Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is scheduled to reach Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang, which China claims as its own and wants desperately enough to offer a swap for Aksai Chin, on Friday afternoon.
The exiled leader was to have reached Tawang by chopper from Guwahati on April 4, but bad weather forced him to take the 550 km road from Guwahati.
His first stop was Bomdila, the headquarters of Arunachal Pradesh’s West Kameng district, from where the Chinese soldiers began retreating after the 1962 war. After a day of delivering sermon in Bomdila, he spent two days at Dirang, about 40 km north, where he consecrated the Thupsing Dhargye monastery.
“His Holiness left Dirang in the morning (Friday), and though the drive to Tawang takes five hours, he is likely to take longer as people are eager to meet him on the way,” said an officer of the West Kameng district administration.
State police and paramilitary personnel are keeping vigil along the 140-km stretch between Dirang and Tawang, particularly at Sela (13,700 feet) en route. A 30-km stretch at Sela is partly snow-covered, wet because of melting snow, muddy and slippery.
“A series of religious discourses by the Dalai Lama begins on Saturday. He will stay at the Tawang monastery for four nights before leaving on April 11,” Sang Phuntso, the deputy commissioner of Tawang district, told HT.
Security has been strengthened around the monastery, the Yid-Ga-Choezin ground where the spiritual leader will deliver his sermon. The town of some 11,200 people otherwise has only one police station with 15 personnel at most.
The 336-year-old Tawang monastery is the largest monastery in India and second largest in the world after the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.
Perched on a cliff at 10,000 feet, Tawang monastery is known in Tibetan as Tawang Gaden Namgyal Lhatse that means a “celestial paradise chosen by the horse”. It belongs to the Gelugpa school of Mahayana Buddhism and had a religious connection with Lhasa’s Drepung Monastery that continued during the British rule.
Beijing refers to this connection to claim Tawang as part of China after invading and taking over Tibet in 1950. The Dalai Lama was compelled to flee Lhasa in 1959 and cross over to India by foot via the Tawang sector.
Tawang monastery, though, has been in focus more for political reasons than spiritual. Monks of the monastery are allegedly divided into pro-dam and anti-dam groups.
A young lama was killed on May 2 last year after police fired at anti-dam protestors who laid siege to the Tawang police station where a senior monk, Lobsang Gyatso, had been detained for allegedly inciting unrest in the district.
The Save Mon Region Forum, a group that Gyatso heads, wants several big dams in the district to be scrapped. They include one that is feared to destroy the nesting ground of the black-necked crane, considered sacred by the Buddhists.