Dawa Tsering, 56, cursed his mother for dragging him out on a freezing February morning in 1959 to see a bright young Tibetan man pass by his house with scores of followers. It didn’t take long for Dawa to know who the man was and why he had come from the land of the Gemi – a derogatory Monpa tribal term for the Chinese.
Dawa reached Tawang, 105 km southwest of his village Shok-Tsan, Saturday evening to catch a glimpse of the same man – the 14th Dalai Lama. He couldn’t, as the spiritual head of Mahayana Buddhism drove past in a silver-gray Toyota Fortuner with tinted glasses.
"My village by the river Ngamjang Chu is half a day’s walk from the Kentse Mani post (on the India-China border) from where he entered India fifty years ago," said Dawa, adding he would now have to stay back another day to see the Dalai Lama.
Tenzin Delek, 30, missed the Dalai Lama the last time he came here in 2003. So he trekked for three days from his village Mago near the border with Bhutan to the west. It didn’t matter for Tenzin that he couldn’t see the Dalai Lama meandering past a sea of humanity from the helipad 8 km downtown. "I know he saw me, and blessed my child from inside the car," said the man who had held his five-year-old son aloft as the SUV approached.
Dawa and Tenzin were among some 11,000 people including 500 Bhutanese who lined up the road from the helipad to the Gaden Namgyal Lhatse or Tawang Monastery. It was quite a spectacle for a 2,085 sq km district that has only 38,924 people.
For the local Monpa and Sherdukpen tribal people, the Dalai Lama's arrival was akin to attaining moksha. But for hundreds of Tibetan refugees living here and elsewhere in the Northeast, it was an emotional issue.
"Whenever we see him, we feel we are closer to the homeland the Chinese drove us away from," said 62-year-old Lhakpa Chokyi, a Tibetan refugee from Nagaland's capital Kohima. "I prayed for him - and our homeland - as he drove past."
As the Dalai Lama’s high-security motorcade comprising 30 vehicles passed through the town en route to the monastery, people chanted "om mani padme hum" – the sacred mantra of the Avaloketesvara. Hours before the civilian chopper landed around 10.30 am at the helipad 8 km downtown, the people lined up the street holding either a khada - traditional silk cloth - or a bunch of incense sticks.
The Dalai Lama drove straight to the 400-year old Tawang Monastery to first inaugurate the new museum building and the school library in the monastery campus. After the monks of the monastery welcomed him to the sacred hoots of the tunching, a five-foot long Monpa trumpet, he offered prayers in the dukhang or main prayer hall of the monastery.