Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Friday began his winding road journey to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh -- the high point of his visit that has angered China.
The Dalai Lama was to start his week-long religious visit to Arunachal Pradesh from Tawang on April 4. But bad weather forced him to take to the road as his helicopter couldn't take off from Dibrugarh in Assam.
Nestled among the snow-covered mountains and perched at a height of 10,000 feet, Tawang is home to Monpa people who practice Tibetan Buddhism. The town is all set to welcome the Dalai Lama.
Tawang has been decorated with colourful prayer flags, besides Indian and Tibetan flags and flowers. The roads have been repainted and the drains cleared.
The Nobel peace laureate will stay at Tawang monastery, the largest in India and second only to the world's largest - the Potala Palace in Tibet.
The 81-year-old Dalai Lama's journey to Tawang will take him over the 13,700 feet Sela Pass. He is likely to touch Tawang after noon.
"Hundreds of people are holding traditional ceremonial scarves and burning incense all along the road to see the Dalai Lama and receive his blessings," a government official told IANS
Security forces kept a vigil, particularly at Sela Pass, which is wet because of melting snow, muddy and slippery.
"All necessary security arrangements have been taken," Arunachal Pradesh police chief Sandeep Goel told IANS.
The Dalai Lama first arrived in Bomdila, the district headquarters of West Kameng in Arunachal, and delivered his religious discourses and interacted with people.
From there, he drove to Dirang valley, about 50 km from Tawang where he consecrated the Thupsung Dhargyeling monastery on Thursday.
Chief Minister Pema Khandu is accompanying the Tibetan leader.
The Tawang monastery belongs to the Gelugpa school of Mahayana Buddhism and had a religious connection with Lhasa's Drepung monastery that continued during the British rule.
Beijing refers to this connection to claim Tawang as part of China after invading and taking over Tibet in 1950.
The Dalai Lama had stayed in the Tawang monastery for some days before he reached Assam after fleeing his homeland in 1959.
Thousands of people as far as from Ladakh and neighbouring Bhutan have descended at Tawang for a glimpse of the Dalai Lama.
"We have been preparing for the last two months. Everybody wants to see him, talk to him and get his blessings. The Dalai Lama is our revered leader," said the monastery Secretary, Lobsang Khum.
This will be the Dalai Lama's first visit to Arunachal after eight years.
His first visit to this mountainous state was in 1983 and the last trip was in 2009, which coincided with his 50 years since he crossed through Arunachal Pradesh.
The Dalai Lama has lived in India in self-imposed exile since 1959. India is also home to some 100,000 Tibetan exiles.