the enthronement of the Dalai Lama was celebrated during the Great New Year Festival, when he received new names such as “The Holy One,” “The Tender, Glorious One,” “The Mighty of Speech,” “The Excellent Understanding,” “The Absolute Wisdom,” “The Defender of the Faith,” “ The Ocean.”

Everyone was astonished at the unbelievable dignity of the child and the gravity with which he followed ceremonies which lasted for hours. With his predecessor’s servants, who had charge of him, he was as trusting and affectionate as if he had always known them.

I was very glad to have heard this account more or less at first hand. During the lapse of time many legends had collected around these extraordinary events and I had already heard several garbled versions.

With the approach of autumn the hours of our companionship were more and more frequently interrupted. Even our quiet corner of the Jewelled Garden felt the breath of the coming storm. As the crisis intensified, the initiation of the young king into the business of government proceeded apace. The National Assembly transferred itself to the Norbulingka so as to be able to communicate important events to His Holiness without delay. The young king in spite of his inexperience surprised the whole official world by his far-sightedness and his cleverness in opposing unsuitable policies. There was no doubt that the destinies of the State would soon be entrusted to him.

The situation grew ever more serious. News came from East Tibet that Chinese cavalry and infantry were concentrating on our frontier. Troops were sent to the east, though it was clearly recognised that they were too weak to hold up the enemy. The Government’s attempts to arrive at a settlement by diplomatic means were in vain. The delegations which had been sent out for propaganda purposes had got stuck in India. Tibet could count on no aid from outside. The example of Korea showed clearly enough that even the support of the United Nations was of uncertain avail against the Red armies. The people became resigned to the prospect of defeat.

On October 7, 1950, the enemy attacked the Tibetan frontier in six places simultaneously. The first engagement took place, but Lhasa received no news of the fighting for ten days. While the first Tibetans were dying for their country, festivals were being held in Lhasa and the people waited for a miracle. After the news of the first defeats the Government sent for all the most famous oracles in Tibet. There were dramatic scenes in the Norbulingka. The grey-headed abbots and veteran Ministers entreated the oracles to stand by them in their hour of need. In the presence of the Dalai Lama the old men threw themselves at the feet of the prophetic monks, begging them for once to give them wise counsel. At the climax of his trance the State Oracle reared up and then fell down before the Dalai Lama, crying “Make him king!” The other oracles said much the same thing, and as it was felt that the voice of the gods ought to be listened to, preparations for the Dalai Lama’s accession to the throne were at once put in hand.

In the meantime the Chinese troops had penetrated hundreds of miles into Tibet. A few Tibetan commanders had already surrendered and others had ceased to resist, seeing no future in a fight against overwhelming force. The Governor of the principal town in East Tibet had sent a wireless message to Lhasa asking for permission to surrender as resistance was useless. The National Assembly refused his request, so, after blowing up his guns and ammunition dumps, he fled in the direction of Lhasa with the English radio operator Ford. Two days later he found his way barred by Chinese troops and both men were captured. I have already referred to the fate of Robert Ford.

The National Assembly now sent an urgent appeal to UNO for help against the aggressors, claiming that their country had been invaded in peacetime on the pretext that the Red People’s Army could not tolerate the influence of imperialistic powers in Tibet. The whole world knew, they pointed out, that Tibet was utterly free from any foreign influence. Here there were no imperialistic influences and nothing to liberate. If any nation deserved the help of UNO, it was Tibet. Their appeal was rejected, and UNO expressed the hope that China and Tibet would come to a peaceful agreement.

It was now clear to the meanest intelligence that as no outside help was forthcoming, Tibet must surrender. Everyone began to pack up. Aufschnaiter and I knew that our hour was come and that we had lost our second home. The thought of departure was bitter, but we knew that we must go. Tibet had treated us with hospitality and had given us tasks to perform into which we had put our whole hearts. The time during which I had been privileged to give lessons to the Dalai Lama had been the best of my life. We had never had anything to do with the military activities of Tibet, as many European newspapers asserted.

