As the initial surge for darshan of the 14th Dalai Lama began ebbing on the third day of his stay here, nostalgia and a sense of relief have started enveloping this high altitude hill town. This is a two-hour drive from the Sino-Indian border of Bum La where both armies stand separated by a pile of ‘Friendship Stones’ and radar installations tracking each other’s movements.
Nostalgia because residents feel this is the last time the 74-year-old Tenzin Gyatso will be visiting the district where an overwhelming majority professes the Buddhist faith. They are unaware of the quiet tug-of-war for influence and power that plays out among the Lamas of the four sects.
Devotees who have trekked from places with quaint names such as Zorimthang and Dirang realise their spiritual leader might never again make the arduous journey to this remote sliver of land adjoining Bhutan and China.
There was a sense of relief too as the Chinese wrath predicted by TV channels failed to materialise. In particular, residents named two TV channels that had claimed China was taking aim at Tawang for having dared host the Dalai Lama.
Busy between stocking up for the winter when passes connecting mainland India will become difficult to navigate and dressing up the town with Buddhist flags for the Dalai Lama’s arrival, people here had their latent fears stoked by these TV channels.
They have been forced to relive the days when a much smaller population with fewer material possessions had fled when the Chinese armed forces had swept through the town on their way to the outskirts of Tezpur and the Digboi oil fields in 1962.
Mindful of the recent upsurge of jittery sounding media bytes and ultrapatriotic visuals, New Delhi has ordered the removal of all Indian flags lining the route to monasteries to be visited by the Dalai Lama in the coming days.
Replacing the Indian flags generously supplied by the state authorities with mantra-inscribed Tibetan flags, Lama Phungtso, a national award winner for working with orphaned children, said the government had ordered the removal of the buntings in the Indian national colour because the Dalai Lama’s visit was purely religious in nature.
With the Chief Minister and his entourage getting airborne from the tiny helipad on Tuesday morning, the state paraphernalia had rolled up.
The TV channels too had withdrawn their forces and with it the ambushing of unwary citizens for their comments on statecraft and Sino-Indian relations, leaving the town at peace with itself.
“I want to know who are these people saying we will have to run away because the Chinese are coming. Neither are they coming nor are we going anywhere,” said Surojit Sarkar, who has been running a book shop for 18 years.
This remark brings home a suggestion by a renowned Australian professor to conduct a study on the impact of unbalanced media reporting on India’s relations with other countries. On Wednesday, the Dalai Lama will deliver his last public address here. The next day he will consecrate a Gompa and visit Lama Phungtso’s Manjushree Vidyapeeth.