Mongolians await Dalai Lama's visit

Ulan Bator, Mongolia - Organizers of a planned visit by the Dalai Lama to Mongolia on Monday said they were keeping his travel schedule under tight wraps in an attempt to avoid angering China.

The Tibetan Buddhist leader was expected to arrive later Monday on his first trip to this mostly Buddhist nation since 2002. But there were few outward signs of his impending arrival in Ulan Bator, Mongolia's low-rise capital, now in the throes of a tourism and construction boom.

The Mongolian government has not been openly involved in arranging the visit, and it wasn't clear whether the Dalai Lama would be received by President Nambaryn Enkhbayar or other top leaders.

"The top-ranking lamas had a meeting and decided to keep the visit low profile so as not to annoy China," said Bazargur, a high-ranking monk at Mongolia's largest monastery, Gandantegcheling, the Dalai Lama's host.

A few dozen signs welcoming the Dalai Lama along the main road from the airport were the only displays publicizing the visit. Media have been given little information about his plans, and the Dalai Lama and his delegation were expected to stay at a secluded government guest house outside the city.

China routinely calls on countries not to let the Dalai Lama visit, often hinting at possible diplomatic or commercial retaliation. Beijing has yet to issue a formal statement on this visit, but recent statements in Communist Party media have criticized such trips as an effort to rally anti-China forces and realize Tibet's independence.

The Dalai Lama was expected to hold a series of lectures for the public and Buddhist clergy.

At Gandantegcheling on Ulan Bator's outskirts, monks practiced ceremonial processions by carrying flags, banging cymbals and blowing on 10-foot-long brass horns. Outside, tourists and Mongolians fed pigeons and looked at a recently added photo display of the Dalai Lama's last visit in 2002.

China responded to that earlier trip with angry verbal protests and suspended rail service with Mongolia for two days, cutting off trade and driving up the world price of copper, Mongolia's main export.

Beijing claims to have ruled Tibet for centuries, though the country was effectively independent when communist troops arrived in 1950.

The Dalai Lama fled to India following an abortive 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, he travels widely as a speaker on religion and morality and a representative of Tibetan culture.

The Dalai Lama is widely revered in Mongolia, whose people have strong historical links to Tibet and have traditionally followed Tibet's esoteric school of Buddhism.

Yet decades of communist rule that ended in the early 1990s nearly wiped out Buddhist institutions, and the religion's hold on the young is tenuous. Mongolia's open society has also allowed new competitors to Buddhism.

Bazargur said Buddhists had high expectations for the Dalai Lama's visit.

"Everytime he comes, he boosts Mongolian Buddhism to a higher level," Bazargur said. "We hope he will continue to bless us and help us overcome some of our problems," he added, referring to factional struggles within the Mongolian Buddhist community.

During the Dalai Lama's planned weeklong trip, Ulan Bator will also host visits by Indian meditation guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and a Christian evangelist group.