Charles Wheeler recalls the race to publish the story of the Dalai Lama's flight from Lhasa in March 1959.
Sunday 13 July 2008 at 1.30pm
In 1959 Charles Wheeler was the BBC’s South Asia correspondent. He covered the flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet and his arrival in India. Almost fifty years on, and in this year where world attention has once again been drawn to the land of snows, Charles brings together four other journalists who reported on this remarkable story, and they remember the events which for the first time fully focussed the world’s attention on Tibet.
Dalai Lama greets reporters in 1959.
In March 1959, reports filtered through of a Tibetan Uprising against occupying Chinese forces. When reports confirmed that the Tibetans’ spiritual leader had escaped Lhasa, a race ensued. Whilst Chinese soldiers scoured the Tibetan mountain passes in pursuit of the Dalai Lama, on the other side of the Himalayas impatient journalists raced to publish maps of his escape route.
On the 31st March The Reuters duo from Delhi, Peter Jackson and Adrienne Farrell, broke the story that the Dalai Lama had safely reached the Indian border. Jackson hired a plane and made his way North to the tea planters’ town of Tezpur, with Charles Wheeler and several other journalists on board. Elsewhere Peter Woon had been called off another story by his editor at the Daily Express, and cameraman Prem Prakash was despatched by the film agency Visnews. All four met in the foothills of the Himalayas
In hearing the stories of those who joined Charles Wheeler to cover the flight of the Dalai Lama, we travel back in time to a bygone age of jounalism. The excitement of being a correspondent in the 1950s, the technical obstacles which were overcome, and the influences shared seems quite remarkable today.