FIFTY-EIGHT years after he crossed the China border, 65 km to the north from here, to seek political asylum in India — and eight years after his last visit — Tawang is dressing up to welcome His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, on Tuesday. At dawn Monday, scores of residents of this town in northwestern Arunachal Pradesh, mostly members of the Tibetan refugee community of Monpas, were out on the streets, brooms in hand, cleaning up after several hours of thundershowers.
Before noon, the slush and garbage had been removed, fresh coats of paint applied to shops and embankments on the roadside. And, thousands of strings carrying religious flags and coloured clothes with mantras inscribed on them had come up on the 8-km stretch from the helipad to Tawang Monastery, where the Dalai Lama will stay over the next four days.
On the global stage, the visit has generated a lot of heat with China repeatedly warning India that it would hit bilateral ties significantly. But on the ground — 3,048m above sea level — none of that mattered.
“China had been issuing repeated warnings but that will not deter us from receiving our spiritual leader. The whole of Tawang is waiting to receive their beloved Dalai Lama,” said Tsering Tashi, the Independent MLA representing this assembly constituency.
On March 31, 1959, the Dalai Lama had escaped from China and crossed over at Chuthangmu post, then part of Kameng Frontier Division, along with thousands of supporters.
“This time, at least a 1,000 people from Bhutan have reached Tawang to catch a glimpse of the Dalai Lama. They were issued ID cards and passes to stand on the roadside as the convoy travels through the streets of Tawang tomorrow,” said Lobsang Tsering, a coordinator for one of the organising committees.
“The people of Tawang have voluntarily participated in all these preparations. Thousands of them are ready to accord a ceremonial welcome to the Dalai Lama as he arrives in Tawang tomorrow morning. The district administration is providing all assistance,” said Sang Phuntsok, Deputy Commissioner, Tawang.
The Dalai Lama’s four-day visit is part of his 12-day trip to the northeast. As an official guest of the Arunachal government, he will arrive in Lumla on Tuesday morning by helicopter from Guwahati. After attending a public reception followed by the consecration of the Dolma Lhakhang, a new Tibetan temple, he will board the helicopter again for the 10-minute flight to Tawang.
The first destination here is the iconic monastery, with thousands of followers from across the world, dressed in traditional costumes, lining up on both sides of the road. At the 400-year-old monastery, which is India’s largest and the world’s second largest after the Potala palace in Lhasa, around 800 monks will extend a religious welcome amid the chanting of Buddhist hymns.
On April 5-7, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to hold a religious discourse at the stadium of Tawang’s senior secondary school. On April 8, he will deliver a public talk on “Secular Ethics and Happiness” at the Kala Wangpo Convention Centre. And, on April 9, he will leave for Dirang to attend the inauguration of the Thupsung Dhargeyling Monastery.
On Monday, Arunachal police and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) took over security arrangements at the monastery. “The state police force is coordinating with the ITBP to ensure foolproof security arrangements,” said Manoj Kumar Meena, SP, Tawang.
For the people of Tawang, meanwhile, it’s a chance to “see our God”. Over the last week, Norbu Eton, who runs a tailoring shop, had been working for 18 to 20 hours a day stitching prayer flags and attaching them to coloured strings. “So far, I have made 49,000 bundles of strings, which were purchased by people to cover the roads. It’s a double bonanza for me. I will get to see our God, the Dalai Lama, and earn some money for my family,” she said.