Oct 20th 2012 | TAWANG | The Economist
This small region may one day thrust itself back into the headlines
THE white-walled monastery above Tawang is an alluring spot. A tree-covered valley falls away to one side. Great peaks rise behind, marking the Chinese border. Prayer flags flutter. While Buddhist pilgrims sit under parasols, young monks wallop cricket balls on a patch of grass.
Helicopters thumping by, however, are a reminder of India’s heavy military presence. China’s even heavier one lies unseen behind the escarpment. The small town of Tawang is enjoying a boom thanks to a spurt in national tourism, notably by Bengalis willing to brave the drive from the plains below.
For centuries monks from the Gelugpa (“Yellow Hat”) sect of Buddhism dominant in Tibet and Mongolia presided over Tawang, levying taxes and ruling over the nearby villages. Their monastery is India’s largest and one of the most important outside Tibet. Its influence is the stronger for the late arrival of a modern government. Imperial Britain placed Tawang inside India’s borders only in 1914, at a conference in Simla (today, Shimla). Tibet, then enjoying independence, attended, and China—though it never signed the accord. Chinese newspapers still refer to Arunachal Pradesh as “South Tibet”.
Tawang’s importance may grow. Mao Zedong’s suppression of a Tibetan uprising in 1959 drove the 14th, and current, Dalai Lama to seek refuge in India, first in Tawang monastery. Now he is 77, and Tibetan Buddhists discuss whether his next “reincarnation” may occur outside China’s borders—in which case, rival Dalai Lamas, one chosen under Chinese supervision, are all too likely.
The Dalai Lama says he alone will determine the manner and place of his reincarnation, and certainly not the godless Chinese Communists. He says he may not reincarnate at all, if Tibetans do not want it. If they do, then Tawang might claim to have impeccable form: after all, the sixth Dalai Lama was born in one of its monasteries. The Tawang border may remain unsettled for a long while yet.