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Dramatic Events in Lhasa


Having assigned duties and responsibilities to the leaders in whom we had confidence, it was unnecessary for us to stay any longer in that part of Kham. Nor was it safe to do so for stategic reasons. So far inspite of many engagements we had not suffered any mortal blow from the Chinese. We had attacked them at will and with success at many points and had also foiled or blunted their counter attacks.

But the Chinese were willy and well-informed of the deposition and strength of our force. Our most urgent task was to rejoin the main force at Lhoka, but this was not easy as the Chinese kept us constantly under fire and ambushed us frequently.

Depite the risks involved, however, we decided after holding a war council at the end of February to move towards Lhoka. Two advanced reconnaissance groups, each consisting of a commander and fifty freedom fighters were sent to check on enemy positions. They were followed by convoys of packe animals carrying arms and food supplies. Each convoy was escorted by a small group of freedom fighters. I myself set out with 250 freedom fighters to reinforce another unit which had left earlier. Altogether 500 freedom fighters were involved in this operation and I was anxious that it should be carried out successfully.

Letters and verbal messages were sent to various local leaders on the route of the march asking for their coperation. They were requested to supply foodgrains, firewood and hay to freedom fighters whenthey passed through or camped in their areas. While we were engaged in this manoeuvre, dramatic events were taking place in Lhasa, fraught with the gravest consequences for our country.

The first intimitation we had of the uprising in the capital was an All India Radio braodcast on March 22, 1959. At that time I was at Gyalshoy Benkar and was of course unaware of the happenings which led to the Uprising nor of the details which I am now recording. The Dalai Lama's Palace was shelled and thousands of innocent Tibetans were massacred. Since these events profoundly affected the course of the war, I have to interrupt my account to take note of the momentous events which culminated in the final crisis in the Tibetan capital and the escape of the Dalai Lama to India.

The Chinese army camp had been located in the outskirts of Lhasa for some years and the Chinese interference in Tibetan affairs, through the Preparatory Committee and otherwise, had steadily increased. But there had been no eveidence so far of any attempt to dislodge the Dalai Lama from His exalted position or of any other sinister design against Him personally. At the beginning of March 1959, however, it seems that the Chinese had made up their minds to deprive Him of the leadership of the Tibetan people and possibly even to remove Him from the country.

While His Holiness was in the Jokhang Temple celebrating the Monlam Festival, a senior Chinese General, Tan Kuan-san sent Him an inviation to a theatrical show in the Chinese army camp. In extending this invitation the Chinese obviously had an ulterior motive as not only did they press for its early acceptance but simultanously stipulated some unprecedented conditions. It was the normal practice that the Dalai Lama be escorted by a bodyguard of twentyfive armed men whenever He went out, and armed troops were posted along the route. Further His journeys were never kept secret and the people invariably lined the route to see and pay their respect to Him.

Yet on this occasion the Chinese insisted that He should not be accompanied by any armed guards, and also that His visit to their camp should be kept strictly secret. Although these conditions caused uneasiness and resentment among members of the Kashag and others closely associated with the Dalai Lama, He decided to accept them in order not to give the Chinese any cause of annoyance.

The visit was scheduled for March 10, and on the day before it the Tibetan police were instructed to warn the people that no one would be permitted beyond a certain point on the road leading to the Chinese camp. Unfortunately, these instructions, which had the objective of preventing any untoward incident, had exactly the opposite effect.

A rumour spread among the people that the Chinese were planning to kidnap the Dalai Lama and an excited crowd began to assemble outside the Palace. By the morning of march 10 the crowd had increased to about 30000 nd there were much shouting and slogan raising. Incensed by this latest example of Chinese high handedness and disrespect towards the Dalai Lama and highly suspicious of their intentions, the people of Lhasa had decided that they would not let His Holiness leave the Palace and become a victim of Chinese machinations. All the pent-up resentment of the people against the presence of the Chinese army in Tibet and the gradual dimunition of their freedom, found apt expression in a sudden outburst of anger; they wanted the Chinese to quit and leave Tibet to the Tibetans. During the next few days they kept up an unceasing vigilance outside the Norbulingka Palace, and their attitude towards the Chinese became more uncompromising. Many people in the crowd had armed themselves with sticks, knives and even firearms. Some Khampa freedom fighters had even brought machine guns and mortars.

