TAKTSER, China — On the eve of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday, China seems determined to stop Tibetans celebrating.
The exiled spiritual leader is due to spend Monday in the United States, after attending a Global Compassion Summit in California this weekend.
But in his homeland of Tibet, which is governed as an autonomous region of China, officials have stepped up security in an apparent bid to throw cold water on any open festivities.
He has been in exile since 1959, and there is no more stark illustration of China’s attitudes toward him than in his birthplace of the small town of Taktser.
Sat on the edge of a valley and surrounded by barren, jagged hills, the town lies in China’s Qinghai Province that neighbors Tibet. When NBC News visited recently, a narrow road snaking up to his house was blocked by police.
“It is closed to outsiders,” said one police officer, while another took photographs of us.
“Local pilgrims are allowed, but you need special permission,” said a young female officer wearing black military-style trousers and a white Bruce Springsteen “Born in the USA” T-shirt.
The officers told us they were looking after the house and that the Chinese government was financing its upkeep. The building, inside a walled compound, was barely visible beyond thick trees, though the gold roof of what appeared to be a prayer room could be seen from higher up the road.
The police said they were aware of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday, but denied there had been any increase in visitors. Surveillance cameras monitored the roads leading into the town.
Earlier this year, China’s official Xinhua news agency claimed the government had allocated 2.5 million yuan (around $400,000) to preserve the house under a larger urbanization program.
That would seem to suggest that the authorities recognize the significance of the house to Tibetans, even while they vilify the Dalai Lama himself.