The Dalai Lama began to be anxious about our personal prospects. I had a long conversation with him, as a result of which it was agreed that I should now take my leave as I had long planned to do. This would give me greater freedom of movement and allow me to slip away without comment. In a few days the Dalai Lama was to move to the Potala, where for the time being he would have no time for my lessons. My plan was to travel first to South Tibet and visit the town of Shigatse, after which I should go on to India.

The ceremony at which the Dalai Lama was to be declared of age was imminent. The Government would have liked to hurry it on, but the propitious date had to be determined by the omens. At the same time it was of pressing importance to decide what was to be done with the young ruler. Was he to remain in Lhasa or to flee? It was usual, when difficult questions had to be decided, to be guided by the conduct of previous Incarnations. It therefore seemed relevant to remember that, forty years ago, the thirteenth Dalai Lama had fled before the invading Chinese and that things had gone well for him thereafter. But the Government could not undertake single-handed to make such a critical decision. The gods must have the last word. So in the presence of the Dalai Lama and the Regent two balls of kneaded tsampa were made, and after being tested on a pair of gold scales to ensure that they were of exactly the same weight, they were put in a golden basin. Each of these balls had rolled up inside it a slip of paper: on one of these was written the word “yes,” and on the other “no”. Meanwhile the State Oracle had hypnotised himself and was performing his dance. The basin was placed in his hands and he rotated it with ever-increasing speed until one of the balls jumped out and fell on the ground. When it was opened, it was found to contain the “yes” paper, and so it was decided that the Dalai Lama should leave Lhasa.

I had postponed my journey for a while, for I wished first to know the Dalai Lama’s plans. I hated leaving him in these unhealthy times, but he insisted on my departure and consoled me by saying that we should meet again in the south. The preparations for his own flight were being hurried on, but great secrecy was maintained to avoid alarming the people. The Chinese were still some hundreds of miles to the east of Lhasa and for the moment were not moving, but it was feared that an unexpected advance might cut off the Dalai Lama’s chance of escape to the south.

The news that the ruler was getting ready to leave was bound to leak out. The fact could not be concealed that his private treasures were being got away. Every day caravans of heavily laden mules were seen leaving the town in the charge of men of the bodyguard. Consequently the nobles hesitated no longer and began to move their families and treasures into safer places.

Outwardly life in Lhasa followed its normal course. It was only by the shortage of means of transport that one noticed that many people were keeping back their pack-animals for their own purposes. Market prices rose a little. Reports came in of the gallant deeds of individual Tibetan soldiers, but it was generally known that the army was routed. The few units which still held their ground were soon obliged to yield to the enemy’s superior tactics.

In 1910 the invading Chinese had plundered and burnt when they came to Lhasa, and the inhabitants were paralysed by the fear that these outrages would be repeated. Nevertheless it is fair to say that during the present war the Chinese troops had shown themselves disciplined and tolerant, and Tibetans who had been captured and then released were saying how well they had been treated.
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Re: Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

Postby admin » Wed Sep 04, 2019 9:40 am

17. I Leave Tibet

Goodbye to Lhasa — The Puppet Lama and the Dalai Lama — The flight of the God-King — Conditions of the truce — My last days in Tibet — Dark clouds over the Potala.

I LEFT Lhasa in the middle of November 1950. I had been hesitating about going, when an opportunity of securing transport made up my mind for me. Aufschnaiter, who had originally intended to accompany me, hesitated at the last moment; so I took his baggage with me, leaving him to follow a few days later. It was with a heavy heart that I left the house which had been my home for so long, my beloved garden and my servants who stood round me weeping. I took with me only my books and treasures and left everything else to my servants. Friends kept dropping in with presents, which made my going harder. It was a small consolation to think that I would see many of them again in South Tibet. Many of them still firmly believed that the Chinese would never come to Lhasa and that after my leave was over I would be able to return in peace. I did not share their hopes. I knew that it would be long before I saw Lhasa again, so I bade farewell to all the places which I had come to love. One day I rode out with my camera and took as many photos as I could, feeling that they would revive happy memories in the future and perhaps win the sympathy of others for this beautiful and strange land.

