Dalhi Lama during a press conference. Taken during 50th anniversary of his exile.

Story Behind the Shot: The Dalai Lama’s 50th Anniversary of Exhile from Tibet

Posted on March 11, 2015

This is a very special Story Behind the Shot for me. I have a knack when I’m traveling of finding myself in unique or fantastic situations, and this one may top them all for me.

Six years ago I spent a little over three months roaming around Nepal and India. Towards the end of my trip I was planning on heading into the Himalayas to Dharamsala, the town in which the Dalai Lama lives. I read he would be leading a teaching during my visit, and was excited to be there to see him speak at his home. I just finished riding camels around the desert along the boarder of Pakistan and India for a few days and was looking forward to getting out of the 110 degree (44c) heat and into the mountains (my natural habitat). I ended up going to Dharamsala a few days before I originally planned to, and it’s a good thing I did. Once I arrived in this city of just under 20,000, mostly populated by monks and Tibetan exiles, I learned that not only was there a teaching, but it was about to be the 50th Anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exile from Tibet. Two days after I arrived roughly 75,000 people descended on the town for the following weeks events.

A lot of the new arrivals were press or Buddhist pilgrims. Everyone from CNN to National Geographic had boots on the ground to report on this historic event. I have no press credentials and at the time had very little professional experience as a photographer, but this didn’t stop me from trying to get a press pass. If you didn’t have one, they wouldn’t even let you bring a phone that had a camera on it into the grounds. For me, someone physically attached to his camera, a press pass was the only option. I was hanging out with a rag tag group of independent journalists that were sent by newspapers and magazines from Japan, Canada and Spain along with a few documentary film makers. When they went to get the passes that were waiting for them, I made my first attempt at getting one and was shot down immediately. This didn’t mean I was going to give up. For the next three days I’m sure my butt made an indentation in the seat in the press office of the Dalai Lama. Eventually, the day before the big event started, a kind secretary took mercy on me, butted in front of some reporters getting their passes and refused to leave her bosses office until they gave me a press pass. I am still eternally indebted to her for making this amazing few days of my life possible!


The following days were full of press conferences (the first I ever attended) and speeches by the Dalai Lama. After the his main speech over 50,000 people gathered in the streets for demonstrations. This was the most substantial piece of history I have ever been present for, and at one point I teared up in the middle of the streets when the reality of the enormity of the event hit me.

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Today is the sixth anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exile so it only seemed fitting that I share this story with you today instead of the usual Tip and Trick. Since I am not a journalist or press photographer, it is unlikely I will have an opportunity like this in the future, but am forever grateful for the experience I did have.


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