Organizers of the Dalai Lama's planned visit to Mongolia said yesterday they were keeping his travel schedule under tight wraps in an attempt to avoid angering China.
The Tibetan Buddhist leader was expected to arrive late yesterday 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.
Despite the understated welcome, Bazargur said Buddhists had high expectations for the Dalai Lama's visit.
"Every time 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.
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 3m-long brass horns.
China responded the Dalai Lama's 2002 visit to Mongolia with angry verbal protests and cut off rail service with Mongolia for two days, disrupting trade and driving up the world price of copper, the country's main export.