The sky was overcast when I embarked in my little yak-skin boat, which was to take me down the Kyichu as far as its junction with the Brahmaputra. This six-hour river journey saved me a ride of two days. My baggage had gone on ahead of me by road. My friends and servants stood on the bank and waved to me sadly. As I took a snapshot of them, the current caught the boat and they were soon out of sight. Floating down the river, I could not keep my eyes off the Potala; I knew the Dalai Lama was on the roof looking at me through his telescope.

On the same day I caught up with my caravan, consisting of fourteen pack-animals and two horses for me and my servant. The faithful Nyima had insisted on accompanying me. Once more I was on the march, up hill and down dale, over mountains and passes, till after a week we reached Gyantse on the great caravan route to India.

Not long before, one of my best friends had been appointed Governor of the region. He received me as a guest in his house and here we celebrated the accession to the throne of the Dalai Lama, which was kept as a feast day throughout Tibet. The news of this event had been circulated throughout the country by runners. New prayer-flags fluttered over all the roofs and for a short time the people forgot to think about the dismal future, and danced and sang and drank in a burst of old-time happiness. At no time had a new Dalai Lama inspired so much confidence and hope. The young king stood high above all cliques and intrigues and had already given many proofs of clear-sightedness and resolution. His inborn instinct would guide him in the choice of his advisers and protect him from the influence of scheming men.

Alas! as I knew, it was too late. He had come to the throne at the very moment when Fate had decided against him. Had he been a few years older, his leadership might have altered the history of his country.

During this month I visited Shigatse, the second largest town in Tibet, famous for the great monastery of Trashilhunpo. There I met a number of friends anxious for news from the capital. In this place people thought less about running away, as the monastery was the seat of the Panchen Lama.

This high Incarnation had been for generations supported by the Chinese as a rival to the Dalai Lama. The present incumbent was two years younger than the Dalai Lama. He had been educated in China and proclaimed in Peking as the rightful ruler of Tibet. In reality he had not the slightest claim to this position. He had legal rights in the monastery and its lands, but nothing more. It is true that in the ranking of the Living Buddhas O-pa-me stood higher than Chenrezi, but in fact the first Incarnation had originally been only the teacher of the fifth Dalai Lama, who, out of gratitude to him, had declared him to be an Incarnation and given him the monastery with its enormous benefices.

At the time of the selection of the last Panchen Lama there had been a number of candidates. One of the children was discovered in China and on that occasion the Chinese authorities had refused to allow him to be taken to Lhasa without a military escort. The Tibetan Government had been unable to resist this proposal, and one day the Chinese simply declared this child to be the true Incarnation of O-pa-me and the only rightful Panchen Lama.

They had thus dealt themselves an important card in their game of politics with Tibet and intended to make the best possible use of their trump. The fact that they were Communists did not prevent the Chinese from making violent radio propaganda in favour of his religious and temporal claims; nevertheless he had few supporters in Tibet. These were mainly inhabitants of Shigatse and the monks in his monastery, who saw in him their chief and wanted to be independent of Lhasa. These people awaited the “Army of Liberation” without fear. It was, indeed, rumoured that the Panchen Lama would make common cause with the Chinese. There is no doubt that the people of Tibet would be glad to have his blessing, for, as the Incarnation of a Buddha, he is held in high honour. But even if he were forced upon them by the Chinese, the Tibetans would never recognise him as their ruler.

This position is uncontestably reserved for the Dalai Lama as the Incarnation of the patron god of Tibet. So it came about that, when the moment arrived to play their trump card, the Chinese failed in their attempt to impose the Panchen Lama as ruler on the people of Tibet. His authority is limited, as formerly, to the monastery of Trashilhunpo.

During my trip to Shigatse I took occasion to visit the monastery and found yet another large town inhabited by thousands of monks. I unobtrusively managed to take a few photographs. Among other curiosities I found in a temple a most impressive gilded idol as high as a house of nine storeys, with a gigantic head.

