The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Holy influx in the hills

Darjeeling, Dec. 5: Tshering Yangzom (name changed) did not know what the Dalai Lama looked like until today, when she saw the spiritual leader after a journey fraught with danger at every step.

The girl is one of 16 villagers from Tibet who sneaked into India to meet the Dalai Lama after getting permission from the Chinese authorities to visit Nepal. Most of these Chinese citizens have never even seen a photograph of the Buddhist leader.

“We are not allowed to worship or keep photographs of the Dalai Lama. Life is difficult there, but we have come to meet His Holiness and the journey was worth it,” said Yangzom, a girl of 20.

Five minutes into the conversation and it became evident that the Tibetans were not willing to speak too much, especially on the Chinese rule in their country. “We will have to return to Tibet in a day or two, but life is extremely difficult. We try and steer clear of politics or any religious movement and this allows us to lead our life without interference from the local government,” said Sonam Gyala, a trader who does not even want to divulge his business.

Their only wish is to see the Dalai Lama and return home without letting the Chinese authorities get wind of the visit. “This place is so beautiful, but we have to return to our families,” said the young man who had heard of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Darjeeling from people returning from a pilgrimage.

Scared of attracting attention, the group mingles with the crowd and does not sit in the enclosure for foreigners.

Tibu, 67, had to travel for 15 days to reach Darjeeling but he was more fortunate: he had the sanction from the Chinese rulers. “The authorities gave me permission to visit India. I wanted my wife and children to come along but they weren’t allowed,” said Tibu, who owns a small farmland in a tiny hamlet called Lokal, not too far from Lhasha.

The group is paying Rs 200 per day and staying at a rented house at Singamari, where the Dalai Lama is delivering his discourses.

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