A journey to the land of the Dalai Lamas

At a time when phrases like “Indo-Tibetan border” and “Tibet card” are frequently heard in the Indian discourse amid the continuing India-China military faceoff on the border, a travelogue by an intrepid Indian traveller takes us to the Sino-Tibetan frontier areas where deep reverence for the Dalai Lama brings tears to the eyes of Tibetans living there

Jul 27, 2020
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At a time when phrases like “Indo-Tibetan border” and “Tibet card” are frequently heard in the Indian discourse amid the continuing India-China military faceoff on the border, a travelogue by an intrepid Indian traveller takes us to the Sino-Tibetan frontier areas where deep reverence for the Dalai Lama brings tears to the eyes of Tibetans living there.

The 'Other' Shangri-La, authored by Shivaji Das, gives a vivid account of his travels through the Sino-Tibetan frontier in Sichuan province, along with his Chinese wife Lobo. Written in an easy, humorous way, the travelogue takes the reader through some of the region’s very beautiful but tough mountain terrain.

On learning that he is an Indian, many Tibetans reacted reverentially towards the author, as India is the home in exile of the 14th Dalai Lama.

During a visit to the white pagoda in Litang, known as the world's highest town, a Tibetan woman is unable to control her emotions on learning that Das is from India. She asks her daughter to “touch” Das. “Come, child, Touch him. He is from India where our Dalai Lama resides… ‘Oh, I am so glad to meet you. You are from the land where he walks now…You can see our Dalai Lama, but we can’t. Please go and visit him once and tell him about us,” she says weeping.

There are other instances too in the ‘The 'Other' Shangri-La’, brought out by Konark Publishers, where the mention of Das being from India, kindles avid interest among the Tibetans he meets as they connect him with the Dalai Lama.

The author in easy language explains about some of the previous incarnations of the Dalai Lama, including the Sixth “who was born in Tawang” and was a “drunkard”. He also visits the place of birth of the Seventh Dalai Lama in Litang.

Das also brings out some of the tensions among the Tibetans against the large-scale settlement of Han Chinese from mainland China in their areas, and the effects of the ‘modernisation’ that the Chinese government is trying to bring about in the region.

An interesting episode is where the intrepid traveller couple end the night in a traditional tent with a Tibetan nomadic couple in Tagong, surrounded by a horde of yak calves, and a Tibetan mastiff sharing their bedding.

Das, who hails from Assam, stays in Singapore. He is the author of three travel memoirs ‘Sacred Love: Erotic Arts in the temples of Nepal’ (2018), ‘Angels by the Murky River: Travels Off the Beaten Track’ (2017) and ‘Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores and Sumba, Indonesia/ (2013). His articles have been published in TIME, Asian Geographic, The Jakarta Post among others, and his interviews featured on BBC, CNBC, The Economist. His photographs,  in collaboration with his wife Yolanda Yu (fondly called Lobo), have been exhibited at major places across the world, including the National Library (Singapore).

Das is the conceptualizer of the Global Migrant Festival and Migrant and Refugee Poetry Contests, and is the Asia-Pacific Managing Director at Frost & Sullivan, Singapore.

(The 'Other' Shangri-La is published by Konark Publishers, New Delhi and is available in Amazon [https://www.amazon.in/dp/8194201861] and Flipkart [https://bit.ly/30CRqwD])