In the fall of 1923, a peculiar sage-looking European appeared in Darjeeling in the northernmost part of India near the Tibetan border. A plump man with a round face and a small Mongol-styled beard, he moved and talked like a high dignitary. He announced that he was a painter, and, indeed, from time to time people could see him here and there with a sketchbook, drawing local landscapes.
Yet, even for an eccentric painter, he acted strangely. To begin with, he argued that he was an American, although he spoke English with a heavy Slavic accent. He also demonstrated a deep interest in Tibetan Buddhism, particularly in the Maitreya and Shambhala legends, which was not unusual—except that the painter had a ceremonial Dalai Lama robe made for himself and donned it occasionally, hinting he was the reincarnated fifth Dalai Lama, the famous reformer in early modern Tibet. His behavior raised the eyebrows of local authorities who passed this information along to the British intelligence service.… Read the rest