In the 17th century, Tawang district was the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama. Deified as his latest incarnation, the current Dalai Lama visited the monastery in 2009 and has hinted his next reincarnation will be born in India. Some say in Tawang.
Tibetan Buddhists see the Dalai Lama as a living god; China sees him as a separatist threat. Many in the Indian security community worry that instability in Tibet after his death could endanger India.
So, New Delhi is wooing the locals. The intermingling of the Indian army and the Tawang monks is striking. War memorials on the road are built in the style of Tibetan Buddhist stupas, with prayer wheels and flags. Soldiers frequently visit the temple, and advise the lamas about troop movements and developments on the border.
Lobsang Thapke, a senior lama at the monastery, says India’s troop buildup has made the monks feel safe, but that India was far from matching China’s road-building prowess.
“From our side, we have to go through a lot of difficulty,” he said in a carpeted room above the main hall, where child monks chanted morning prayers. “They (India) have not black-topped. Gravelling has not been done.”
ANGER AND ANXIETY
The Indian footprint here isn’t always welcome. India’s new wealth is seen in the multi-storey hotels mushrooming between traditional wood-and-stone houses in town, and new Fords and Hyundais on the hilly streets.
But anger is rising about a lack of jobs and perceptions that government corruption is rampant. Student movements have organized strikes in the state capital.
Hotel worker Dorjee Leto says educated young people like himself feel forgotten by India. There is almost no mobile phone coverage, power cuts that last days, and just that long muddy road to the outside world.