The town of Shigatse stands on the Brahmaputra at no great distance from the monastery. It reminds one a little of Lhasa, being also dominated by a fortress. There are 10,000 inhabitants, among whom are to be found the best craftsmen in Tibet. Wool provides the staple industry. It is brought by caravans from the neighbouring plains of the Changthang. Shigatse stands higher than Lhasa and the climate is markedly colder. None the less the best grain in the country comes from here, and the Dalai Lama and the nobles of Lhasa get all their flour from this place.

After a few days I rode back to Gyantse. There my friend the Governor was waiting to tell me the glad news that the Dalai Lama was expected to pass through Gyantse before long. An order had come instructing all caravan stations to be ready to receive guests and to have the roads put in order — that could only have one meaning. I put myself at the disposal of the Governor to assist in the preparations.

Plentiful supplies of peas and barley were stored in the caravanserais as fodder for the animals, and an army of workers collected to tidy and improve the roads. I went with the Governor on one of his tours of inspection in the province. When we returned to Gyantse we learned that the Dalai Lama had left Lhasa on December 19th and was now on his way here. We met his mother and brothers and sisters on their way through Gyantse — all except Lobsang, who was travelling with the king. I also met Tagtsel Rimpoche for the first time for three years. He had been forced by the Chinese to take an escort of Chinese troops and carry a message to his brother. The Chinese had gained nothing by this and Tagtsel had not sought to influence the Dalai Lama. Tagtsel was very pleased to have got away from the Chinese. His escort had been arrested and the wireless transmitter which they carried confiscated.

The caravan of the Holy Family was a very modest one. The mother was no longer in her first youth and had the right to be carried in a palanquin, but she rode like the others and covered long distances every day. Before the Governor and I rode to meet the Dalai Lama, the Great Mother with her children and servants had continued their journey southward.

My friend and I rode for about three days along the Lhasa road and on the Karo Pass we ran into the advance party of His Holiness’s caravan. Looking down from the pass we could see the long column crawling up the road in a thick cloud of dust. The Dalai Lama had an escort of forty nobles and a guard of some two hundred picked soldiers with machine-guns and howitzers. An army of servants and cooks followed, and an unending train of 1,500 pack-animals brought up the rear.

In the middle of the column two flags were waving, the national flag of Tibet and the personal banner of the fourteenth Dalai Lama. The flags denoted the presence of the ruler. When I saw the young God-King riding slowly up the pass on his grey horse, I unwillingly thought of an ancient prophecy that people sometimes used to quote under their breath in Lhasa. An oracle had long ago declared that the thirteenth Dalai Lama would be the last of his line. It seemed that the prophecy was fulfilling itself. Since his accession four weeks had passed, but the young king had not taken up the reins of power. The enemy was in the land, and the ruler’s flight was only a first step towards greater misfortunes.

As he rode by me, I took off my hat and he gave me a friendly wave of the hand. At the top of the pass incense-fires were burning to greet the young god, but an unfriendly clattering blast was agitating the prayer-flags. The convoy moved on without delay to the next stopping-place, where all was prepared and a hot meal was waiting for the travellers. The Dalai Lama passed the night in a neighbouring monastery, and before I went to sleep I thought of him sitting in an unfriendly guest-room with dusty idols for company. He would find no stove to warm him and the paper-covered window-frames were his only protection against storm and cold, while a few butter-lamps provided just enough light to see by.

The young ruler, who in his short life had known no home but the Potala and the Jewelled Garden, was now forced by misfortune to learn something of the country he ruled. In what dire need he stood of comfort and support! But, poor boy, he had to raise himself above all his troubles and use all his strength in blessing the countless throngs who came to draw comfort and confidence from him.

His brother Lobsang, seriously ill with a heart attack, was travelling with the convoy in a fitter. I was horrified to hear that the doctors had used the same rough methods on him as they do on a sick horse. On the day the convoy was to leave he had lain in a swoon for several hours, so the Dalai Lama’s physician recalled him to fife by applying a branding-iron to his flesh. He told me later all the details of this memorable journey.

