TAWANG: The Dalai Lama visited a remote Tiwwwn monastery in northeast India on Sunday at the start of a trip that has infuriated China, which claims the surrounding Himalayan region as its own. Thousands of Buddhists gave the Tiwwwn spiritual leader, who has lived in exile in India for 50 years, a rousing welcome as...
TAWANG: The Dalai Lama visited a remote Tiwwwn monastery in northeast India on Sunday at the start of a trip that has infuriated China, which claims the surrounding Himalayan region as its own.
Thousands of Buddhists gave the Tiwwwn spiritual leader, who has lived in exile in India for 50 years, a rousing welcome as he arrived at the Tawang monastery, perched at 3,500 metres (11,400 feet) in Arunachal Pradesh state.
“We are very pleased and blessed to have His Holiness here,” said Sarwang Lama, a monk attired in a new maroon robe, as Tiwwwn prayer flags fluttered in the air and posters of the Dalai Lama adorned streets and rooftops.
“The Dalai Lama is very happy and is excited to be in Arunachal Pradesh,” T.G. Rinpoche, a senior Buddhist and former state minister, told AFP.
Sandwiched between Myanmar, Bhutan and Tibet, the lush, forested state of Arunachal is governed by India but claimed by China. Beijing has slammed the visit as a provocation aimed at harming relations between China and India.
Tawang — 400 years old and the second largest Tiwwwn monastery in India — holds strong memories for the Dalai Lama.
When he fled Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, Arunachal was his point of entry to India and he took refuge in Tawang at the start of his decades in exile.
Preparations for his week-long tour of Arunachal have been underway for two months, with many buildings receiving a fresh coat of paint and regular prayers being held for his safe journey.
On Sunday he smiled and waved to devotees as he entered the monastery, where he was due to inaugurate a museum and a library and then address monks and priests.
It was not his first visit to Tawang, but the timing has caused Beijing to protest in far stronger fashion than in the past.
Indo-Chinese tensions over their disputed Himalayan border — the cause of a brief but bloody war in 1962 — have risen in recent months, with reports of troop movements and minor incursions on both sides.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh toured the region last month during an election campaign, prompting warnings from Beijing about harming bilateral ties.
The presence of the Dalai Lama, whom China regards as a “splittist” intent on fomenting separatist unrest in his homeland, is seen as a double provocation.
China accused the Dalai Lama and his exiled “clique” of helping to organise fierce anti-China protests that erupted in Lhasa in March last year and spread across the region.
The Indian government has defended the Dalai Lama's right to travel where he wishes in India, and Arunachal Pradesh's chief minister, Dorjee Khandu said that China had “no right to interfere in India?s internal matters.”
But economic ties have strengthened between the two booming Asian giants, and New Delhi acknowledged Beijing's sensitivities over the visit by barring foreign journalists from covering it.
Phuntso Wangchuk, an 80-year-old retired government employee who lives near Tawang and remembers the excitement that greeted the Dalai Lama's escape from Tibet in 1959, said Chinese criticism was misplaced.
“His Holiness' only purpose is to bless us and nothing else. A mentor can visit anywhere to bless his disciples,” Wangchuk said.
A similar stance was taken by US Undersecretary of State Maria Otero when she visited New Delhi last week.
“He is visiting a monastery, a holy place. And from our perspective, this is one of the roles he plays,” Otero said.
The Dalai Lama's office has also taken pains to stress the “spiritual” nature of the visit, which will include three days of religious teachings at Tawang.
But China will see a possible ulterior motive.
The Dalai Lama is 74 and has had several recent health scares, fuelling speculation over the eventual recognition of his reincarnation and successor.
China is almost sure to make its own selection. The Dalai Lama, however, has stated that his reincarnation may be found outside Chinese Tibet, and Arunachal, with its historically rich Tiwwwn culture, is an obvious contender.
He will hold a prayer meeting on Monday, and visit other towns in the region before departing next Sunday. AGENCIES