About the Book
“I had the opportunity to accompany this extraordinary couple to Dharamsala in 2005 where we were afforded a private audience. Towards the end of the hour the Dalai Lama exclaimed, ‘You must write a book! The story must be told. When I say anything, the Chinese call me a liar.’ When asked for the book to be blessed, with a humorous impatience quite his own, he said, ‘The book is blessed! Just write the book!’” — Susan Murphy
Sudha Johorey, wife of an Indian civil servant, was posted in Tibet in the late 1950s, during the Chinese occupation. She and her husband KC were friends and political allies of both Prime Minister Nehru and the young Dalai Lama, who extended his blessing for this book when it was first conceived.
Sudha was a teacher who opened schools wherever she and her husband were posted; a mother who raised their four children in daunting circumstances; and a woman whose devout spiritual practice is an inspiration to all. Throughout their years of service, the Johorey’s played many instrumental roles pivotal to the ongoing dynamics of the Himalayan subcontinent today.
For Readers and Book Clubs: Reader Guide
“The observant understanding of changing times in these eyewitness accounts make these memoirs a ‘first draft of history ,’ recording as they do the transitions in the political and spiritual life of Tibet and Afghanistan, recorded through the keen eye of the wife of a key Indian diplomat.” — Namita Gokhale, author of Things to Leave Behind
In March of 1959, Sudha was the wife of the political officer in charge of the Indian mission, quartered in the Agency House in Yatung District, Tibet. The Chinese occupation of that Himalayan country was in full swing, leading to many horrors perpetrated against the people, especially the monks and nuns, and a full scale exodus by those able to escape. Her husband, KC, did all he could to facilitate such escapes as well as help those left behind. Sudha was busy caring for tired, depressed, and frightened refugees who stopped off at Agency House on their way out of the country. Together they had spent time with His Holiness just before their Tibet posting during his extended celebratory tour of India honoring the 2500th birth anniversary of the Buddha gaining enlightenment and shared a deep love for Tibet, its people, and its leader.
On the 17th of March, KC received a coded wireless message stating that His Holiness had secretly left Lhasa, on foot, in the dark, for an unknown destination. Because of their mutual reverence for His Holiness, KC broke his strict personal protocol and shared this news with his concerned wife.
She was sick with worry, knowing her friend would be facing unknown hardships and that the journey out of Tibet would be treacherous. Although she did not discuss the message with anyone, rumor of his self-exile had spread like wildfire. In Yatung, large crowds had congregated in the bazaar, anxiously speculating about their future and that of Tibet. Local Tibetan and Indian workers were flocking in droves to the office at Agency House, looking for information and asking what they should do next. It was clear to all that if the Dalai Lama had indeed escaped, the Chinese would take revenge and make everyday existence even more difficult.
Early April, KC received another coded message that His Holiness had reached India safely just as Pandit Nehru announced on April 3 in the Indian Parliament that the Government of India had granted asylum to His Holiness.
Following Prime Minister Nehru’s announcement, far more restrictions on movement were imposed, especially in Lhasa where the atmosphere remained extremely tense. There were many new reprisals and constraints, directed particularly against the Tibetan aristocracy and the monks and nuns. Everyone knew things were only going to get worse.
Sudha was seven months pregnant with her second child. The couple had been planning to have the child in Tibet, but the Chinese authorities denied Sudha medical facilities and advised her to seek medical attention in India. Messages were sent to Madras, where her mother and brother lived, and they hurriedly began planning, packing, and assembling an entourage of porters and servants. Sudha and their three-year-old daughter Geeta would be the only females. Sudha would ride a pony, and Geeta would travel with her own pony and a dedicated porter to carry her when she tired.
The night before their departure, KCs deputy arrived with eight large boxes from Lhasa, all stitched up in white burlap. He accepted the bundles and, revealing nothing, told Sudha they had to be taken down to Gangtok, explaining that with her diplomatic immunity there would be no problems, even if there were a Chinese presence at the checkpoint. Of course, she was curious and asked her husband what this extra luggage was all about. He avoided the question and said it was just some official material that had to be relayed. Most likely he didn’t know himself what was inside the boxes; he just had instructions that they were to go down to India as consulate property. With all of her other worries, the extra boxes retreated to the back of her mind.
The morning of departure was exceedingly chilly for April. Sudha waited outside of Agency House with Geeta and the rest of the entourage while KC organized the mule train. As they prepared to leave, and throughout the morning, she fought back tears. While she was feeling a little self-pity, realizing that the Tibet she had always loved was gone forever, that morning she grieved for the people who made up this sacrosanct land.
As they climbed upward toward the Nathu La Pass, she tried to rein in her emotions, pointing out the flowers and trees to Geeta, but feeling so distraught and uncomfortable on her pony, being so large with child, the scenery gave her no pleasure.
They were to break journey the first night in Champithang, the last village before the pass. As they approached the new military checkpoint, Sudha found it very disconcerting to see such a huge Chinese presence when only months before people crossed completely unmonitored. Knowing she had this extra baggage from Lhasa, she was quite apprehensive as she handed over her diplomatic papers and permits. After a drawn out examination the officials appeared satisfied and handed the documents back with a Chinese stamp.
Two days and cold nights later, they reached “civilization.” Thankfully there was a jeep waiting for them at the head of the road. From there, Sudha and Geeta traveled in relative luxury for the next few kilometers. As they drove into Gangtok, the official residence India House had never looked more beautiful, resplendent with lush gardens and the promise of warmth and comfort.
That evening Sudha, unceremoniously turned over the eight boxes to Apa Pant, the Officer in Charge of Tibet and Bhutan, and her husband’s boss. It was obvious he was expecting them and immediately made a call. It was only then that Sudha came to know they were the property of His Holiness and the Tibetan government, but she was too dazed to feel anything besides relief that they had been safely handed over. There was much speculation, that these boxes held religious books, scrolls, and articles of worship, that the Tibetan government wanted safe in order to preserve their culture, religion, and way of life.
Almost five decades later in Dharamsala, she would see charred scrolls and books encased in glass and thought that they were very possibly the very ones she had brought out of Tibet in those burlap boxes.