Dalai Lama draws huge crowds on visit slammed by China

Dalai Lama draws huge crowds on visit slammed by China

Tawang: Tens of thousands of Buddhist devotees gathered on Monday to hear the Dalai Lama on his visit to a Tibetan border region that he insists is ‘non-political but which China views as deeply provocative.

Some 30,000 people, many of whom had arrived days in advance, were expected to attend a mass session of religious teaching by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader at the remote Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh.

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.

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“My visit to Tawang is non-political," the 74-year-old Nobel laureate said.

“It is quite usual for China to step up campaigning against me wherever I go," he said adding: “It is totally baseless on the part of the Chinese communist government to say that I am encouraging a separatist movement."

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, looking back. “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," he said.

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 cause of 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 organise anti-China protests that erupted in the Tibetan capital Lhasa in March last year and spread across the Tibetan plateau.

Thousands of Buddhists gave the Tibetan spiritual leader, who has lived in exile in India for 50 years, a rousing welcome on his arrival at Tawang monastery, perched in the Himalayan foothills at 3,500 metres.

“It was a lifetime experience to have seen the Dalai Lama from so close," said a young monk called Sherbu on Sunday. “He waved back at us and I consider this to be a blessing for me and the people here," he said.

The Dalai Lama’s spiritual teachings are expected to last several days.