After having caused consternation with his observations on China on his first day here, the Dalai Lama on Monday reverted to his spiritual role of tending to the sick and preaching to the flock at this border town, barely two hours drive from the border with China.
Seen from the Tawang town bazaar just below the snowline where trees give up their fight against nature, the gathering of the faithful appeared like a giant smudge of burnt ochre. Over 10,000 Buddhists dressed snugly in variations of the maroon cloth Chuba, the long wraparound robes worn by a people in a wide swathe of the upper Himalayan belt, listened intently as the Dalai Lama dwelt on Buddhist theology.
His sixth trip to the modest Tawang Monastery and his first in six years has aroused curiosity, given the exchanges between India and China over disputed areas which was quickly followed by a series of high-level meetings to bring down temperatures and revert focus on other, equally weighty, aspects of bilateral ties.
Tawang still remains bemused after being overrun by the faithful and the media but appears regaining its composure with the departure of the TV crews as the Dalai Lama refused to entertain the media and, instead, reached out to the ordinary Buddhists who had trekked or had been bussed by the State government from remote parts of this equally remote State.
They were being given company by the rich among the Buddhists many of whom had arrived in sports utility vehicles, several brand new, being by-products of the recent Assembly elections in Arunachal Pradesh.
With the Central government offering every courtesy in the book to the Dalai Lama and turning away most foreigners, the Tawang sojourn has avoided becoming another export version event. None of the famous, from Hollywood or assorted exotic fields, who have attached themselves to the Dalai Lama since the mid-80s were around to take the shine away from the piety of the simple hill folk who had paid thrice or four times the going fare to glimpse the man.
Compared to the high octane reception on Sunday which included Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, almost his entire Cabinet and senior army officers from this essentially army garrison town, the Dalai Lama divided the day between a spiritual discourse, planting saplings, inaugurating a monastery school library and consecrating an outpatients’ ward.
He wrapped up his usual seven-hour day in the public by checking in at the Tawang Monastery where spiritual and material sprucing up has been under way for some time to make his stay memorable.
While Jokhang, Ganden, Sera and Drepung, all in Tibet, are monasteries with histories dating back to several centuries, Galden Namgey Lhatse is only three centuries old and came up during the fag-end of the intermittent rule that the Dalai Lamas have exercised briefly, this time in a patron-client relationship with the descendents of Ghushri Khan.
As piety reigned and army trucks stayed out of sight, the Dalai Lama and his entourage finally had the satisfaction of revisiting the monastery where he had stayed for two nights 50 years ago after fleeing from Lhasa, but after obliquely crossing New Delhi’s Rubicon of not commenting on political issues or border disputes.