XINING -- Gonpo Tashi meticulously dusts off furniture and ritual utensils every morning in a dark, 12-square meters chamber with a richly-embroidered cushion on bed that has been elegantly prepared for its supposed master.
Just outside the chamber hangs a giant photo of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso as well as enshrines six Buddha statues and a yellow monk robe that Tenzin Gyatso used to wear.
Gonpo said, "I'm ready every day for the Dalai Lama's back home."
His aspiration reminded people of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong's call for the return of the fled Dalai Lama. But the hope seems narrower as the Dalai Lama was denounced by the Chinese government as a "politician in monk's robes" who is trying to split the country.
He and his supporters were blamed for masterminding the deadly Lhasa riots on March 14 last year, which killed 18 innocent people.
Gonpo, the 63-year-old stocky Tibetan, a nephew of the Dalai Lama, has patronized the birthplace of the Tibetan spiritual leader for at least three decades.
The clean but thrifty residential court, consisting of a two-story wooden house and a bright yellow prayer hall, faces 4,000 meter-high snowy Tsongkha Gyiri, a widely-deemed sacred mountain which brought about good fengshui, or fortunate geomancy, to the family of the boy who was later believed the incarnate Dalai Lama.
"Did you notice the continuous red hills within which our long and narrow valley is seated? -- They are lotus petals and the house stands on one petal," said the grizzled man, who splits time between his full-time vigil and serving the county-level people's political consultative conference, or a political advisory body to the local government.
Pointing at a small white pagoda about 200 meters away down from the residence's front gate, Gonpo said, "You know what -- that was an exact place where the Thirteenth Dalai Lama rested himself on his route from Kumbum Monastery to Labrang Monastery."
"A prophetical assertion of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama foretold reincarnation of his soul in this particular rural village," said the former primary school teacher.
One reason why the Thirteenth Dalai Lama chose to stop over, Gonpo said, was the sound relationship between the Dalai Lama and Taktser Rinpoche, a senior lama in the Tibetan Lamaist hierarchy who happened to be the eldest brother of the reincarnated Dalai Lama, who was born on July 6, 1935, with a secular name of Lhamo Thondup.
Lhamo's poor farming family was exceptionally rich in high lamas. Altogether three out of seven siblings became top lamas, with the Dalai Lama atop the pyramid of Tibetan lamas.
The boy ascended as a spiritual leader who mesmerized the faithful as well as gained mundane political celebrity in exile. He was granted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He called himself "a simple Buddhist monk" but was accused by his homeland government of being the chief rebel and an ill-intentioned politician who promoted separatist movements in monk's robes. In many Westerners' eyes, he was no less than fodder for sound bites, photo-ops and newspaper front-page slots.