Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who arrived in Arunachal Pradesh on Sunday to a rousing reception by hundreds of monks, rejected Chinese claims that he was spearheading a separatist movement and said his visit to the northeastern state was non-political.
"It is quite usual for China to step up campaign against me wherever I go. It is totally baseless on the part of the Chinese Communist government to say that I am encouraging a separatist movement," the Dalai Lama told journalists at the Tawang monastery after inaugurating a museum.
The spiritual leader of the Tibetans, who has thousands of followers around the world arrived at this picture-pretty town perched at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet, close Chinese border, on a weeklong visit.
"My visit to Tawang is non-political and aimed at promoting universal brotherhood and nothing else," he stressed.
"I am very happy to be here in Tawang as there are lots of emotions involved. When I escaped from China in 1959, I was mentally and physically very weak as I was down with dysentery," he said.
It was through Tawang, a revered seat of Buddhism, that the Dalai Lama escaped the Chinese to enter India where he set up base in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh.
Tawang is also spiritually important for the Tibetans as the sixth Dalai Lama was born in the 17th century at the Urgelling Monastery near here.
"The Chinese did not pursue us in 1959 but when I reached India, they started speaking against me. I am always surprised (by Chinese reactions)," the Dalai Lama said.
"Tibetan Buddhism and culture is passing through a very difficult period. But there is a hope of the religion and culture surviving in this free area, particularly in India. So there is lot of responsibility for people here and in south India to keep the flag flying," he added.
Thousands of locals in traditional costumes and monks attired in their maroon robes, waiting on either side of the eight-kilometre road leading from the helipad to the Tawang monastery, waved at a beaming Dalai Lama as his motorcade snaked through the hilly terrain.
The highly revered spiritual leader looked jovial as he was seen waving back at the crowd.
At the monastery, about 800 monks, including scores of child monks, gave the Dalai Lama a religious welcome amid chants of Buddhist hymns as a strong smell of burning incense wafted through the air.
Giant gongs were played by monks, while monastery priests prostrated as the Dalai Lama alighted from the vehicle. Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and other high priests then led the spiritual leader inside the monastery.
Indian and Tibetan prayer flags fluttered, while banners and life-size posters of the Dalai Lama adorned the streets of the Tawang, home to about 35,000 people.
"It was a lifetime experience to have seen the Dalai Lama from so close. He waved back at us and I consider this to be a blessing for me and the people here," an excited child monk who identified himself as Sherbu said.
The Dalai Lama will hold a prayer session at a school playground near the monastery Monday. He would then visit the adjoining town of Bomdilla and Dirang November 12, before leaving for state capital Itanagar November 14. The visit ends November 15.
China has raked up a controversy by asking India not to allow the Tibetan spiritual leader to visit Arunachal Pradesh, as it lays claim on the territory.
India and China fought a border war in 1962, with Chinese troops advancing deep into Arunachal Pradesh and inflicting heavy casualties on Indian troops. China has never recognised the 1914 McMahon Line agreed between the British and the then Tibetan rulers
and claims 90,000 sq km of territory, that includes nearly all of Arunachal Pradesh.
A total of 140,000 Tibetans live in exile -- over 100,000 of them in India. Over six million Tibetans live in Tibet.