The Dalai Lama’s flight had been kept strictly secret. The authorities did not want to disturb the people and feared lest the monks of the great monasteries would do their utmost to deter him from his resolution. Accordingly the high officials who had been chosen to accompany him were only informed late in the evening that the caravan would leave at two o’clock the next morning. For the last time they all drank butter-tea in the Potala and then their cups were refilled and left standing as a charm to bring about a speedy return. None of the rooms which the departing king had inhabited was to be swept on the following day, for that would bring ill-luck.

The column of fugitives moved silently through the night, proceeding first to the Norbulingka, where the young ruler stopped to say a prayer. The caravan had not been a day on the road before the news of the flight had spread right and left. The monks of the Monastery of Jang swarmed in thousands to meet the Dalai Lama. They flung themselves before his horse’s hoofs and begged him not to leave them, crying that if he went away they would be left without a leader, at the mercy of the Chinese. The officials feared that the monks would try to prevent the Dalai Lama from going any further, but at this critical moment he showed the strength of his personality and explained to the monks that he could do more for his country if he did not fall into the hands of the enemy, and that he would return as soon as he had concluded a suitable agreement with them. After demonstrations of affection and loyalty the monks cleared the way for the caravan to proceed.

News of the Dalai Lama’s approach soon reached Gyantse. Small white stones were laid along the sides of the streets to keep away the evil spirits. Monks and nuns flocked from the convents and the whole population stood for hours waiting to receive their king, Indian troops, stationed not far away, rode to meet the caravan to do honour to the Dalai Lama. On arriving at all the larger places the convoy took the form of a procession. The Dalai Lama dismounted and seated himself in his palanquin. We had got into the way of starting regularly soon after midnight to avoid the sandstorms which blew throughout the day over the unprotected plateau. The nights were icy-cold. The Dalai Lama wrapped himself snugly in his fur-lined silk mantle and wore a great foxskin cap which covered his ears. Before dawn there were often fifty degrees of frost and though the air was still, riding was a penance.

The Dalai Lama often jumped off his horse before his abbots could help him and hurried with long strides far ahead of the others. Naturally all the other riders had also to dismount and many corpulent noblemen who had never walked in their fives fell miles behind. For two days we rode through a blizzard, shivering in the bitter cold, and we felt the greatest relief when we had left the Himalaya passes behind us and descended into warmer, well-wooded country.

Sixteen days after leaving the capital the caravan reached its provisional destination, the headquarters of the District Governor of Chumbi. On arrival the Dalai Lama was carried in his yellow chair through the dense crowds into the Governor’s modest house, which at once acquired the title of “Heavenly Palace, the Light and Peace of the Universe.” No mortal man would ever again inhabit it, for every place in which the Dalai Lama spent a night was automatically consecrated as a chapel. Henceforward the faithful would bring their offerings there and pray for the god’s blessing.

The officials were lodged in the houses of the peasants of the surrounding villages and had to accustom themselves to doing without their usual comforts. Most of the soldiers were sent back to the interior as there was no accommodation for them in Chumbi. All the approaches to the valley were guarded by military posts, and only persons carrying a special pass could come in and go out. There was at least one representative of every government office in the Dalai Lama’s suite, and so a Provisional Government was setup which observed routine office horns and held regular meetings. A service of couriers was established between Lhasa and the Provisional Government. The Dalai Lama had brought his Great Seal, with which he validated the decisions of the authorities in Lhasa. The messengers covered the distance between Lhasa and Chumbi at incredible speed, one of them performing the double journey (nearly 500 miles over mountainous country) in nine days. The couriers, who were the only link between Lhasa and the outside world, brought the latest news of the Chinese advance. Later on Fox arrived with his instruments and established a radio station.

The wives and children of the officials who had accompanied them travelled straight on to India. There was no accommodation for them in Chumbi. Many of them took the opportunity to make pilgrimages to the Holy Places of Buddhism in India and Nepal. Even the family of the Dalai Lama, with the exception of Lobsang Samten, had gone south and were now living in bungalows in the lull-station of Kalimpong. Many of the refugees had their first sight of railways, aeroplanes and motor-cars when they came to India, but after the first excitement of seeing these marvels they longed to be back in their own country which, if behindhand in the devices of civilisation, represented for them the firm ground of existence.

