The Dalai Lama, who arrived in this strategic Indian border state on a much-watched visit on Sunday to a rousing welcome by hundreds of monks, rejected Beijing's charges that he was spearheading a separatist movement. He said he would never return to China until the Tibetans there were treated properly.
"It's quite usual for China to step up campaign against me wherever I go. It's totally baseless on the part of Chinese Communist government to say that I am encouraging a separatist movement," the Tibetan spiritual leader told journalists here after inaugurating a museum at the historic Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh state.
The Dalai Lama, a highly venerated religious figure with thousands of followers around the world, arrived at this picture-perfect town perched at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet, close to the Chinese border, on a weeklong visit.
"My visit to Tawang is non-political and aimed at promoting universal brotherhood and nothing else," the Dalai Lama stressed.
"Unless the Chinese government addresses the basic problems of the Tibetans in Tibet seriously, there is no question of my return (to China)," he said.
Beijing had opposed the Dalai Lama's visit to 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.
Asked about his stand on China's claims over Arunachal Pradesh, he said, "everybody knows the position and I have also made my stand very clear several times", implying that the state is an integral part of India that he has reiterated on earlier occasions.
"When I escaped China in 1959, I was mentally and physically very weak as I was down with dysentery," the spiritual leader recalled.
"Now I am very happy to be here in Tawang as there are lots of emotions involved. This is my fifth visit to Tawang."
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 didn't pursue us in 1959, but when I reached India they started speaking against me," the Buddhist leader said. "Today China is taking a very hard approach towards me and the people of Tibet."
"Tibetan Buddhism and culture is passing through a very difficult period. But there is hope of the religion and culture surviving in this 'free area' (outside Tibet), particularly in India. So there is lot of responsibilities for people here and in south India to keep the flag flying," he said.
Earlier, thousands of locals in traditional costumes and monks in maroon robes, waiting on either side of the eight-kilometre road leading from the helipad to the Tawang monastery, waved at the Dalai Lama as his motorcade snaked past them.
The spiritual leader looked jovial as he was seen waving back at the crowd.
At the monastery, about 800 monks, including scores of child monks, welcomed their leader amid chants of Buddhist hymns as the 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. Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and other high priests then led the spiritual leader inside the monastery.
Indian and Tibetan prayer flags fluttered, while life-size posters of the Dalai Lama adorned the streets of 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 told this IANS correspondent.
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 Nov 12, before leaving for state capital Itanagar Nov 14. The visit ends Nov 15.
A total of 140,000 Tibetans live in exile -- over 100,000 of them in India. Over six million Tibetans live in Tibet.