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Dalai Lama to visit Ladakh in first trip since pandemic’s start

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama will visit India’s northwestern territory of Ladakh later this year in his first trip away from his residence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, sources said this week.

The visit, which will take place between July and August, was made at the invitation of a high-level delegation from Ladakh, a strategically sensitive area where thousands of Indian and Chinese troops clashed in June 2020, with deaths reported by both sides in the fighting.

News of the trip was announced on Monday by delegation members Thiksey Rinpoche, a former member of the Indian parliament’s upper house, and Thupten Tsewang, also a former Indian MP and now president of the Ladakh Buddhist Association.

“We made the request during our special audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and he agreed to visit and bless devotees in Ladakh this summer,” Thiksey Rinpoche said following an April 18  meeting at the spiritual leader’s residence in Dharamsala, India, the seat of Tibet’s exile government, the Central Tibetan Administration.

The Dalai Lama, who last visited Ladakh in 2018 and spent 19 days there, had been unable to visit again in recent years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Thupten Tsewang, also a member of the delegation. “Now, the people of Ladakh will be very happy to hear this news, and we are all very delighted,” Tsewang added.

Banned by Chinese authorities in Tibet, celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s July 6 birthday have been held by large gatherings in Ladakh in recent years, sources say.

Concerns have been raised over the advancing age of the now 86-year-old spiritual leader, with Beijing claiming the right to name a successor after he dies, and the Dalai Lama himself — the 14th in his line — saying he will be reborn outside of areas controlled by China.

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force more than 70 years ago, and the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers later fled into exile in India and other countries around the world following a failed 1959 national uprising against China’s rule.

Tibetans living in Tibet frequently complain of discrimination and human rights abuses by Chinese authorities and policies they say are aimed at eradicating their national and cultural identity.

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.