During these days I lived in Chumbi as the guest of a friend, an official. My work was at an end and I often felt bored, but I could not bring myself to say goodbye to my friends. I felt like a spectator at a play, who foresaw the tragic denouement and was saddened by the inevitable end, but had to sit out the last act. To deaden my anxiety I used to go daily up into the mountains and made many sketch maps.

I had only one official duty to perform, and that was to keep the Foreign Minister supplied with the news, which I got through my little wireless. I learned that the Chinese had not advanced any further and were now calling on the Tibetan Government to come to Peking and negotiate a settlement. The Dalai Lama and the Government concluded that it would be good policy to accept the invitation, and a delegation with plenary powers was dispatched. As armed resistance would have been senseless, the Government used the person of the Dalai Lama as a bargaining- counter, for they knew that the Reds were very anxious to have him back in Tibet. Delegations drawn from all classes of the population kept arriving in Chumbi to beg the rider to return. The whole of Tibet was sunk in depression and I now realised to the full how closely the people and their king were bound to one another. Without the blessing of his presence the country could never prosper.

At last no alternative was left to the Dalai Lama but to accept the conditions of the Chinese and return to Lhasa. After long negotiations treaty terms had been formulated in Peking. These secured the internal administration of the country to the Dalai Lama and guaranteed that religion would be respected and freedom of worship granted. In return for these concessions the Chinese insisted on taking over the foreign relations of Tibet and being responsible for the defence of the country. They would have the right to send as many soldiers into the country as they wished and thereby to assure the realisation of any future demands they might make.

As the Governor’s house was situated in a cold and sunless valley, the Dalai Lama moved to the romantic-looking Dungkhar monastery. There he lived withdrawn from the world, attended by the monks and his own servants, and I hardly ever found an opportunity of conversing with him alone. Lobsang Samten lived in a room in the monastery, where I often visited him. We went out frequently with the Dalai Lama on his long walks. He used to visit the neighbouring cloisters on foot and everyone wondered at the speed with which he walked. Nobody could keep up with him. This was the first time he had opportunities for physical exercise and he made full use of them. His energy, moreover, was good for the health of his staff, who had to be in training to keep pace with him. The monks gave up snuff, and the soldiers tobacco and strong drink. In spite of the general depression the religious feasts were regularly observed, but the materials were lacking to reproduce the pomp and ceremony of the Lhasa celebrations. An agreeable interlude was provided by the visit of an Indian savant, who brought the king a genuine relic of the Buddha in a golden urn. On this occasion I took my last and best photo of the Dalai Lama.*

The standard of life of the nobles became more and more depressed the longer we stayed in the Chumbi Valley. Almost everybody went about on foot, as, with few exceptions, all the horses had been sent away. It is true they still had their servants and did not need to do anything for themselves, but they had to go without their comforts, their palatial houses, their parties and their entertainments. They took to intrigue in a small way and found relaxation in gossiping and spreading rumours. They began to realise that the period of their supremacy had come to an end. They could no longer take any decisions for themselves and had to refer everything to the Dalai Lama. Moreover they could not be sure that the Chinese would give them back their property when they returned, although they had promised to do so. The curtain had rung down on feudalism and they knew it.

I remained in the Chumbi Valley till March 1951 and then decided to go on to India. I had long realised that I would not be able to return to Lhasa, but I was still an official of the Tibetan Government and had to ask for leave of absence before going away. It was at once granted. The passport delivered to me by the Cabinet was valid for six months and contained a clause asking the Indian Government to assist me should I return to Tibet, but I knew that I would never be able to make use of it. I was sure that in six months the Dalai Lama would be back in Lhasa, where he would be tolerated as the Incarnation of Chenrezi, but never more recognised as the ruler of a free people.

