The Long Riders' Guild

Across Tibet from India to China - page 3

Well-to-do Tibetans Wear Fine Raiment

At Japsan Ferry, by which we crossed the Brahmaputra, we met the first well-to-do Tibetan family on the march. They were mounted on fine mules bedecked with rug blankets and ornamented tack, with large red woolen tassels hanging from their breastplates. A child was held in the saddle by an arrangement of high wooden crosstrees on pommel and cantle.

Loading the Riding Horses and Pack Mules on the river barge.

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The family was dressed in fine silk robes adorned with furs, and wore fur hats in a cutoff conical shape embroidered with gold thread. All the servants wore the same type of colored robes and were well armed with rifles and Mauser pistols.

I was often asked if we were traveling in uniform. Most of our clothing which we wore every day was of the combat type, but we carried with us blouses, riding breeches, and boots, which we made a point to wear for official calls and for certain arrivals and departures at the more important points. Several times we had to fight high winds behind some hill a few miles outside a village while we changed into our best.

At a small village called Chushul Dzong the headman informed us that the famous Tsarong Shape, a Cabinet Minister, had offered us the use of his small overnight cottage. It was a gracious Tibetan building, with several modern conveniences.

In the big reception room we were astonished to find the walls covered with National Geographic Society maps of the world. Later we learned that Tsarong Shape, whose full name is Namgang Dasan Damdu, is the only Tibetan member of The Society. We saw much of him in Lhasa.

Dalai Lama's Escort Meets the Party

Twenty-five miles out of Lhasa we were met by an escort sent out from the court of the Dalai Lama to greet us. It was headed by a powerfully built, fine-looking young monk, Kusho Yonton Singhi, who was to become our guide and inseparable adviser during our stay in the city of mystery.

Tibetan officials such as these negotiated the possibility of allowing Roosevelt and Churchill to create a road from India to China via their mountainous kingdom.

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He presented us with a warm letter of welcome and greetings from the joint Foreign Ministers of Tibet, and with the usual scarfs. Knowing our animals were tired, the Ministers had sent two fresh ponies for Brooke and me. It was a pleasure to ride the excellent Mongolian pacer, the kind that in Tibet only wealthy men can afford.

By Tibetan custom horsemen walk down steep hills, but from the moment Kusho joined us, we were not obliged to dismount. One of Kusho's outriders would halt at the top of each steep place, give his horse into charge of someone else, and lead our mounts carefully down the trail. We began to feel as if we were precious china dolls.

At noon we rode up to several gaily decorated Tibetan tents, where we had tea with our guide. The next day we woke up early and rode off briskly with an unmistakable feeling of excitement. Our first goal was near.

Entering the valley of Lhasa, we rode along the Kyi, which flows through the city. We crossed its tributary on Tibet's only modern steel bridge. On a concrete foundation, the bridge was built several years ago by Tsarong without the help of foreign engineers. The feat was remarkable in that all the pieces of steel had to be brought from India over the Himalayas by coolies, as the girders were too heavy for pack animals to carry.

Somewhere within the last four miles of Lhasa we knew a delegation waited to receive us, and one of our men rode ahead to herald our approach. The greeters, thus notified, rode out to meet us a couple of hundred yards from the place where they had been stationed. When about 100 feet apart, our parties dismounted and greeted each other.

The welcoming delegation was composed of the city magistrate of Lhasa, representing the city; Frank Ludlow, Additional British Political Officer for Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet, with H. Fox, Esquire, his assistant and wireless operator; the British Mission doctor, Rai Sahib Bo, who was a Bhutanese by birth; chief British Mission clerk, Minghyu; Dr. Kung Ching-tsung, chief of the Chinese Mission, with several members of his staff; the Bhutanese representatives; the Nepalese representatives, whose honor guard of soldiers was lined up a few miles away; and the Ladakhi representatives.

The Higher the Seat, the Greater the Man

Greetings were in strict Western fashion.  After the introductions our entire cavalcade rode on to a small roadside park where several decorated Tibetan tents had been set up for the occasion. We were welcomed at the gate by the officers representing the court of the Dalai Lama. Most important among them were George Tsarong (Tsarong Se Dabul Namgyal), son of the Tsarong Shape, Dege Se, a royal prince before the Chinese took over his domain and now representative of the Foreign Office.

Escorted into the central tent, we were given the seats of honor behind a little table laden with the usual dried fruits, candies, etc. Our hosts, in order of rank and position, sat down to our right and left, on hassocks of diminishing heights. The farther away from us the lower the seats became, until, as the line passed out the entrance of the tent, overflow guests were sitting on the open ground on flat cushions. There were tables only a few inches high in front of all guests.

Buttered tea was poured from large, silver-ornamented copper teapots, and the ceremonial rice was served. In front of each person was placed a Chinese rice bowl with the rice patted in a high mound.  We took a few grains of this rice with our fingers, threw some of it over our shoulders for the appeasement of spirits, and swallowed the few remaining grains. The rice bowls were then taken away, and the representatives of the court gave us letters of welcome and scarfs on behalf of every branch of the court.

