Revealed: Dalai Lama’s love for Highlands

The Dalai Lama visited Scotland in June of this year. Picture: Esme Allen
The Dalai Lama visited Scotland in June of this year. Picture: Esme Allen
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HIS spiritual home may be in Tibet, but it seems the Dalai Lama’s heart is in the Highlands.

A documentary due to be broadcast this week reveals that the exiled leader of Tibet requested to visit northern Scotland this year because of his love of the countryside and bagpipes.

His Holiness spent three days in Scotland in June, 
visiting Edinburgh, Dundee and finally Inverness, where the 77-year-old performed a rousing version of Auld Lang Syne with a group of schoolchildren.

It was his fifth visit to the country, but the first time he had made it out of the Central Belt.

Thubten Samdup, representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at The Office of Tibet, said: “He indicated interest in seeing the northern parts of Scotland because he feels there’s some special 
connection I believe between Tibet and Scotland.

“The 13th Dalai Lama [who Tibetans believe the current Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of] had a small Tibetan military band, even though we didn’t have a military, and some Scottish people came and taught them some bagpipe-playing.”

The Tibetan military band was formed in 1914 and included bagpipes and drums. They were trained by British soldiers who were in the region at the time.

“The Dalai Lama had always wanted to come to the Highlands, partly because of the idea of it being a more 
remote upland area,” said Elly Welch, director of the BBC Alba documentary.

“There are cultural similarities between Scotland and 
Tibet, with lost or suppressed language and identity that 
are very pertinent in the 
Highlands, as well as that 
wilderness aspect.

“He’s a man who has been exiled from his own wild upland homeland.

“It was this romantic urge to come north – and, finally, this time his dream came true.”

In his autobiography, the Dalai Lama wrote about how he only had two gramophone records as a child living in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, one of which was Auld Lang Syne. Consequently he learnt the words to the old Scottish song.

The Tibetan spiritual leader’s visit caused controversy when no Scottish Government minister met him during his time in the country, leading 
to claims from the SNP’s opponents that Alex Salmond and his ministers had deliberately dodged meetings in an attempt to stay on good terms with China, with whom Scotland has strong trade links.

The Dalai Lama insisted at the time he was not offended by the snub, saying: “Scotland belongs to Scottish people, not these [political] parties.”

The Dalai Lama has lived 
in exile in Dharamsala in northern India since 1959.

He passed the political 
leadership of exiled Tibetans on to an elected prime minister last year but remains the spiritual leader of the Tibetan community.