© Shakti Maipa
© Shakti Maipa

In January of 2000, Ugyen Trinley Dorje, the fifteen-year-old head of the Karma-Kagyu lineage, engineered a daring escape from Chinese-controlled Tibet. Two years later, a determined journalist manages to interview him.

Delhi, September 8, 2001

It’s dusk in Delhi. I stand with a group of excited women, the outsider at a gathering of friends. Drawn by the scent of a good story, I am here to try to interview His Holiness the seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa.

My hasty preparation for the anticipated interview has thrown up a host of facts—sectarian conflicts threatening the fragile Tibetan community struggling to survive in exile; the two rival Karmapas supported by a slew of prominent Karma Kagyu Rinpoches; Ugyen Trinley Dorje’s dramatic flight from Tibet in early 2000; and the Dalai Lama’s recognition of him as the Karmapa, which has granted the seventeen-year-old a measure of legitimacy. And yet, the Karmapa’s throne at Rumtek lies vacant.

Blaring sirens pierce my reverie. He’s here! The women around me hastily light the clay diyas(oil lamps) in a traditional Indian gesture of welcome. Escort cars screech to a halt. And then—confusion. Burly gun-toting guards push everyone aside as a lanky, young maroon-robed monk steps out. It’s dark. In the light of the flickering diyas, I catch a glimpse of a fresh-faced youth, tired but composed. He is quickly hustled inside. The throng follows. I watch as the diyas flicker out, then turn to go within.

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