On the evening of March 17, 1959, as the people of Tibet braced for a violent power grab by Chinese occupiersone that would forever wipe out any vestige of national sovereigntythe twenty-four-year-old Dalai Lama, Tibets political and spiritual leader, contemplated the impossible. The task before him was immense: to slip past a cordon of crack Chinese troops ringing his summer palace and, with an escort of 300, journey across the highest terrain in the world and over treacherous Himalayan passes to freedomone step ahead of pursuing Chinese soldiers.
Mao Zedung, Chinas ruthless Communist dictator, had pinned his hopes for total Tibetan submission on controlling the impressionable Dalai Lama. So beloved was the young rulerso identified with his countrys essencethat for him to escape might mean perpetual resistance from a population unwilling to tolerate an increasingly brutal occupation. The Dalai Lamas minders sent word to the Tibetan rebels and CIA-trained guerrillas who waited on the route: His Holiness must escapeat all costs.
In many ways, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was unprepared for the epic journey awaiting him. Twenty-two years earlier, government search parties, guided by prophecies and omens, had arrived at the boys humble peasant home and subjected the two-year-old to a series of tests. After being declared the reincarnation of Tibets previous ruler, the boy was brought to Lhasa to learn the secrets of Buddhism and the ways of ultimate power. Forced in the ensuing two decades to cope with aching loneliness and often stifling ritualand compelled to suppress his mischievous personalityGyatso eventually proved himself a capable leader. But no previous Dalai Lama had ever taken on a million Communist Chinese soldiers bent on stamping out Tibetan freedom.
To keep his countrys dream of independence alive by means of a government in exile, the young ruler would not only have to brave battalions of enemy soldiers and the whiteout conditions waiting on the slopes of the Himalayas highest peaks, hed have to overcome a different type of blindness: the naïveté intrinsic to his sheltered palace life and his position as leader of a people who considered violence deeply taboo.
His mind made up, the young Dalai Lama set off on his audacious journey to India while behind him a Chinese army rolled over Lhasa, its advance hunter patrols in fierce pursuit of the man they most coveted. The 14ths escape was an act of daring and defiance that represented Tibets last hope, and so the world watched, transfixed, as the gentle monks journey unfolded.
Emotionally powerful and irresistibly page-turning, Escape from the Land of Snows is simultaneously a portrait of the inhabitants of a spiritual nation forced to take up arms in defense of their ideals, and the saga of an initially childlike ruler who at first wore his monks robes uncomfortably but was ultimately transformed by his escape into the towering figure the world knows todaya charismatic champion of free thinking and universal compassion.
Escape from the Land of Snows
Early one morning in March 1959, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama walked slowly along a gravel path that led away from his small home at the Norbulingka, his beloved summer palace. The air just after first light still carried a snap of cold that reached from the Himalayas, and the sun was only now beginning to warm the breeze. This was his favorite time to walk the grounds, after rising for prayers and breakfast at 5:00 a.m., when everything was still. Against a sky beginning to lighten, the leaves of the palace trees poplar and willow, mostly fairly pulsed green. It was the Dalai Lamas lucky color.
He was deep in thought, and then deep in the effort to avoid thinking. When he lifted his head he could spot thrushes and willow warblers and even an English kingfisher as they swung through the branches and then out over the two thick walls that surrounded the palaces 160 acres. The Norbulingka, three miles ...
Central to the story is Tibet's religious foundation and the Dalai Lama's unique status and profound connection to his people: "Buddhism was much more than a state religion: it was the sole reason for Tibet's existence." The narrative becomes more detailed, suspenseful and upsetting as Talty describes the days prior to the Dalai Lama's frightening escape during the 1959 uprising against Chinese occupation forces. If this history lacks anything it is photographs, but Escape from the Land of Snows is inspiring and an important read, and it may move many to act on behalf of the people he was forced to leave behind.
(Reviewed by Jo Perry).
Full Review (1004 words).
The Norbulingka and Potala Palaces
Until he was forced into exile in 1959, the Dalai Lama lived and studied in two magnificent palaces in Lhasa that housed the historical and religious treasures of his nation.
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