Tibet: An Introduction
It is now a week after I returned from two weeks in Tibet and while it was an inspiring, magical trip it was also somewhat bitter sweet, for Tibet is in the grip of fighting for its independence with China. I had thought that I would write all this in the following posts however I feel that I should highlight our observations in this introduction for fear of it all being lost in the wonderful experiences that will be in following posts.
The following opinions and experiences are from my own eyes and ears.
In 1959 the Tibetans revolted against the Chinese uprising of Tibet and the Dalai Lama fled to India. Since the "Liberation" of Tibet there has been a destruction of over 6,000 monasteries and death of 1.2m Tibetans. The Chinese want to bring back what it perceives as its "family" back into Chinese rule.
There are many groups that will tell Westerners to not travel to Tibet as you are only helping fuel China occupation: "85% of tourism falls into Chinese pockets" they say, "Tibet should be shut down to tourism, don't fuel it and promote it" they chant. However the Dalai Lama himself wants people to travel, we have a freedom that the East do not have, social media, freedom of speech, unrestricted websites, we have the power to spread the word.
Reasons why you should travel to Tibet: "To inform others of their experiences on their return" - Dalai Lama
Getting into Tibet isn't easy, you must not mention Tibet at all when applying for your Chinese visa or you will be denied access, you will have to provide bookings for hotels in advance (in China), flight bookings need to be provided and you may have to provide a full day by day Itinerary for the whole trip. You will need a permit to get into Tibet, this will be handled by an agent in either China or Tibet, you will need a guide and a driver as tourists are not allowed unoccupied outside of Lhasa. Guides/drivers/permits need to be booked before you leave, but be warned if you book a Chinese company you will most likely get a Chinese guide and will be told an "alternative" history, do your research, if you can book a Tibetan company do so or at the very least a Chinese company where they employ Tibetans. Once inside of China there are two ways to get to Lhasa, fly or train. Which ever way you get there when you arrive you will be met by a Chinese official, have your papers checked and escorted off the property and to your guide.
In Lhasa you will quickly realise the effect China is having. The train itself is full of Chinese tourists (this is now the main route for many), "down town" is a mass of high rise buildings, a new 6 star hotel, a communist style Train station, wide, empty, brand new tarmac'd roads with Chinese flags on every light pole while Communist Guards are plenty and stand to attention looking angry at the station entrance and in front of Chinese/Communist buildings that have been built not too far away. Chinese flags, while not illegal to not be displaying them on your property can carry a heavy fine for not doing so, so most Tibetans do. The Dalai Lama cannot be spoken about or have any documents about him in your possession, Tibetans face jail for downloading pictures of Dalai Lama and the guides will not point out the drawing of him in the "Summer Palace" (although a passing glance and cough will tell you where it is), politics is rarely spoken about as there are informants everywhere and Chinese security are on top of buildings all around Barkhor Square and security checks dot the entrance ways to most places of interest. When on the road outside of Lhasa there is police checks, stationed along the side of the railway is Chinese police/army in tents and even on our last day we were followed by Chinese Government officials. And it goes on…….
Monks numbers are in decline (because Chinese won't allow people to follow their calling), a lot of ancient historical artefacts were destroyed during the "Liberation", the Tibetan language is being phased out and not taught in schools, the Chinese have started teaching "New History" , the Chinese government have blocked all "Tibet/Liberation" related internet posts and taken away every passport-travel outside of Tibet is not possible to a Tibetan and most have no clue what the outside world looks like. The country itself is now largely Chinese (China are offering massive tax brakes/incentives to those that move) and China are plundering Tibets natural resources, currently the Yamdrok Lake (one of the oldest holy grounds of Tibet and highest lake in the world) is being drained for Hydro Electricity.
I am aware that this sounds like a horrible place to visit, I haven't sugar coated it at all, we were lucky that we were told exactly what it is like being a Tibetan in Tibet through various conversations. The point of this is to explain to you what is going on, for if you go without open eyes and mind you will waft through this land none the wiser. If you can, go and go with an open heart, It is the most beautiful land, the Tibetan people are kind, humble, beautiful but in pain. The more people that see what is going on the more we can talk about it, raise awareness, maybe put pressure on governments to intervene….. maybe. Although I (and many) feel that it might be too late.
Tibet is the roof top of the world, a holy land, it has some of the most stunning landscapes you will ever see and some of the most wonderful people you will ever meet, go, experience and see it before it is too late and tradition, history and culture (important to the whole world) is wiped out.