The Dalai Lama has had an emotional reunion with the Indian border guard who escorted him as he fled his native Tibet following a failed uprising nearly 60 years ago.
The 81-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader, who has lived in exile ever since, was visibly emotional as he embraced the retired paramilitary guard on Sunday evening at the start of a visit to northeast India that has angered China.
The two men had not met since 1959 when the Buddhist monk fled his Himalayan homeland in fear of his life after China poured troops into the region to crush an uprising.
“Looking at your face, I now realise I must be very old too,” he told 79-year-old Naren Chandra Das at a ceremony in the northeastern city of Guwahati, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.
Das recalled how he was given orders not to speak to the young monk when he arrived in India after a 13-day trek through the Himalayas, disguised as a soldier to evade detection by Chinese troops.
“Our duty was only to guard and escort him during a part of his journey,” he said.
The Dalai Lama was in Guwahati en route to the remote Tawang monastery in the northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, where he first crossed into the country.
China, which claims Arunachal as its own territory and regards the Dalai Lama as bent on splitting Tibet from China, has condemned the planned visit. Beijing has said it could seriously damage the relationship with New Delhi.
On Sunday the Dalai Lama, who denies seeking Tibetan independence, recalled the warm welcome he received when he arrived and the Indian government offered him a base in the hill town of Dharamsala, where he was allowed to set up a government-in-exile.
“The days prior to my arrival in India were filled with tension and the only concern was safety, but I experienced freedom when I was received warmheartedly by the people and officials and a new chapter began in my life,” PTI quoted him as saying.
The Dalai Lama is scheduled to arrive in Arunachal Pradesh on Tuesday and will hold teachings at the Tawang monastery on Wednesday and Thursday.