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Celebrations as Dalai Lama turns 75

July 8, 2010

By Adam Plowright
AFP
July 5, 2010

DHARAMSHALA, India -- The Dalai Lama marks his
75th birthday on Tuesday, with thousands set to
celebrate the occasion in his hometown-in-exile
and events planned across the globe from Europe to Australia.

The Nobel laureate will address a crowd of 5,000
fans and followers at his temple in McLeod Ganj,
a hill station in the Indian Himalayas where he
has lived since fleeing Tibet in 1959 after a
failed uprising against Chinese rule.

In apparently fine health and showing no signs of
slowing down despite his advanced years, the
Buddhist spiritual leader will break with recent
birthday tradition and greet well-wishers in person.

"Everything is ready," said the man tasked with
organising the festivities, Tashi Norbu, an
official in the Tibetan government-in-exile based in nearby Dharamshala.

"This time, as it's his 75th birthday, he also
wanted to join the function," he told AFP.

Elsewhere, Tibetan communities in North America,
Europe and Australia are gearing up for music and
cultural events to celebrate the day, while
numerous Internet campaigns are collecting birthday messages.

Online advocacy group Avaaz.org is inviting
people to send tributes via its website that will
be posted on a "wall of warm wishes" inside the temple.

In McLeod Ganj, where a van with loudspeakers
toured the narrow, traffic-clogged streets on
Monday inviting people to join the celebrations,
schools and businesses will be shut.

"All the Tibetans who live locally will go," said
26-year-old Diki Youdon, who works in the town.
"It's always hard to get a seat and this year
there will be even more people because it's the 75th birthday."

For those unable to get a seat or visit McLeod
Ganj, the whole event will be streamed live at http://dalailama.com/live.

At an age when most others are putting their feet
up, the Dalai Lama keeps up a globe-trotting
schedule that would tire someone half his age,
travelling to countries willing to defy Chinese
pressure not to grant him a visa.

China considers the Dalai Lama a "splittist"
despite his repeated calls for autonomy rather
than independence for Tibet, where riots against
Chinese rule flared in March 2008.

In an average year, he is away from home for
about half the time and in the past 12 months he
has visited France, Switzerland, the Czech
Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Poland, the United
States (twice), Taiwan and most recently Japan.

As the years go by, however, thoughts are
inevitably turning to the daunting idea of succession.

The Dalai Lama has been in hospital twice in
recent times -- for a pinched nerve in February
last year and for surgery to remove stones from
his gall bladder in October 2008.

Though not serious, it underlined the fallibility
of a man who Tibetans come close to worshipping
and who inspires devotion from an army of Buddhists the world over.

"On your 75th birthday, we wish you all the best
and pray for your long and fruitful life," said
one banner hanging above the zigzagging narrow
road that leads to misty McLeod Ganj.

Local community magazine Contact published a poem
on its front page "for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama".

Birthday organiser Norbu said the Dalai Lama was
in good health, adding: "He doesn't look 75. He looks in his 50s."

"All Tibetan people will be praying for his long life," he said.

The traditional procedure for identifying the
next Dalai Lama would be for monks to fan out
across Tibet to find the reincarnation of the spiritual leader once he dies.

Using ritualistic clues, the current Dalai Lama
was plucked from his impoverished parents' home aged four.

But the Chinese government is expected to want to
approve or even name its own Dalai Lama, as it
seeks to keep a lid on any Tibetan separatist movement.

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