Ugyen Thinley Dorje, 15, was whisked in a white Mercedes past throngs of Tibetan men, women and children. They stood in rows seven deep to see the monk who has spent the last 13 months restricted to monasteries near Dharmsala, the exile headquarters of the Dalai Lama, the senior Tibetan religious and political leader.
The 17th Karmapa -- one of the most senior monks in Tibetan Buddhism -- was given permission by the Indian government early this month to visit Sarnath, Varanasi and Bodhgaya.
He left Dharmsala on Tuesday night, and arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday, but made no stops at the Tibetan Center or the area where most Tibetans live in the capital. His car, surrounded by security vehicles, sped past the crowds as red-robed monks swung incense burners, and mothers held their babies up to get a peek.
Journalists gave chase, speeding along behind the convoy and rushing into the Radisson Hotel, where the monk was to spend one night, before heading to Sarnath. At least 100 journalists crowded around while politicians placed white and saffron silk scarves around the tall teenager's neck, then crowded closer as guards tried to get him into an elevator.
Dorje, who had eluded Chinese guards to escape from his monastery and trudged part of the way over the Himalayas last year so that he could meet with his teachers, looked stunned at the chaos around him in the hotel. As he entered the elevator, he waved slightly, then almost covered his face with his hand as his eyes blinked in the glare of the flashbulbs.
Dorje, head of the Karma Kagyu sect, will spend the next six days, including the Tibetan new year, at a monastery 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Sarnath, officials in Dharmsala said. On Feb. 26 he is to begin a three-week pilgrimage from Bodhgaya of the most sacred Buddhist shrines in India. Buddhists believe the founder of their religion achieved enlightenment at Bodhgaya.
The New Delhi government granted the Karmapa refugee status on Feb. 3, giving him more freedom to travel in India. However, he was prohibited from going to Rumtek Monastery, the seat of his predecessor, in the former Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim. Now an Indian state, Sikkim is also claimed by China.
He has also been denied permission to visit Shearabling, a monastic center in northern India considered of great significance to Tibetan Buddhists.
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet after a failed 1959 revolt against Chinese rule, was followed to northern India by more than 120,000 refugees who settled with him in the Indian mountain town of Dharmsala. They and their descendants, and new refugees, have settled in pockets all over India, and New Delhi is a major center for Tibetans.