The map to Shambhala, the mythical kingdom guaranteeing eternal youth, is said to be buried somewhere under Galden Namgyal Lhatse — Tawang Monastery to the rest of the world.
Local legend has it that this chart was the primary reason why the then Chinese premier Chou En-lai ordered his army to take Tawang, in Arunachal Pradesh’s northwest, in October 1962.
The young Buddhist teacher fleeing persecution by marauding Chinese soldiers had no such quest when he left Lhasa, Tibet’s capital 512 km to the northeast, three years earlier. He waded through snow to enter India near Zemithang (93 km northwest of Tawang bordering Bhutan and China) and spent two nights here before proceeding southwards to the mainland.
Fifty years after that historic journey, the 14th Dalai Lama isn’t likely to retrace his escape route during his scheduled visit to Tawang next month. But he will do what he could not during his first, forced visit in 1959 — live in the monastery for at least three days.
Some 400 lamas of this monastery are understandably elated. “I can’t wait to see him again here,” said 72-year-old Chogumbu Lama, in charge of the monastery’s museum. He was one of the many Buddhist Monpa inhabitants of Tawang who saw the Dalai Lama off at Komkang, 4 km south, in 1959.
The lamas had a week ago organised a special kurum (prayer) for three days to sanctify the 328-year-old monastery ahead of the Dalai Lama’s visit.
Old logs in the lamas’ living quarters are being replaced. The complex atop a ridge overlooking Tawang Valley is being given a fresh coat of paint while new shoms — holy cloth — have been draped around the main prayer hall called Dukhang.
The sitting and living rooms for the Dalai Lama atop the Dukhang have also been spruced up.
“We don’t understand why some country is making so much noise about the visit of his holiness,” Lobsang Thapke, secretary of Tawang Monastery Society, told HT.
“It’s not the first time that he’s coming to Arunachal Pradesh. He was here in 1997 to inaugurate the renovated Dukhang and again in 2003. He is coming for religious discourses and not for anti-China politicking.”
District authorities are also preparing to lay out the red carpet for the Dalai Lama. “He is entitled to VVIP treatment, but we are waiting for official confirmation of his visit,” said Tawang Deputy Commissioner Gamli Padu.
Locals like Pema Yanchin, history teacher at the nearby Seru Middle School, are happy that New Delhi has told Beijing to “mind its own business” vis-à-vis the Dalai Lama. “He is our spiritual head, and those who don’t believe in religion should keep their mouths shut,” she said.
They are waiting for the day their First Leader arrives at the Last Shangrila, the sobriquet Tawang carries.