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Page last updated at 16:35 GMT, Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Dalai Lama's birthplace blocked

Michael Bristow
BBC News, Xining, Qinghai Province

Tibetan prayer flags on a hill in Qinghai Province, China
Tibetan prayer flags adorn a hill near Taktser

The man the Chinese government claims has masterminded the current unrest in Tibet was born in a poor village deep in the mountains of Qinghai Province.

Tenzin Gyatso, better known as the 14th Dalai Lama, came from an ordinary Tibetan family that grew barley, buckwheat and potatoes in the village of Taktser.

That village, which lies along a pot-holed road, has now been blocked off by Chinese police following the wave of protests across Tibetan areas.

When the BBC tried to visit, we were turned back by police who had set up a temporary roadblock just a few miles outside the village.

China presumably fears Taktser, called Hongya in Chinese, could become the focus of fresh protests against Beijing's rule in Tibet.

No signposts

The Dalai Lama's home village, which is a few hours' drive outside the provincial capital Xining, is not an easy place to find.

The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959
There are no signs that mark this village, in Ping'an County, as the birthplace of Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader. It is obviously not a place China wants tourists to visit.

But they do visit, according to local people interviewed by the BBC.

"The village has three lamas (Buddhist monks) and gets lots of tourists. They come in buses," said one man as he worked in a field.

Another local, whose mother lives in Taktser, said there are about 70 to 80 families living there; a mix of Han Chinese people and Tibetans.

Unfortunately, the BBC was not allowed to see the village, in which the Dalai Lama's former home is still standing, according to a Tibetan who visited recently.

"What are you doing here," a police officer asked us, before ordering us to turn around.

Security around Xining is tight following the outbreak of protests, which began in Lhasa on 10 March and have since spread to other Tibetan areas.

There were police checkpoints in the city itself on Tuesday.

A few miles from Taktser, security officers were also watching a Tibetan monastery situated on a hill that overlooks a still-frozen river.

Dangerous

Born in 1935 and named Lhamo Thondrup, the Dalai Lama did not live in Taktser for long.

A farmer who lives near Taktser, where Dalai Lama was born
Qinghai is a poor province
Once identified as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, he was taken to Lhasa, where he was declared the new Dalai Lama.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made it clear why China considers this monk a dangerous man.

"There is ample fact and plenty of evidence proving [the protests were] organised, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique," he said.

China believes the Dalai Lama wants nothing less than complete independence for Tibet

These are charges flatly denied by the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

He says he just wants genuine autonomy for Tibetans.

The area around Taktser, surrounded by bare, brown hills, seems a long way from the protests that have convulsed Tibetan areas over the last week.

On Tuesday, poor farmers, who still use animals to till the fields, were working as usual. Others could be seen chatting or playing cards.

But the Dalai Lama has travelled the world since fleeing Tibet, promoting the idea that Tibetans deserve greater autonomy from Beijing.

For many, he has come to symbolise the Tibetans' struggle for more freedom. While that is the case, places like Taktser will remain sensitive.


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