Commissioned by GEO magazine. I travelled across parts of Tibet from Lhasa to Tashilumpo Monastery, to Gyanse in search of the story behind the mystery surrounding the whereabouts of the 10th Panchen Lama.
Monastic figures had historically held important roles in the social and political makeup of Tibet, and though these roles have diminished since 1959, many Tibetans continue to regard the Panchen Lama as a significant political, as well as spiritual figure due to the role he traditionally plays in selecting the next Dalai Lama. The political significance of the role is also utilized by the Chinese state. Tibet support groups have argued that the Chinese government seeks to install its own choice of Dalai Lama when Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, dies and that for this reason the Dalai Lama's choice of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima went missing at the age of six, to be replaced by the Chinese state's choice, Gyancain Norbu. If this tactic is accurate, the announcement made by the Dalai Lama in March 2011 that he will step down from his political role may result in a change of policy regarding the two disputed candidates.