Thousands flock to see Dalai Lama in Indian state
By Zarir Hussain, AFP
November 10, 2009, 10:08 am TWN
TAWANG, India -- The Dalai Lama on Monday held a mass audience with tens of thousands of devotees on a "non-political" visit to a region near India's border with Tibet that has drawn shrill protests from China.
More than 30,000 people, many of whom arrived days in advance, packed into an open-air polo ground near the remote Tawang monastery in the northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh to hear the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
"Compassion and peace are the two words that should be remembered by all," the Dalai Lama said at the opening of three days of religious teaching.
China, which claims Arunachal as its own territory, has condemned the week-long visit and accused the Dalai Lama of seeking to stir up tensions in relations between New Delhi and Beijing.
On his arrival at Tawang on Sunday, the Dalai Lama dismissed China's complaints and rejected charges that he actively promotes anti-China unrest in his homeland.
"My visit to Tawang is non-political," the 74-year-old Nobel laureate told reporters.
"It is quite usual for China to step up campaigning against me wherever I go," he said. "It is totally baseless on the part of the Chinese communist government to say that I am encouraging a separatist movement."
His comments were splashed on the front pages of the Indian press and Arunachal state officials on Monday informally requested journalists to refrain from asking him questions for the remainder of the visit.
The Indian government had already barred foreign journalists from covering the event.
Tawang — 400 years old and the second-largest Tibetan monastery in India — holds strong memories for the Dalai Lama.
When he fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, Arunachal was his point of entry to India, and he took refuge in Tawang at the start of his decades in exile.
"There are a lot of emotions involved," he said on Sunday, referring to his journey into exile. "When I escaped from China in 1959, I was mentally and physically very weak.
"The Chinese did not pursue us in 1959, but when I reached India they started speaking against me."
It was not the Dalai Lama's first return visit to Tawang but the timing has caused Beijing to protest in a robust fashion.
Indo-Chinese tensions over their disputed Himalayan border — the trigger for a brief but bloody war in 1962 — have risen in recent months, with reports of troop movements and minor incursions on both sides.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh toured the state last month during an election campaign, prompting warnings from Beijing about harming bilateral ties.
The presence in the disputed region of the Dalai Lama, whom China regards as a renegade Tibetan separatist, is seen as a double insult.
China had accused the Dalai Lama and his exiled "clique" of helping to organize anti-China protests that erupted in the Tibetan capital Lhasa in March last year and spread across the Tibetan plateau.
Thousands of Buddhists turned out Sunday to welcome the Dalai Lama on his arrival at Tawang monastery, perched in the Himalayan foothills at 3,500 meters (11,400 feet).
"It was a lifetime experience to have seen the Dalai Lama from so close," said a young monk called Sherbu. "He waved back at us and I consider this to be a blessing for me and the people here."