Apart from the crowd outside the Palace, people held meetings at other places in the city and passed resolutions to the effect that the Chinese would have to go. A number of junior government officials also attended these meetings and endorsed the 'Quite Tibet' resolutions. A regiment of regular TIbetan army tore up their Chinese uniforms and declared themselves allegiance was strictly to the Dalai Lama and for their country. No one expected that the Chinese would tolerate or overlook what they regarded as 'rebellion against their authority and their government', and yet nobody could have anticipated the ferocity and the cruelty with which the Chinese suppressed the demonstration of popular feeling against their regime.

General Tan Kuan-san accused the Dalai Lama's government of encouraging the revolt ad vowed to destroy all 'reactionaries'. soon news of Chinese preparations to attack the Norbulingka Palace and possibly other places in Lhasa began to reach the Tibetan kashag. Large movement of Chinese troops, truck and artillery including heavy guns were reported. Tension in the city and in the crowd assembled near the Norbulingka Palace increased but, inspite of the imminent danger of Chinese bombardment, the people did not disperse. They were determined to protect the Dalai Lama even at the cost of their lives.

On the morning of March 16, the situation seemed quite desperate and everyone was anxious about the safety of His Holiness. When the first boom of the Chinese guns in the vincity was heard in the afternoon, the Dalai Lama and His advisers had urgent consultations, and it was decided that He would have to leave the Palce and the city immediately.

His Hoiness has since emphatically contradicted the Chinese propaganda claims that He was under any duress and kidnapped out of the country against His will. While His advisers and others were aware of the danger to which the Dalai Lama was exposed and ardently wished to ensure His safety, the final decision to leave was entirely of His own.

Disguised as an ordinary Tibetan and accompanied buy some of His close associates and those members of His family who were in Lhasa, His Holiness left that night to begin the long and arduous journey which was eventually to take Him to India. The Dalai Lama's departure was kept closely guarded secret and the Chinese were not aware that He had left the Palace, when they began shelling it forty eight hours later on the morning of March 20 1959. The shelling continued throughout the day and besides the Norbulingka, the Potala Palace, several monasteries and schools other public and private buildings were heavily bombarded and suffered serious damage. The death toll of this indiscriminate and senseless orgy of destruction ran into thousands.

As I have already mentioned, it was from and All India Radion broadcast on March 22, 1959 that we learnt of this tragic events in Lhasa. But the news of the Dalai Lama's safe escape did not reach us until the beginning of April.

A few days earlier, I had received a letter from His Holiness who was then at Lhuntse Dzong with some of His senior officials, trying to set up a temporary government there. The letter read in part : "You have led the Chushi Gandrug force with unshakeable determination to resist the Chinese occupation army for the great national cause of defending the freedom of Tibet. I confer on you the rank of 'DZASAK'( the highest military rank equivalent to General ) in recognition for your service to the country. The present situation calls for a continuance of your brave struggle with the same determination and courage."

His Holiness was also kind enough to send me some priceless religious relics including an earthen statue of Jigchi Mahai (God of Protection) and some holy beads. I was extremely happy to receive these gifts and symbols of His Holiness's consideration for me and longed to receive His blessings in person.

But our war with the Chinese kept me busy and I could not meet Him until several weeks later in India. On April 3, I received a letter from our headquarters in Lhoka informing that His Holiness had escaped and arrived in India safe and unharmed. This news was hailed with great rejoicing by everyone. suddenly, the worry and tension of the past few days when we had no tidings of His Holiness nad we earnestly prayed for His safety, disappeared. It was indeed miraculous that the Dalai Lama had escaped unnoticed while surrounded by such a large force of Chinese soldiers. We were thankful for this miracle. We could well imagine the enemy's chagrin when they discovered too late their foul plans to abduct or get rid of the Dalai Lama had failed ignominously.

But this, was not the end of our struggle. We knew that the Chinese were trailing us and would try their utmost to wipe out thet Khampas and the volunteer force. We were equally determined to resist and fight them to the bitter end.

Several hundred of our freeom fighters had provided escort for the Dalai Lama on His journey to India; but they did not cross over the border with Him but returned to carry on the struggle.

