Claro Cortes IV / Reuters A Tibetan Buddhist monk walks out of a room at Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet in this file photo taken August 11, 2002.

The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong

The Dalai Lama's Brother and the Struggle for Tibetan Freedom

The Fourteenth Dalai Lama and his brother, Gyalo Thondup, could scarcely be more different. But the ties that bind them are unbreakable. They are two sides of the same struggle for the survival of Tibet. In the politics of modern Tibet, only the Dalai Lama himself has been more important than Thondup. The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and of Buddhist believers everywhere, but for the last 60 years, Thondup has been at the at the heart of a more earthly epic struggle: protecting and advancing Tibet in the face of unreliable allies and devious rivals, playing an utterly determined and unique role in a Cold War high-altitude superpower rivalry. Thondup sees himself as an obedient, selfless, and loyal servant to the Dalai Lama and Tibet. But his work has been conducted in secret, out of the limelight, in the nitty-gritty of international politics and the violence of a clandestine war of resistance.


Of the five male siblings who lived to adulthood, Thondup was the only one not to become a monk. Instead, from the time his family moved to Lhasa in 1939—just after his brother Lhamo Thondup had been anointed as the Fourteenth Dalai Lama—he was groomed to serve his brother on matters of state. Then, in 1946, Thondup was sent to study in China at the behest of Reting Rinpoche, the regent who had been chosen to serve as head of state until the young Dalai Lama reached majority and who considered relations with China to be of immense importance and Tibetans’ knowledge of their giant neighbor to be weak. Chinese President Chiang Kai-shek became Gyalo Thondup’s sponsor.

When Chiang and his Nationalist Party lost the civil war to the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, China’s long latent threat to Tibet soon turned real. The Tibetan government was forced under duress to sign the Seventeen Point Agreement, which ceded Tibetan sovereignty to the recently established government of the People’s Republic. As parts

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