TAWANG: Thousands of people lined the streets of Tawang town in Arunachal Pradesh today and waited for hours as the Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama, came back here for the first time since 2009.

The 14th Dalai Lama is on the last leg of his tour before departing on the 11th of this month.

The courtyard of the 300-year old Tawang Monastery was filled with the sounds of the dungchen (a long metal horn instrument) as monks clad in traditional red robes welcomed him where he will stay during his visit here. The Dalai Lama first camped in the monastery when he escaped into India back in 1959. Accompanied by chief minister Pema Khandu, the Dalai Lama did not address the public or speak to the media and instead retreated into the monastery. He will address a public rally Saturday and the day after.

Being touted as a religious event only, his visit has drawn the ire of the People’s Republic of China which has criticised the visit, saying bilateral relations between India and China have been spoilt due to the Tibetan leaders visit to what it claims is a disputed region. And while India has dismissed such claims, the mood amongst people in Tawang is sympathetic to the Tibetan cause.

Several sections of roads are laced with Buddhist prayer flags and Indian tricolour but till last night Tibetan flags too covered the landscape. These flags were reportedly removed after intelligence sources were made aware of their existence as a damage control measure.

The flags however, were seen flying high at the Tawang Monastery today.

The Tibetan flag is more than just a piece of cloth for it represents the Tibetan freedom movement. The flag is in fact, banned in mainland China.

A former abbot of the monastery said that there should have been more Tibetan flags flying to show solidarity with the Tibetan cause.

One government official who was at the monastery today said that India should register strong complaints with China and tell the communist government to “stop atrocities in Tibet”.

For most Buddhist Monpas who live in Tawang, the Dalai Lama evokes deep emotions.

At the edge of the Old Market in Tawang town, hangs a large poster of the Dalai Lama encouraging people to participate in a signature campaign to ask the Indian government to confer upon him the Bharat Ratna.

Lhendhup Chosang, president of the district unit of the Bharat Tibet Sahyog Manch that is organising the signature campaign, informed that so far over 3,000 people have expressed their support for the Nobel laureate. Like most others in Tawang, he too said that China should not comment on India’s internal matters.