Zenden’s grandfather is Anen Dawala – he was the youngest personal bodyguard of His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the escape from Tibet in 1959, and is the only one alive today. We call him Pala (father). Pala was duly honored in Dharmasala this week with a personal audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama (“He continuously tapped my head fondly for a long time” said Pala), and was able to offer long life prayers and gratitude Tenshug to His Holiness.
In 1955 when he was 15 years, Pala joined the personal army of His Holiness at Norbulingka in Tibet, following his older brother’s footstep who was also a personal bodyguard. For the next 4 years, Pala escorted His Holiness on his schooling in Sera, Drepung and Gaden monasteries.
Then on the night of 17 March 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, aged 23, slipped out of Norbulingka (since his life was in danger from the Chinese) and began his escape to India, crossing some of Tibet’s most treacherous and rugged terrains on foot. Pala was one of the seven personal bodyguards along with the brave Chushi-Gangdruk volunteers on escort. Knowing His Holiness was finally safe in India on March 31, everyone decided to return back to Tibet to fight the invading Chinese army – but His Holiness picked Pala and another bodyguard to accompany him into India. Once they reached Mussoorie, His Holiness asked Pala to stay there and complete his education – which he faithfully did till he migrated to Minnesota. (In between, Pala did go to Boston for a coveted CIA training – which is a detail for later)
Pala is one of the most down-to earth and humble person I know. He leads a very simple life, and holds his role in the Tibetan movement extremely sacred and personal – of courage, patriotism, sacrifices, honor and loyalty. I've been extremely fortunate and blessed to have spent years listening to his stories and adventures from Tibet. He’s my father-in-law and my Pala. We remain forever indebted to elders like him for their contribution to Tibet – its history and its people.
Pala's interview on Voice of Tibet (16:30): his voice cracks explaining that he's the last one and how he had hoped to meet and reunite with the others.