The Dalai Lama has come face to face with an Indian soldier who guarded him almost 60 years ago as he fled from Tibet to exile in India.
The Tibetan spiritual leader, 81, met Naren Chandra Das, 79, as he paid a visit to northeast India.
“Looking at your face, I now realise I must be very old too,” he said.
He first met the guard in 1959 after a gruelling two-week trek across the mountains from Lhasa, after a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.
Disguised as a soldier, the Dalai Lama made his way with a small entourage to the border, having received assurances of Indian help.
Mr Das, a retired member of the Assam Rifles, said: “Guards of the Assam Rifles Platoon No 9 had brought the Dalai Lama from Zuthangbo and handed him over to five of us at Shakti [in Arunachal Pradesh, which borders China and Bhutan].
“We brought him to Lungla from where he was escorted on his onward journey to Tawang by another group of guards,” he said.
Troops had not been allowed to talk to the Tibetan spiritual leader. “Our duty was only to guard and escort him during his journey,” he said.
The Dalai Lama thanked the former soldier, saying he was “very, very happy” to meet part of the team that escorted him to safety inside India.
After his escape, he stayed briefly at the Tawang monastery, before settling in Dharamsala, in the north of the country, which is now home to the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Later this week he will visit the monastery to deliver teachings.
His visit has angered China, which maintains that Arunachal Pradesh is part of its territory.
Ahead of the visit, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman urged India to “avoid taking any actions that would further complicate the border issue, [and to] not provide a platform for the 14th Dalai clique’s separatist activities”.
The Dalai Lama, meanwhile, said on Saturday that returning to the northeast of India felt “like a reunion”.
“When I revisit the Tawang area, I am reminded of the freedom that I had experienced for the first time [in 1959]. That was the beginning of a new chapter in my life,” the Associated Press news agency quoted him as saying.