Dharamsala, Jan 16 (IANS) Though living in exile in India for over half a century, the longing to see their homeland has not waned among the Tibetan residents in this north Indian hill town.
"I still desire to set foot on the soil I left long back," said Lamtso, an octogenarian woman living here since the 1960s.
Lamtso has been living in the quaint town with the snow-clad Dhauladhar ranges in the backdrop along with her family since Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama arrived here in the early 1960s after fleeing the Chinese army crackdown in Tibet.
"I was born in a small village in northeastern Tibet. I miss the vast grasslands, the snowy mountains and my pastoral community," an emotional Lamtso told IANS at the Tsuglagkhang Temple in McLeodganj, above Dharamsala, where she is a regular at morning prayers.
McLeodganj is the headquarters of the Tibetian government-in-exile. Over 100,000 Tibetans have been living in exile in India.
Another octogenarian, Dechen, who quit Tibet in the early 1960s, told IANS: "Before I die, I want to return to my first home."
She said through an interpreter: "Every exiled Tibetan has hopes of returning to the homeland one day. I owe my gratitude to India, where I have lived most of my adult life."
With fond memories of her homeland, the 86-year-old has raised a new generation in exile and wants it too to return to Tibet.
"We have struggled to enable our children and grandchildren get the best education in India. Now they have to return to serve their own people," she said.
However, the Tibetans born and brought up in India are more hopeful than the older generation.
"Tibetans in Tibet must see the ray of freedom sooner rather than later. The rising number of self-immolation incidents (in Tibet) shows the extent of their suffering," said Lobsang Wangyal, producer-director of the popular Miss Tibet beauty pageant.
"The fiery protests show that Tibetans would rather die than live under such unbearable circumstances," he told IANS.
For Lobsang Sangay, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, returning to a home he has never seen is his dream.
"This is our dream, aspiration and struggle," Sangay told IANS.
The 43-year-old took over the reins of the government-in-exile in August 2011 from 74-year-old monk and scholar Samdhong Rinpoche, who held the post for 10 years but was overshadowed by the Dalai Lama.
With the Dalai Lama stepping down from diplomacy and politics, the prime minister's post has acquired added stature.
"After the spiritual leader handed over the reins of government to the elected leadership, everybody was apprehensive about the Tibetan movement being carried forward without the Dalai Lama at the helm.
"But now, we are proud to say that with his blessing, the Tibetan movement is as strong as it ever was," he said.
Acknowledging the hard work of the elder generation, he said the foundation of the Tibetan movement is very strong.
"It has sent a clear message to the Chinese who were wrongly thinking that the movement will die a slow death after the Dalai Lama," he said.
For a peaceful resolution of the Tibetan issue, Sangay is treading the Dalai Lama's middle path policy that seeks genuine autonomy within China.
"Democracy and non-violence are two key principles we will never compromise," he said.
But he also believes in dialogue. "We are willing to negotiate with China anytime, anywhere."
Even the Dalai Lama, who escaped from Tibet in 1959, pins his hopes on returning home.
"I remain optimistic that I will be able to return to Tibet. China is in the process of changing. Besides, I'm not seeking separation from China," he wrote on his website.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)