We arrived at Gyamda, in Kongpo, on April 4, 1959. We had to move cautiously as the Chinese planes were looking for us, although we had not come across any of their troops. The following day one of our units, which was in charge of a supply convoy, was taken unaware by the arrival of some 300 Chinese trucks with soldiers from Lhasa. Our men fought fiercely but being outnumbered had to retreat, leaving the supplies behind. This was a serious setback for us. As we continued our march, we received massages from our men in nearby places reporting Chinese advances. I responded to these reports by asking our freedom fighter everywhere to keep on fighting with all their might and not to loose sight of the noble cause for which they had taken up arms. But discouraging reports continued to pour in.

The Chinese had brought large reinforcements and within the next few days they advanced further and occupied a number of towns; among these were Tsethang, Yandrok DagyeLing, Lhodrak and Tsona. The loss of Tsona on April 14, 1959 was paricularly unfortunate because of its importance as one of our main base and I could not reconcile myself to it. I called a meeting to discuss plans for recapturing the town and measures to prevent disintegration of the volunteer force. The serious reverses we had suffered had, however, affected the morale of our force and the will to continue the struggle was considerably weakened.

Commanders and freedom fighter alike deemed further resistance useless and my views and exhortation did not carry much weight with them. They had apparently decided that there was no alternative to accepting the new status which fate had thrust upon them, namely, that of refugees. Even so, I did not give up hopes of retrieving the position.

I stayed at Jora monastery for a day and with me were 126 men of the volunteer force and forty soldiers of the Dashi divisioncommanded by Colonel Tashi Pehray. The Dashi Division of the TIbetan army was noted for its anti-Chinese views. Before the open revolt of March 1959, junior officers of the division, such as captain Kalsang Damdul and Rupon Wangden, were in secret contact with the Chushi Gandrug. As a cover up the commanding officer, who had full knowledge of these contacts never alowed hinself to be associated with us. This was part of an elaborate plan to deceive the Chinese of the real loyalties and feelings within the Dashi sivision. I sent messages to the Dashi divisiion headquarters appealing to them to launch an attack on Tsona to which we would support by a separate assault. But there was no response and my plan could not be carried out. It was a heartbreaking thought that the volunteer force, which had fought so long against such heavy odds and performed so many deed of valour had no further role to play.

A little later, as we approached Kata monastery, one of my field commanders and other officials met me. "Do you realise", they said, "that to remain here is to invite danger? If something happens to you, all that Chushi Gandrug stood and fought for will be forgotten and there will be no one to carry the torch of freedom movement Let us consider our ultimate goal and save ourselves and our energies for a future struggle. At present your wisest course is to leave the country and go to India. A man ad been hired to guide you and show you the route."

They added that in speaking to me thus they had only conveyed the wishes and orders of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. After this I had no options but to follow the instructionsI had received from the highest authority. Yet the urge to strike one final blow for our cause and our country was strong within me. And the opportunity for it seemed to arise when the Indian guards at teh border would not allow us to travel beyond Mhargo La where we arrived on April 20, 1959. We held a meeting and I appealed to my companions to join me in a final assault on the enemy. My appeal appeared to have some effect, and in fact about 2000 freedom fighters were selected to launch the planned attack the next morning. But in the morning the men had second thoughts about it. They reasoned: "What if the entire force is wiped out in this final battle? It would only leave us with a sorrowful memory. Besides, if we have to go to India, we must consider the Indian Governments's possible reaction to renewed fighting close to their borders."

The idea of any further fighting with the Chinese was sadly abandoned and thus ended the war which we had carried on for almost a year. We approached the Indian guards for permission to cross the border and presented to them a horse and a Khata. The formalities at last completed, we crossed over and were greeted by Tsedrung Jampa Wangdu, a representative of the Tibetan Govenment. He said that arrangements had been made for us to go to India after handing over all our weapons to the Indian authorities. Complying with this requirement, we handed over our rifles, ammunition and all other weapons to the Deputy Commissioner of Tezpur district, whom we met on april 29, 1959. We were permitted by the authorities to take with us gold, silver and other valuables we had in our possession. we were also told that all Tibetan refugees were being welcomed into India and adequate arrangements were being made to meet their immediate needs of food and shelter.

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