This part of the ceremony over, we rode through the little wooded parks that surround Lhasa. To our right a large part of Lhasa's population was congregated on small grass mounds. On the left was lined up a detachment of the honor guard of the famous Tibetan Trapchi regiment, which serves as the bodyguard to the Dalai Lama.

We were surprised and our horses startled by a sudden outburst of stirring military music from a brass band, the only band of occidental instruments in Tibet. Presumably the instruments had been taken from a Chinese army in 1911.

Under the Windows of the Dalai Lama

The magnificent flag of Tibet stood out in its brilliant colors, showing the sun and two Lions of Tibet facing each other, holding the Wheel of Life under the Precious Gems.

Dismounting, we reviewed the detachment of soldiers, smart-looking in their practical native uniforms, and shook hands with their commanding officer. We then proceeded to the attractive Tibetan house of our host, Mr. Ludlow, just outside the West Gate of Lhasa, from where we could see the walls of the Potala topped by the Dalai Lama's personal quarters.

Several members of the welcoming party joined us for tea at Mr. Ludlow's residence. After tea we settled down in cozy Tibetan rooms, specially decorated for us by the court of the Dalai Lama, the floors solidly covered with Tibetan rugs and comfortable Tibetan couches. Mr. Fox proudly showed us his model Diesel plant which supplied the house with electricity and enabled him to make radio contact as far as Indiana, U.S.A.

From that day we lived for weeks by a schedule. There was a definite procedure for whom to see, when, and in what order. During our first few days in Lhasa we received official calls from Dr. Kung, Chinese representative, who had been in the Chinese diplomatic service in Europe and could speak French and some English; and from the joint Foreign Ministers. These last were Surkhang Dsasa, a genial Tibetan nobleman who in younger days had traveled into India and China, and a gracious elderly monk, the Ta Lama, named Yongon Dsasa.

From our first meeting Brooke and I liked the Foreign Ministers and soon became fast friends with them. We had to deal through them with His Holiness's court; thus we were with them often throughout our stay.

Among our other callers were representatives of Nepal, Bhutan, and Ladakh. A Major Bista of Nepal was a highly educated man and had a remarkable library in his home. These visitors were followed by Tibetan lay and ecclesiastical officials and lay dignitaries, some coming in official and some in private capacity.

Each person brought, or sent by servants, customary arrival gifts such as wheat, barley, flour, rice, meat, live sheep, butter, and eggs. As official guests we were also furnished firewood, feed for the ponies, and some provisions for all our group for a month's time.

The Dalai Lama Grants Audience

In accordance with Tibetan custom, we were not to call upon any officials until after His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, had granted us an audience. A few days after our arrival we were informed by the Tibetan Foreign Office that the audience would be at 9:20 on the morning of December 20. That date was selected as the most auspicious for the Dalai Lama, a highly important factor in all of his undertakings.

Early that day we rode out toward the Potala in a sizable cavalcade with all our men, the monk guide and his assistants dressed up in their finery.

The Potala is situated on a hill, and the Dalai Lama's throne room is on the very top. Usually visitors must make a long and tedious climb up the broad steps of the palace. We, however, were extended a great courtesy, being allowed to ride along a narrow path up the mountain to the back of the palace, where we left our horses. Then we were escorted through the courtyards and long labyrinths of the Potala building to a small, unpretentious waiting room.

Here we were joined by the representatives of the Foreign Office, a few other dignitaries, and a charming young Tibetan official named Changnopa, whom everybody called Ringang. Ringang had studied at Rugby and spoke beautiful English. After tea had been served, we rehearsed the procedure for greeting the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans explaining to us some of the fine points of etiquette. A monk entered soon and announced that we were to proceed to the throne room.

Escorted by a stately procession of monks, we ascended to the roof of the Potala, above which rose the single room used for receptions. On both sides in front of the entrance were seated rows of high monk dignitaries, and in the background were crowds of lesser monks and some laymen and pilgrims who were to be given a blessing by the Dalai Lama after our reception.

We stood in line for a few moments until the heavy curtain was drawn from the entrance, then walked into the richly decorated throne room. Rows of monks and lay officials were standing along the walls, but the central portion of the room remained open. Directly in front of us stood the Dalai Lama's throne, a square, flat-topped seat about four feet high and four feet wide, with a straight back.

The ten-year-old Dalai Lama who greeted Long Riders Tolstoy and Dolan in 1942.

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His Holiness was seated cross-legged, a high-peaked yellow hat on his head. We were immediately impressed by his young but stern face and not at all frail constitution. His cheeks were healthily pink.

A few feet away to his right, on a similar but lower throne, sat the dignified Regent of Tibet. Until the Dalai Lama becomes of age at eighteen, the Regent assumes his duties and is the highest authority in Tibet, ecclesiastical or civil.

Still farther away to the Regent's right was seated the Dalai Lama's father, a layman, dressed in rich robes and hat. Ruddy and youthful in appearance, and wearing a neat little down-turned mustache, he presented a contrast to the ecclesiastical dignitaries.

