Dalai Lama arrives in US for knee treatment

The Dalai Lama (center) greets devotees at the closing ceremony of a teaching session in the sacred Buddhist site of Bodh Gaya, India, on December 31, 2018. [AFP]

Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama arrived Sunday in New York to undergo knee treatment, drawing a warm and festive welcome from thousands of followers.

His office in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala, his adopted home, announced earlier this month that the 88-year-old Buddhist spiritual leader would travel to the United States to undergo "medical treatment" on his knees, but no further details have been released.

Followers, many wearing traditional Tibetan outfits, waited outside the Dalai Lama's Manhattan hotel in crushing heat hoping to catch a glimpse of the man.

"Once we saw him, it felt really powerful. And everyone was, like, emotional because he's, like, our leader," said one of them, 18-year-old US-born Tenzin Pasang, who has now seen the Dalai Lama three times.

"So it's very nice to see him in New York," she said.

She welcomed the spiritual leader by joining in a performance of a traditional Tibetan dance.

Last week a group of senior US lawmakers including former House speaker Nancy Pelosi met with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, sparking heavy criticism from China.

That visit followed passage of a bill by the US Congress that seeks to encourage Beijing to hold talks with Tibetan leaders -- frozen since 2010.

Many exiled Tibetans fear Beijing will name a rival successor to the Dalai Lama, bolstering control over a land it poured troops into in 1950.

The Dalai Lama was just 23 when he escaped the Tibetan capital Lhasa in fear of his life after Chinese soldiers eviscerated an uprising against Beijing's forces, crossing the snowy Himalayas into India.

He stepped down as his people's political head in 2011, passing the baton of secular power to a government chosen democratically by some 130,000 Tibetans around the world.