By Suhasini Haider
Lhasa’s Norbulingka isn’t a temple or a monastery, even so, thousands of Tibetan Buddhists stream in here everyday, to offer scarves for the 14th Dalai Lama and pray for his return.
Norbulingka was the “summer palace” home of the Dalai Lama from 1956 to 1959, before he fled to India. Set in the sprawling 36 acres of the earlier summer palace built for the 7th Dalai Lama, the current Dalai Lama’s palace was closed to public for many years.
For decades, the Chinese government had kept the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) off limits to outsiders. Over the past few years, however, China has opened up Tibet for tourism, allowing journalists on small ‘guided’ tours accompanied by information ministry officials. On one such tour,The Hindu is part of a delegation of journalists from the SAARC region, taken to see the preservation of the Norbulingka new summer palace.
While no photographs or video can be taken inside, there appear to be few other restrictions on visitors. “Today, because of the Shoton festival (an annual Tibetan holiday), we see as many as 30,000 visitors,” our guide tells us, “On normal days we see about 3,000.”
Inside the summer palace are objects dating back to 1959. In the study room, the Dalai Lama’s sofa, a reading table and books are on display. His favourite room, our guide tells us, was one that has a small bed and a large radio gifted by India’s former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It is, however, the Dalai Lama’s prayer room, and the ceremonial meeting hall that attract the most visitors, as devout Tibetans offer currency notes, silk scarves “hadas’, and prostrate themselves in front of his throne there.