National Geographic : 1955 Jul
My Life in Forbidden Lhasa fell from the tip of an obelisk commemorat ing a historic victory. Tibetans said they could not expect a more precise warning from the gods. Pilgrims limped into the holy city from distant provinces. Lhasans erected new prayer wheels and flags. Sacrificial fires flickered on mountain peaks. On August 15, 1950, I visited a friend's home in the evening. Guests encircled the gaming table. The dice rattled softly, but no one laughed or shouted "Tsack!" when he took his turn (page 30). Suddenly an earthquake shook the house. I counted 40 muffled detonations. That night an Indian newscaster reported titanic earth slides in Assam, but several weeks passed before Lhasa learned of the devastation in eastern Tibet.* Country Prepares for Defense Lhasans were beside themselves with fright. It was rumored that the State Oracle was going through trance after trance in greatest secrecy and that all of his prophecies were discouraging. To arm itself for possible war, the land of lamas prepared both guns and amulets. Tibet is an intensely nationalistic country, and there was a surge of patriotic enthusiasm. A musi cian composed a new national anthem to re place "God Save the Queen," a tune imported from India many decades ago on the assump tion that it was played everywhere on official occasions. Cries echoed in Lhasa: "Give the Dalai Lama the power!" The movement to shift control of Tibet's destiny from the old Regent caused the 15 year-old Dalai Lama to pace the floor. He had not dreamed that he might be invested before his 18th birthday, and did not con sider himself ready to fulfill his destiny as Tibet's absolute ruler. His fate was decided on October 7, 1950. Chinese Communist soldiers marched across the border. Grim-faced abbots and senior statesmen summoned all the major oracles.t The Dalai Lama witnessed violent scenes in the peace ful, autumn-tinted grounds of the Jewel Park. * See "Caught in the Assam-Tibet Earthquake," by F. Kingdon-Ward, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, March, 1952. t See "Sungmas, the Living Oracles of the Tibetan Church," by Joseph F. Rock, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1935. The State Oracle sat motionless, his head buried in his hands. Incense clouded and scented the air. There was a din: the hollow, rumbling rhythm of drumbeats and the thin whine of oboes. Now his face could be seen. The Oracle's features, in repose those of a handsome young man, grew rigid and waxen. Life seemed to be draining from his body. Then abruptly the Oracle jumped. He be gan to quiver, more and more violently, and hissing sounds escaped from his throat. At tendants heaved a towering 50-pound head dress into position. Despite its weight, his head tossed to and fro. Now he sprang up, his features twisted out of recognition. His face became purple and splotched. Sweat glistered on his brow. As the discordant music reached a furious pitch, he spun about on one leg, faster and faster, hammering a giant ring against his metal breastplate-until finally he threw him self at the Dalai Lama's feet and gasped, "Make him King!" Salute of the Tongue Means "At Your Service" A Tibetan greets one of higher position with pro truding tongue and hissing intake of breath. Here the extended tongue shows respect; sucking gasps indicate a desire not to defile the air. The youngster's cropped hair denotes monkhood.