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China's chosen Lama readies for monastery

His name is on the lips of the ruddy-cheeked monks, the anxious hotel owners and the intrepid tourists who make their way to this isolated and starkly beautiful town in the mountains of Gansu Province: will he come to Xiahe, as unverified reports suggest, and how long will he stay?

world Updated: Aug 08, 2011 00:05 IST

His name is on the lips of the ruddy-cheeked monks, the anxious hotel owners and the intrepid tourists who make their way to this isolated and starkly beautiful town in the mountains of Gansu Province: will he come to Xiahe, as unverified reports suggest, and how long will he stay?

"He" is China's handpicked Panchen Lama, the second-most important religious figure in Tibetan Buddhism, and despite his formidable rank, his presence is not universally welcomed by the faithful in and around the white-wall Labrang Monastery that sprawls into a cavernous valley here.

In recent weeks, as word has spread that he might be coming to study at the monastery, emotions have spiked, as have the numbers of police officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes, hoping to head off trouble in a place where ethnic Tibetans have been unafraid to express their enmity toward Chinese rule.

"Nobody wants him to come, and yet still he will come," said one 26-year-old monk. "We feel powerless." The main problem is that this Panchen Lama, 21, is one of two young men with claims to the title. The one chosen by Communist Party officials in 1995, named Gyaltsen Norbu at birth, is often referred to by local residents, as the "Chinese Panchen Lama".

The other is Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who would now be 22, a herder's son who was anointed that same year by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader.

Most Tibetans are still loyal to the memory of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, even if he has been missing since Chinese authorities swept him and his family into "protective custody" more than 16 years ago.

"We just hope he is still alive," said Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan essayist. In recent years, the Communist Party has tried other means to raise Panchem Lama's profile. They named him vice-president of the state-run Buddhist association. But so far most of his public statements have left Tibetans unimpressed.

First Published: Aug 08, 2011 00:04 IST