The Dalai Lama: A monk on the move
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is 75 but still a true globetrotter, so much so that he doesn't really need to unpack.
He's made 11 trips just in the last seven months - to places within India and outside to speak on peace, non-violence, Buddhism and even environmental concerns. And last year, the Dalai Lama made 20 visits abroad including the US, Germany, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, Canada and France.
A light traveller, his quest for generating awareness on spiritual and Tibetan issues carries him from place to place even as China tries to forewarn the countries he plans to visit.
The Nobel laureate, wearing his trademark maroon robes, travels with an unchanging smile on his face.
Officials of the Tibetan government-in-exile, which is based in this northern Indian hill station, say the spiritual guru visits places only on invitation.
"His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) prefers to visit universities and educational institutions to speak on compassion, peace, non-violence, promoting human values and to teach Buddhism," Thubten Samphel, secretary of the department of information and international relations of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), told IANS.
He said the spiritual guru also prefers to speak on a number of environmental issues like protecting endangered fauna, minimising greenhouse gas emissions, optimum use of natural resources and climate change.
In the last seven months, the Dalai Lama has toured five countries - two visits each to the US and Germany apart from Switzerland, Slovenia and Japan.
"This year he has travelled much within India. He visited Mumbai, Bodh Gaya, Kolkata, Delhi, Gulabgarh (in Jammu and Kashmir) and Jispa, Kullu and Manali (in Himachal Pradesh)," Samphel said.
According to the Dalai Lama's official website, in 1967 he made his first visit abroad since coming into exile in 1959, visiting Japan and Thailand.
In 1973, he made his first visit to the West, visiting 12 European countries in a record 75 days. His first visit to the US and Canada was in 1979.
In the past five years, the Dalai Lama's preferred foreign destinations include Japan (13 times), the US (11 times), Germany (10 times), Italy (five times) and Switzerland (thrice) and France (twice).
During his visits, the elderly monk participates in meetings with religious leaders, and lectures businessmen on ethics for the new millennium and the art of happiness. He chuckles throughout his talks and often slaps visitors on their back.
He also attends fundraisers with Hollywood celebrities like Richard Gere, Sharon Stone and Goldie Hawn.
"He has a very busy schedule during his visits abroad. His daily schedule has 15-20 appointments," said an aide of the Dalai Lama.
Samphel said since George H.W. Bush (1991), the spiritual leader has met all the US presidents, including Barack Obama Feb 18 this year. He has met Bill Clinton and George W. Bush several times.
He also met French President Nicolas Sarkozy Dec 6, 2008, former British prime minister Gordon Brown May 23, 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Oct 29, 2007, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel Sep 23, 2007.
The Dalai Lama had expressed his desire to visit quake-hit areas in Tibetan Autonomous Region in China in April this year to provide solace to the victims but the Chinese refused to oblige him.
While replying to one of his followers on Twitter regarding his plans to return to Tibet, the Dalai Lama wrote: "Yes, I remain optimistic that I will be able to return to Tibet...We Tibetans will be able to develop Tibet with China's assistance, while at the same time preserving our own unique culture, including spirituality, and our delicate environment."
However, the Dalai Lama felt "ashamed" when he was denied a visa by the South African government in March 2009 as it has close ties with China.
Born July 6, 1935, as Tenzin Gyatso in northeastern Tibet's Taktser hamlet, he was recognised at the age of two as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso. He fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, basing his Tibetan government-in-exile here.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his non-violent campaign for democracy and freedom in his homeland. Ever since he fled to India, he has spent his time in exile pushing for autonomy for Tibet.
The Dalai Lama, who believes in the "middle-path" policy that demands "greater autonomy" for the Tibetans, is viewed by the Chinese as a hostile element bent on splitting Tibet from China.
The Dalai Lama's government-in-exile is not recognised by any country. Some 140,000 Tibetans now live in exile, over 100,000 of them in different parts of India. Over six million Tibetans live in Tibet.