I had long been racking my brains to find a solution of my own personal problem, and after careful consideration I decided on going to India. I had been corresponding with Aufschnaiter for some time and had actually met him at Gyantse, where he confided to me that he meant to stay in Tibet as long as possible and then to move across to India. When we parted, we had no idea that we should not see one another for years. I took his baggage with me to Kalimpong and deposited it there. After that I did not hear from him for a year. It seemed as though he had completely disappeared. All sorts of wild rumours went round and many people believed he was dead. It was not until I was again in Europe that I heard he had gone to stay in our fairyland village of Kyirong and had waited there until the Chinese came. He stayed literally until the last minute and got out with even greater difficulty than I had. I was very happy to get a letter from him posted in Nepal telling me that he was alive.

He is still a willing exile in the Far East, endeavouring to satisfy his insatiable thirst for exploration. There are few men alive with such a thorough knowledge of the Himalayas and the “Forbidden Land” as he possesses. What will he not have to tell when he returns to Europe after all these years?

I left with a heavy heart, but could not remain longer. I felt deep anxiety about the fate of the young king. I knew that life in the Potala would be darkened by the shadow of Mao Tse-tung. Instead of peaceful prayer-flags, I thought of the Red Flag with its hammer and sickle floating in the wind with its claim to world dominion. Perhaps Chenrezi, the eternal God of Grace, would survive this soulless regime, as he had survived so many Chinese invasions. I could only hope that the most peaceful nation on earth would not have to suffer too much and would not be demoralised by revolutionary changes. It was almost seven years to the day since my entry into Tibet when I found myself looking at the cairns and prayer-flags of the frontier pass which led out of India. Then I had been hungry and tired, but full of joy at reaching the land I longed for. Now I had servants and horses and savings enough to tide me over the near future. But I was a prey to the deepest depression and felt none of the tingling expectation which used to possess me at the frontier of a new country. I looked back mournfully at Tibet. The giant pyramid of Chomolhari rising in the distance seemed to give me a fare- well greeting.

In front of me was Sikkim, which is dominated by the enormous mass of Kinchinjunga,* the last of the Himalayan giants for me to see. I took my horse’s reins in my hand and walked slowly down towards the Indian plain.

A few days later I was in Kalimpong and once again among Europeans after many years. They looked strange to me and I felt a stranger in their company. Reporters of many newspapers hurried to meet me, hungry for news from the roof of the world. It took me a long time to acclimatise myself to all the bustle and paraphernalia of civilisation. But I found friends who helped me over the bridge. I still could not reconcile myself to leaving India, where I felt in touch with the fate of Tibet, and kept on postponing my departure for Europe.

In the summer of that year the Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa and the Tibetan families who had fled to India also went back to their homes. I had the experience of seeing the Chinese Governor-General of Tibet passing through Kalimpong on the way to take up his post at Lhasa. Until the autumn of 1951 the whole of Tibet was occupied by Chinese troops and news from that country was scanty and unclear. As I write these concluding lines many of my fears have been realised.

There is famine in the land, which cannot feed the armies of occupation as well as the inhabitants. I have seen in European papers photos of enormous posters bearing the picture of Mao Tse-tung stuck up at the foot of the Potala. Armoured cars roll through the Holy City. The loyal Ministers of the Dalai Lama have already been dismissed and the Panchen Lama has made his entry into Lhasa with an escort of Chinese soldiers. The Chinese have been clever enough to recognise the Dalai Lama as the official head of the Government, but the will of the occupying power is paramount. They have dug themselves in quite comfortably in Tibet and with their powerful organisation have already built roads hundreds of miles long which connect this once trackless land with their own country.

I follow all that happens in Tibet with the deepest interest, for part of my being is indissolubly linked with that dear country. Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for Tibet. I often think I can still hear the wild cries of geese and cranes and the beating of their wings as they fly over Lhasa in the clear cold moonlight. My heartfelt wish is that this book may create some understanding for a people whose will to live in peace and freedom has won so little sympathy from an indifferent world.

_______________

Notes:

* See Frontispiece.

* Pronounced KANGCHENDZONGA in Tibetan, meaning “Five Treasures of the Great Snows.”  
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