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Dalai Lama brother’s noodle factory gutted in Kalimpong

1929 born Gyalo Thondup, the elder brother of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, started the noodle factory in 1966-1967 in Kalimpong, after he fled Tibet in 1952

Nisha Chettri | Kalimpong |

A historic noodle factory in Kalimpong, owned by Gyalo Thondup, 90, the elder brother of Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was gutted in a fire on Saturday night. While no one was injured, officials said on Sunday the cause of the fire was yet to be ascertained.

Mr Thondup, who was born in 1929, shared the history of the noodle factory that he started in 1966-1967 in Kalimpong, after he fled Tibet in 1952. Mr Thondup had entered India and travelled to Darjeeling then. As a job was hard to land, the family had to start earning in order make a living and meet the school expenses of their children.

During his initial years in India, an official of the Indian government in Sikkim asked Mr Thondup to start some business to make a living, he shared. He said he did not have any business idea, but the Indian government supported him by offering him an import licence. It was then that Mr Thondup thought of coming to Kalimpong to understand the business from his friends who had such background here.

“What kind of business would I do with an import licence? They suggested many things. Among the suggestions, I agreed to import Scotch whiskey and French brandy and export it to Tibet, which I did for quite many years,” said Mr Thondup.

He then wanted land in India to settle down and make noodles, which he had already discussed with his wife. Mr Thondup recalled how someone from Rajasthan, who had a tea shop in Darjeeling, asked him if he wanted to buy land in Kalimpong, to which he said yes and came to check some plots here around the year 1963. According to him, the plots were very expensive and the cheapest he found was worth Rs 50,000.

The land which he occupies at present is near St Philomena’s School at 8th Mile. He had “luckily” found it and purchased it for Rs 7,200. “The construction was completed in 1965-1966 and ever since had been making noodles there,” Mr Thondup said.

“My family survived on this business, as I don’t depend on any other business. It is a small business, and we don’t make a lot of money, but it is sufficient to foot our bills. I had managed it over the past 50 years, but last night it caught fire, and I feel very sad about it,” Mr Thondup said on Sunday.

“This noodle maker is a complicated man, as I have worked with the Chinese, Indian, American, and Russian governments, but did not take any money from them. I have been working till the age of 90 only to realise that the factory is no more. Do you think that I will be able to recover my noodle factory? Because I think it is possible but I know it will take some time,” he added.