Delivery of the Historic Letter

As we stepped inside the threshold of the throne room, we saluted. Our hats were kept on throughout the entire ceremony. We then walked up to the throne of the Dalai Lama and, standing before him, saluted again. A monk came up and laid a presentation scarf across my outstretched hands, then placed a bread-and-butter offering upon the scarf. Bowing, I presented the offering to the Dalai Lama, who took it into his hands and passed it over to a monk on his right.

This procedure was repeated as a monk placed in turn upon the scarf I held an image of Buddha, a religious book, and a chorten.

These objects I passed on to the Dalai Lama.

Meanwhile, Captain Dolan, standing to my right, had been holding the casket containing President Roosevelt's letter to the Dalai Lama. He now passed it to me, placing it on the scarf. In the same manner I presented the casket to the Dalai Lama. So far as we could learn, this was the first time in history that direct communication had been made by a President of the United States with the Dalai Lama of Tibet.

I then laid the scarf across the throne in front of His Holiness, saluted, and proceeded to the throne of the Regent at my left.

Captain Dolan stepped up to the throne of the Dalai Lama, a scarf over his hands, and presented to His Holiness a photograph of President Roosevelt. He then saluted and joined me in front of the Regent's throne.

At this point our servants presented the gift of President Roosevelt, a gold chronographic watch, to the major-domo standing away from the throne. This functionary accepted it in behalf of the Dalai Lama, together with the personal gift Captain Dolan and I had brought, a silver ship.

Saluting the Regent, I bestowed upon him gifts similar to those presented to the Dalai Lama: an image of Buddha, a religious book; a chorten, and objects of silver. After placing the presentation scarf across the Regent's hands, I passed on to the throne of the Dalai Lama's father.

The Exchange of Scarfs

Brooke also saluted the Regent, presented him with a scarf, and joined me at the left. The father of the Dalai Lama was saluted in turn and honored with scarfs by us both. No gifts were presented to the father on this occasion, but were given at a later date.

The presentation of gifts and scarfs accomplished, we returned to the right-hand side of  the room, where we sat on a long, low cushion placed near the center. A low table was set in front of us. From the far corner of the room came a monk bearing a pot of tea. He stopped before the Dalai Lama, joining another monk kneeling in front of the throne, who reached into his robe and pulled out a silver cup into which a little tea was poured. This monk then tasted the tea to insure its being satisfactory.

We were then served tea and rice. Although we were offered three cups of tea, we drank only two, leaving the third untasted as custom dictates. We ate a bit of the rice and threw a few grains over our shoulders.

While we were thus occupied, our retinue of servants proceeded to the Dalai Lama's throne and presented scarfs which a monk, standing by the side of His Holiness, accepted on his lord's behalf. The Dalai Lama then blessed them by touching their heads with a holy wand. They paid the same respects to the Regent and the Dalai Lama's father.

The servants were followed by a chain of monks and other people specially admitted to the throne room. These also presented scarfs and bowed before the throne to receive the blessing of His Holiness.

When the procession to the throne had ceased, the Dalai Lama addressed us through an interpreter, inquiring about the health of the President of the United States. I stood up to answer his query, then again sat down.

After a time a staid monk stood beside the throne and announced in a deep voice, "The reception is over." We left the throne chamber, followed by our servants and the rest of the spectators.

Upon the close of the official reception in the throne room, we returned to the waiting room of the Potala, presently to be ushered into the private chamber of the Dalai Lama. He was sitting on a small, low couch, with a table before him holding religious objects. Beside His Holiness sat the Regent on a similar couch. We were seated on chairs directly in front of them.

Ringang accompanied us. He acted as interpreter in the ensuing conversation, which continued in an informal vein for about a half hour. The private audience was then ended, and we left the Potala.

A Round of Courtesy Calls

The next few weeks we devoted to making calls upon all the ecclesiastical and lay officials in the order of their rank and position, and presenting them with gifts. We also called on the Dalai Lama's family. There followed a round of dinners, luncheons, and teas exchanged in both official and unofficial capacity.

We visited the Oracle, a rather remarkable middle-aged man, who has his own small monastery a few miles outside Lhasa.  A short journey took us to the two largest monasteries in the world, Drepung and Sera, both near the city.

All the foreign representatives entertained us hospitably, and Dr. Kung had the pupils of his Chinese school turned out to greet us. These little children are of mixed Chinese and Tibetan parentage, and the school is provided by the Chinese Government.

The only other lay school in Tibet is conducted by a monk who is a radio operator. His pupils are children of nobility and lay officials in Lhasa.

Deke Lingka, headquarters of the British Mission, in which we lived, was next to the famous Holy Walk which stretches for seven miles around the Potala grounds.

Along that walk we could see pilgrims from all Tibet circumambulating the Potala, some by prostrating themselves along the walk, getting up and stepping the length of their bodies, then prostrating themselves again. Thus they measured their way around the Potala like inchworms.

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