Meet the havildar who received Dalai Lama 58 years back

GUWAHATI: When the Dalai Lama met havildar (retd) Naren Chandra Das of 5 Assam Rifles, the last known survivor of the group of seven Indian personnel which received him on Indian soil, first time in 58 years since his daring escape from Tibet, he fell silent, held him tight, close to his heart, and wiped his eyes.

The rare scene was witnessed at Guwahati on Sunday when the Assam Rifles gave the Tibetan leader this beautiful moment of meeting the man who was part of the team to escort him safely inside India on the afternoon of March 31, 1959.

Seventy-nine years Das of Balipara in Sonitpur district in Assam, who was a rifleman then recollects how he and his four colleagues led by their section commander were ordered to move to the international border to receive a special guest and bring him to India safely.

His frail body now due to the old age did not go unnoticed from the Dalai Lama's eyes. When delivering his speech, the Dalai lama said, "Looking at the old soldier who brought me from the border safely, I realize that I too have become old now. Dalai Lama was 23 and Das was 22 when they met for the first time on the McMohan line that marks India's northern limit.

"I was posted at Lumla post as a member of 9 platoon of 5 Assam Rifles, much away from the border. One night we were woken up by the subedar at around 3 am and told to hurriedly prepare and have our breakfast and pack our lunch. Six of us rifleman led by our section commander Naik Debu Singh Gurung to go to Shakti," Das said.

"There were no roads, no vehicles and not even radio signals. We covered the distance to Shakti in one day on foot. We were armed with 303 rifles. It would usually take two days to cover this distance. On March 31, we started on our return journey to Lumla, escorting the Dalai Lama and his 20 bodyguards. We started at around 6 am and reached Lumla by about 4 in the afternoon. We ran all the way to keep pace the Dalai Lama on horseback...we were young and could manage it," Das said.

Das remembers that the Dalai Lama spent his first night at the IB at Lumla where he accorded a grand reception by the government officials. "Next morning another team of Assam Rifles escorted him and his bodyguards to Tawang. I am not aware of what happened after that," Das said. He added that thousand other Tibetans had entered India from further north, through Bumla.

Das said, then here were no Chinese in the area across the border. "It was Tibet then and China's border were further north and not with India but with Tibet."

Three years later Chinese attacked India through the same area that Dalai Lama had chosen to enter India but then das wasn't there. "Just before the war started, I had taken my first leave after three years of service. I wanted to go back but I was given some other job away from the battlefield," Das.

But, two members of the famous group, who fought the 1962 war with China attained martyrdom. "our section commander Subedar Debu Singh Gurung and rifleman Sher Bahadur Bhujal died in the war. Two others, Bhim Bhadaur Chetri and Mukeshwar Rai returned to Nepal after retirement and I dont know if they are dead or alive. There was another Assamese rifleman in the group, Hema kanta Kachari and died of illness after retirement," Das said.

"We were armed with 303 rifle and we escorted him on foot. He was on horseback. There were no Chinese because that time India's immediate neighbour was Tibet and not China," Das told TOI here on Sunday when he came to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader
 

 

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