No one is talking China in this town Beijing is obsessed with.
But Indian and Tibetan ‘national’ flags hanging from decorative daryangs around the Tawang Monastery make a silent political statement on the eve of the 14th Dalai Lama’s visit here on Sunday.
Daryangs, staple in Buddhist domains, are small multi-coloured flags hung in a row from a string to ensure prosperity, safety and good luck.
And the 400-year-old Gaden Namgyal Lhatse, Tawang Monastery to the world beyond, is at the centre of China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh.
“No one will be allowed to politicise the Dalai Lama’s visit, and whatever China says vis-à-vis our state is for the Government of India to handle,” said Dorjee Khandu, the frontier state’s chief minister, while inspecting the arrangements at the monastery and the rest of the town at 10,000 ft.
“If we cannot raise the issue of our homeland that China has grabbed, we can always pray and hope for a free Tibet silently,” said Tenzing Dolma, a Tibetan exile dealing in readymade garments in Nagaland’s capital Kohima.
This is not the Dalai Lama’s first official visit to Tawang. He was here in 1983, 1999 and
2003 in relative obscurity and without China making much noise.
He had, of course, stayed in Tawang for a couple of days while escaping from Tibet in 1959, the year China annexed the land under Lhasa’s jurisdiction.
The Indian and Tibetan flags, though, have made their maiden entry in the monastery, as has an AC in the chamber where the Dalai Lama will stay for four days.
Tulku Rinpoche, head priest of the monastery, defends the Indian and Tibetan flags.
“What the Dalai Lama is coming here for is strictly spiritual (three days of discourse at the Yid-Gha-Choezin ground), but is also the head of the Tibetan nation and the honoured guest of our country. None other than our Prime Minister has said so,” he said.
For the local Monpas, who comprise the bulk of 38,924 people in the 2,085 sq km Tawang district occupying the northwest corner of Arunachal Pradesh, Tibet is no issue at all. What matters, as schoolteacher Pema Yangchin puts it, is that “our living God is descending upon this blessed land”.
Almost the entire town —from schoolchildren to centurions — has gone into the facelift groove, sweeping the roads clean, painting the outer edifice of their buildings and lining up the street from the helipad (8 km south of the town) to the monastery with religious flags.
The monastery complex has also had a makeover for the spiritual head of Mahayana Buddhism.
Fresh yellow and white reflect from the adjoining quarters housing some 500 lamas from eight-year old Thinley Dorjee to Langad Tsering, probably the oldest at 75. The 300-year old kanjiri, made of solid gold, atop the monastery has been freshly polished, while the jashko or main entrance to the monastery has been rebuilt.