Bitten by wanderlust at a young age, Bimal Dey has travelled the world, including the Arctic and Antarctica. But it's his journey across Tibet, from Gangtok to Lhasa and Mansarovar when he was a teenager, that holds a special place in his heart. The Last Time I Saw Tibet recounts his adventures during this trip in 1956: a time when Sikkim was not yet part of India, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama still ruled in Tibet although Chinese presence was marked, and Indians were not banned from travelling there.
Ordained as a Buddhist monk by his Guruji just before the start of the journey (only lamas can stay in monasteries), posing as one who had taken a vow of silence (he did not know enough Tibetan to convince the Chinese authorities), Dey trekked across the Nathu La pass, Chumbi valley and the Sangpo river along with an intrepid band of lamas, before reaching Lhasa, or Hla-Sa ('abode of the gods'), many months later. He visited the Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka, the summer palace, was witness to the grandeur of the Potala royal palace where the Dalai Lama resided, and even had an audience with His Holiness.
From Lhasa, the author trekked on his own to Kailashnath and Mansarovar, the holiest of pilgrimages for any Hindu. During his journey, he encountered the deep generosity of the local people, made friends among ascetics and mendicants, and the awe-inspiring majesty of the Himalayas brought with it a true understanding of spirituality and faith Many years later, in the eighties, the author would have the privilege of visiting Mansarovar twice, but he always hankered to travel alone across Tibet, a wish that was eventually granted by the Chinese authorities only at the cusp of the new millennium. This time he saw the ravages of the Chinese occupation in Lhasa, a slow decimation of the Tibetan culture across the countryside, which convinced him that ever more visitors is one way of keeping alive Tibet and its rich and unique traditions.
About the Author:
Bimal Dey was born in 1940 in Kolkata. He travelled to Tibet on foot in 1956, at the age of sixteen; this journey is the subject of his travelogue The Last Time I Saw Tibet. From 1967 to 1972, he undertook a 230,000 kilometre journey around the world on an ordinary bicycle. He has also been to the Arctic Circle and Antarctica a number of time.
A yoga teacher of repute, he lives in France and is associated with a number of social welfare projects in Africa and in India. Malobika Chaudhuri runs Mono Translation Bureau, a multilingual translation agency, in Kolkata, she has translated several novels of Saratchandra Chattopadhyay for Penguin.