The Dalai Lama has “saved” a cafe facing the threat of closure – nearly 20 years after he inspired its Tibetan owner to set up the business.
Mother-of-two Reka Gawa, 39, was brought up in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas by refugees who fled the Chinese Communist invasion in the 1950s.
She moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, when she was 13 and eventually settled in Scotland when she was 22.
While she was working as a waitress at the Scottish Parliament in 2004, she met the Dalai Lama.
The encounter was a “dream come true” and the spiritual leader, who lives in exile from Tibet, encouraged her to promote the values of her ancestors in her adopted country.
Reka, who says Scotland reminds her of the landscape of Tibet, opened the Himalaya Cafe in Newington, Edinburgh, three years later.
When the landlord of the South Clerk Street premises decided to sell up ahead of retiring, she was offered first refusal on the site two weeks ago but had to rely on the generosity of others to meet the cost, or face the prospect of closing.
Her family in India loaned her some cash, she got a bank loan but still faced raising £45,000 to buy the rented unit.
After the intervention of the Dalai Lama, who gave the cafe his blessing, she has raised nearly £50,000, using the excess to reduce the amount she will borrow from the bank.
Reka said: “China doesn’t allow Tibetans to travel there, especially if they live in the West and you are politically active, which I am.
“At the cafe, I can express myself, I can put up a Tibetan flag and nobody bothers me.
“Scotland reminds me of Tibet, with the mountains and scenery and the people.”
Some 17 years ago, Reka was invited by then Presiding Officer Sir George Reid to meet the highest spiritual leader of the East Asian region.
She said: “He knew I was Tibetan and he was very interested in the Tibetan cause, so he asked if I would like to meet him.
“I told him that would be my dream come true.
“I was so nervous and I felt very emotional at the same time.
“The Dalai Lama asked me a few questions, like how long had I lived in Scotland and which part of Tibet my parents came from.
“Then he mentioned to me that, being a Tibetan, it is very important to promote your culture here now that you live in Scotland and promote Tibetan values, like compassion and helping those in need.
“That meeting really changed my life completely and after that I thought, I really need to do something to follow his advice.”
The business provides space for meditation, study and yoga as well as food and drink.
Sonam Tsering Frasi, representative of the Dalai Lama in northern Europe, Baltic states and Poland, said the spiritual leader knew of the café and Reka’s work to promote Tibetan culture.
He added: “I appreciate it very much that Reka has been promoting Tibetan culture in Scotland for many years and would like to see her cafe business uninterrupted, providing the taste of Tibetan food and tranquillity to the Scots in Edinburgh.”