In December 2010 residents of Kalimpong, a town on the
Indian border with Tibet, turned out en masse to welcome the Dalai Lama. It was
only then they realized for the first time that the neighbor they knew as the
noodle maker of Kalimpong was also the Dalai Lama’s older brother. The Tibetan
spiritual leader had come to visit the Gaden Tharpa Choling monastery and join
his brother for lunch in the family compound.
Gyalo Thondup has long lived out of the spotlight and hidden
from view, but his whole life has been dedicated to the cause of his younger
brother and Tibet. He served for decades as the Dalai Lama’s special envoy, the
trusted interlocutor between Tibet and foreign leaders from Chiang Kai-shek to
Jawaharlal Nehru, Zhou Enlai to Deng Xiaoping. Traveling the globe and meeting
behind closed doors, Thondup has been an important witness to some of the
epochal events of the twentieth century. No one has a better grasp of the
ongoing great game as the divergent interests of China, India, Russia, and the
United States continue to play themselves out over the Tibetan plateau. Only
the Dalai Lama himself has played a more important role in the political
history of modern, tragedy-ridden Tibet. Indeed, the Dalai Lama’s dramatic
escape from Lhasa to exile in India would not have been possible without his
brother’s behind-the-scenes help.
Now, together with Anne F. Thurston, who cowrote the
international bestseller The Private Life
of Chairman Mao, Gyalo Thondup is finally telling his story.
The settings are exotic—the Tibetan province of Amdo where
the two brothers spent their early childhood; Tibet’s legendary capital of
Lhasa; Nanjing, where Thondup received a Chinese education; Taiwan, where he
fled when he could not return to Tibet; Calcutta, Delhi, and the Himalayan hill
towns of India, where he finally made his home; Hong Kong, which served as his
listening post for China, and the American Rockies, where he sent young Tibetan
resistance fighters to be trained clandestinely by the CIA.
But Thondup’s story does not reiterate the otherworldly,
Shangri-La vision of the Land of Snows so often portrayed in the West. Instead,
it is an intimate, personal look at the Dalai Lama and his immediate family and
an inside view of vicious and sometimes deadly power struggles within the
Potala Palace—that immensely imposing architectural wonder that looms over
Lhasa and is home to both the spiritual and secular seats of Tibetan power. Download and start listening now!