High in the Himalayas, the biggest Buddhist monastery in India is preparing for a visit from the Dalai Lama that is set to anger and antagonise China as much as it will delight the red-robed monks that he meets.
Officials in Beijing have already denounced the visit to the Tawang monastery in the north-eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing claims is part of its own territory. Such is the sensitivity of the region that Indian officials last year refused permission for the Tibetan spiritual leader to visit. But amid growing tension between the two Asian neighbours, India has this year given the trip its blessing, telling him that he was free to "visit any part of our country". It has, however, barred foreign journalists from accompanying him.
The 74-year-old Nobel laureate will arrive in Tawang on Sunday for a four-day visit during which he plans to hold prayer sessions and open a hospital. "It has been politicised, but it is not a political visit," insisted his spokesman, Tenzin Taklha. Yet whether or not he intends it to be considered political is beside the point. The sparsely populated state that sits between India, Burma, Bhutan and Tibet has become the most sensitive flashpoint in the relationship between India and China.
In 1962 the two countries went to war over their Himalayan territories and more than a dozen meetings have failed to resolve numerous disputed areas. China even considers visits to Arunachal by senior Indian officials – a recent trip by the country's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was criticised – to be provocative.
The Tawang monastery has special memories for the Dalai Lama. When he fled Tibet in 1959 after Chinese troops invaded, it was to the north of Tawang that he entered India, where he has passed the subsequent 50 years. During his journey to Delhi he spent several nights at the monastery, which was also the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama. He has visited Tawang several times, where yesterday 800 monks were preparing to greet him, and he claims Beijing is being too sensitive. "The Chinese government politicises too much wherever I go," he said.Reuse content