Despite political objections in China and some skirmishes on the Chinese side of our border, the Ladakhis accorded a grand welcome to the 14th Dalai Lama on July 15. This is his first visit to Ladakh after it became a Union Territory in 2019.
More than 10,000 Ladakhis and Tibetans, monastics and lay people, young and old, school children in uniform among them, created a human chain to greet the Dalai Lama as he returned to Ladakh after at least three years due to the pandemic.
From Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche to Thikse Rinpoche of Thiksay Monastery and other senior Lamas were present to greet him. Tashi Gyalson, Chairman of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), his colleagues Jamyang Namgyal, MP, Thupten Chhewang, President of the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) and Acharya Tenzin Wangdak, President of the Ladakh Gompa Association (LGA), as well as district officials, former government servants and representatives of various organisations were also present to pay their respects.
At the Leh market, many shops have decorated their outlets with lights, candles and/or flowers to express their happiness in having the Dalai Lama return to Ladakh.
Some even painted their shops or restaurants for the occasion. New Khatags were put on almost all shops which had the Dalai Lama's photograph. The popular book shops in the market had kept all His Holiness' books on display and on priority rows as a gesture of love and gratitude for him.
Interestingly, it was a Friday when the Dalai Lama landed in Ladakh and on that day a special make-shift market is formed at the centre of the Leh market, mainly for the Jummah crowd. Irrespective of being a Muslim or Buddhist, shopkeepers and other locals were in t-shirts with pictures or quotations of the Dalai Lama.
Conversations with local Ladakhis and tourists from different parts of India and abroad over the weekend indicated irritation towards China for its "illogical and political" take on the Dalai Lama's visit to Ladakh.
On some instances, this perception was coupled with praise for Prime Minister Narendra Modi for taking a bold stand in conveying birthday wishes to the Dalai Lama on July 6.
While speaking to local security forces, they made it amply clear that notwithstanding the tight security, should there be any ugly incident or clashes in connection with the visit of the Dalai Lama to Ladakh, the locals here are united beyond imagination to protect him and give their life for him, if required.
Overall, there is an extremely positive vibe in Ladakh with the Dalai Lama in town. Everyone is looking forward to his teachings and prayers over the month. People, including tourists, are curious to participate in his programmes and are trying ways to meet him for his blessings.
Large number of Tibetans living and working in different parts of the county have been returning to Leh to attend to the teachings of the Dalai Lama and also use the opportunity to be with their families.