Some Tibetans who still remained at Kumbum on July 17 2006, after most of the visitors had left.

Thousands of Tibetans have traveled to Kumbum monastery in Amdo (Qinghai province) in the past few days after rumors swept through the area that the Dalai Lama was going to be there, according to reports from Tibet. Security was stepped up at Kumbum with a check-post set up near the monastery and by the weekend (July 15-16) most of these Tibetans had been required to leave. The rumors were false – the Dalai Lama is in India – but according to reports received by ICT, Tibetans in the area were not able to check whether the rumors were true because of their lack of access to reliable information.

A foreign tourist in the area reported an atmosphere of sadness among Tibetans at Kumbum when they were told that the Dalai Lama was not going to be there. The foreign tourist said: “The area is sealed off from the rest of the world with virtually no reliable news in or out, so when this rumor spread it was electrifying. Tibetans had no way of checking whether it was true or not – often radio services like Radio Free Asia or Voice of America are blocked, and they don’t trust the Chinese news. So they just set out, on journeys that often took several days, in the hope of seeing His Holiness.”


The last police cars leave Kumbum on July 17 2006 after the security operation to clear the area of Tibetans hoping to see the Dalai Lama.

A temporary police check-post was set up at the entrance to the town near Kumbum (Chinese: Ta-ersi), which is near Qinghai’s capital city of Xining, in response to the arrival of an estimated 8,000 Tibetans to the area. By yesterday (July 16) most of the Tibetans who had hoped to see the Dalai Lama had left under the instructions of security personnel, including the People’s Armed Police, the military and the Public Security Bureau personnel. The image above depicts the last of the special police vehicles brought in for the event leaving in a two-vehicle convoy, just prior to the removal of the makeshift checkpost, a chain across the road.

In his annual March 10 statement this year, the Dalai Lama – who was born in Amdo – had expressed the wish to visit sacred pilgrimage sites in China. He said that in the last round of dialogue between his representatives and Beijing in February in Guilin City, China, “My envoys reiterated my wish to visit China on a pilgrimage. As a country with a long history of Buddhism, China has many sacred pilgrimage sites. As well as visiting the pilgrim sites, I hope to be able to see for myself the changes and developments in the People’s Republic of China.” Since then, several rumors have spread about an impending visit by the Dalai Lama to China and Tibet. Officials at Kumbum apparently did not know where this latest rumor originated from.

When Tibetans at Kumbum were told that the Dalai Lama would not be coming, some of them asked whether he was going to Lhasa instead. The Beijing-based correspondent for The Times in London, Jane Macartney, wrote in a blog published on the newspaper’s website that when Tibetans were told that the Dalai Lama was not coming, “A look of disbelief and despair would cross their faces. The visitor said it was one of the saddest sights he’d seen.” (The Times Online: Ocean of Wisdom, Ocean of Faithful, July 17, 2006).


A police officer near the entrance of Kumbum on July 17 2006 with a few of the remaining Tibetan pilgrims who visited in the hope of seeing the Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan government-in-exile responded to the reports of Tibetans traveling to Kumbum on Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan service on July 15. The head of the security department, Ngodup Dongchung, told RFA: “The news is completely baseless because His Holiness the Dalai Lama is currently in Dharamsala taking much-needed rest on his doctor’s advice after a hectic travel schedule. Also in August, His Holiness will give teachings to a group of Korean devotees in Dharamsala.” A scheduled European tour by the Dalai Lama was cancelled earlier this month in order to allow the Tibetan leader to rest.

Kumbum, in Kumbum (Chinese: Huangzhong) county is one of the six great Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) monasteries. It is an increasingly popular destination for Chinese pilgrims and tourists.


Chinese tourists at Kumbum monastery dressing up as Tibetans.