Dalai Lama in Tawang after seven-hour long road journey

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Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama

Tawang : Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama arrived here in Arunachal Pradesh on Friday, the high point of a visit which has angered China.

Buddhist monks and scores of devotees at the Tawang monastery, the biggest in India and second only to the world's largest, the Potala Palace in Tibet, received him warmly and with piety.

The Nobel peace laureate will stay at the monastery.

"He has arrived after a strenuous seven-hour road journey from Dirang. He is in the monastery praying," said the monastery Secretary, Lobsang Khum.

Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu accompanied the Tibetan leader, who has lived in self-imposed exile in India since he fled Tibet in 1959.

Nestled among snow-covered mountains and perched at a height of 10,000 feet, Tawang is home to Monpa people who follow Tibetan Buddhism. The town was decked up to welcome the 81-year-old.

Tawang was decorated with colourful prayer flags, Indian and Tibetan flags as well as flowers. The roads were repainted and the drains cleared.

Thousands of people from as far as Ladakh and neighbouring Bhutan holding traditional ceremonial scarves and burning incense queued up on both sides of the road for a glimpse of the Dalai Lama.

Security forces kept a vigil in Tawang, about 25 km from the McMahon Line, an imaginary border known as the Line of Actual Control separating the Sino-Indian border.

The Dalai Lama was to start his week-long religious visit to Arunachal Pradesh from Tawang on April 4. But bad weather forced him to take to the road as his helicopter couldn't take off from Assam.

The Tawang monastery belongs to the Gelugpa school of Mahayana Buddhism and had a religious connection with Lhasa's Drepung monastery that continued during the British rule.

Beijing refers to this connection to claim Tawang as part of China after invading and taking over Tibet in 1950.

The Dalai Lama had stayed in the Tawang monastery for some days before he reached Assam after fleeing his homeland in 1959.

The Dalai Lama first arrived in Bomdila, the district headquarters of West Kameng in Arunachal, and delivered religious discourses.

He then drove to Dirang valley, about 50 km from Tawang where he consecrated the Thupsung Dhargyeling monastery on Thursday.

On Friday, he left Dirang for Tawang by road.

This will be the Dalai Lama's first visit to Arunachal after eight years. His first visit to the state was in 1983 and the last trip was in 2009.

China has strongly opposed the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing considers a part of Tibet.

The Dalai Lama has lived in India since 1959. India is also home to some 100,000 Tibetan exiles.