Dawa Tsering was annoyed with his mother for dragging him out on a freezing February morning in 1959 to see a young Tibetan teacher pass by their house with scores of followers.
The man had come from the land of the Gemi — a derogatory Monpa tribe term for the Chinese. Fifty years on, Dawa, now 56 years old, reached Tawang, 105 km southwest of his village Shok-Tsan on Saturday to catch a glimpse of the same man — the 14th Dalai Lama.
But Saturday was not his lucky day, as the spiritual head of Mahayana Buddhism drove past in a silver-grey 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 (the Dalai Lama) entered India 50 years ago,” said Dawa, adding he would wait another day to see him.
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 to Tenzin that he could not see the Dalai Lama — meandering past a sea of humanity from the helipad 8 km down town.
“I know he saw me, and blessed my child from inside the car,” said Tenzin, 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 Galden 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 hundreds of Tibetan refugees living here and elsewhere in the northeast, his arrival was a reminder of their loss.
As the Dalai Lama’s motorcade drove through the town on its way to the 400-year-old monastery, people chanted om mani padme hum — the sacred mantra of the Avalokitesvara.