By AIJAZ HUSSAIN – Associated Press
SRINAGAR, India (AP) — The exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, arrived in India’s remote Ladakh region on the Chinese border on Friday, where he received a warm welcome.
Thousands of people lined both sides of the road outside the airport in the city of Leh in the cold desert region to welcome the Dalai Lama, who is touring outside his base in the northern Indian city of Dharmsala for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. He will stay in Ladakh for around 45 days.
The Dalai Lama has made Dharmsala his headquarters since fleeing Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. India considers Tibet part of China, although it hosts Tibetan exiles .
Officials said at least 20,000 people gathered along the road leading to the Dalai Lama’s summer palace, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the airport. The journey took about 90 minutes to the spiritual leader as the whole stretch was packed with people jostling and some dancing in traditional attire.
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They welcomed the spiritual leader by waving religious flags and Tibetan flags and sprinkling the road with flower petals. At least 7,000 Tibetans live in Ladakh.
“Happy. Once again (I) came (to) Ladakh,” the Dalai Lama said in tangled English as he entered his palace. “Those people who show this from the bottom of their hearts.”
The visit is also his first since India split off the high-altitude region from disputed Kashmir and took direct control of it in 2019 while revoking the semi-autonomous status of the entire territory. A year after that change, Indian and Chinese troops came close to war in Ladakh and since then have been locked in a military stalemate along their disputed border.
China slammed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for greeting the Dalai Lama on his 87th birthday earlier this month, saying New Delhi should stop using Tibet-related issues to interfere in ” internal affairs” of China.
India’s Foreign Ministry hit back and said, “It has always been our government’s policy to treat him as a guest in India and as a respected religious leader who enjoys a large following in India.”
Prior to his last visit in 2018, the Dalai Lama traveled frequently to Ladakh and delivered religious sermons in the region, famous for its Buddhist monks in mountaintop monasteries, sparsely populated and beautiful landscapes and snow leopards. elusive prowling over rugged terrain.
China does not recognize the Tibetan government in exile and has not had dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama since 2010.
China claims that Tibet has historically been part of its territory since the mid-13th century and that the Communist Party has ruled the Himalayan region since 1951. But many Tibetans claim that they have been effectively independent for most of their history and that the Chinese government wants to exploit their resource-rich region while crushing their cultural identity.
The Dalai Lama denies being a separatist and says he only advocates substantial autonomy and the protection of Tibet’s indigenous Buddhist culture.
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