DHARAMSHALA, India — The Dalai Lama turned 75 Tuesday, a milestone marked by celebrations in his hometown-in-exile but also reflection on 50 years of fruitless negotiations with China on the future of Tibet.
The Tibetan spiritual leader was to address a crowd of 5,000 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, the Buddhist spiritual leader will break with recent birthday tradition and greet well-wishers in person.
"This time, as it's his 75th birthday, he also wanted to join the function," said Tashi Norbu, an official in the Tibetan government-in-exile based in nearby Dharamshala.
Elsewhere, Tibetan communities in North America, Europe and Australia are gearing up for cultural events to celebrate the day, while numerous Internet campaigns are collecting birthday messages.
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 vilifies the exiled monk as a separatist. He denies the charge, maintaining he only wants "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet under Chinese rule.
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 issue 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.
While decades of on-off negotiations with Beijing have seen no tangible progress, the Nobel peace laureate has been extremely successful in keeping the Tibet issue alive with a campaign that continues to attract global sympathy.
There is however concern that his death might prove a fatal blow to the cohesion and momentum of the Tibetan movement that has relied for so long on his leadership and the reverence in which he is held by the exiled community and beyond.
China has already indicated that it will take a hard line on the selection of a successor, with Qiangba Puncog, Tibet's former governor, insisting in March that final approval lies with Beijing.
Traditionally, the search for a new Dalai Lama is conducted by high lamas who fan out across Tibet to find the reincarnation.
Using ritualistic clues, the current Dalai Lama was plucked from his impoverished parents' home aged four.
Senior exiled Tibetans argue that their movement is bigger than any one personality and will survive the passing of its long-time leader.
"What we believe very strongly is that the issue of Tibet will not die," the Dalai Lama's chief representative, Tempa Tsering, said during a visit to Japan in April.
In McLeod Ganj, a van with loudspeakers toured the narrow, traffic-clogged streets on Monday inviting people to join the birthday celebrations.
"All the Tibetans who live locally will go," said 26-year-old Diki Youdon. "It's always hard to get a seat and this year there will be even more people because it's the 75th birthday."
The event will be streamed live at http://dalailama.com/live.
"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".
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.