‘The roof of the world,’ the ‘Land of Snows’ or the ‘Forbidden Land’ are some of the ways to refer to the Tibetan Plateau, the largest and highest in the World. Its average elevation is 4,900 metres. Although humans first inhabited the Tibetan Plateau some 21,000 years ago, the North-western region is so remote that it remains uninhabited to this day.
The Capital, Lhasa, literally means ‘Holy Land’ and also ‘Sunlight City’ because of Tibet’s exposure to intense sunlight and sun radiations. The Tibetans call Mount Everest Chomolungma – Mother Goddess of the Earth.
The Tibetan people are mesmerizing, having developed a gentle and mysterious culture where everything seems to be under the influence of Tibetan Buddhism and shamanistic practices.
Unfortunately, being a valuable section of the ‘silk route’, peace has seldom reigned in these regions over the centuries. Tibet became a powerful and unified Empire under Songtsan Gampo in the middle 7th century. His first wife was the Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal, who is thought to have played an important role in establishing Buddhism in Tibet along with the help of his second wife, Princess Wencheng, the niece of the powerful Chinese emperor Taizong of Tang China.
Tibetan people believe that their land encompasses the whole of the Tibetan Plateau, including all counties of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), 95% of the land area of Qinghai province, southwest Gansu, northern Sichuan, western Sichuan and far northwest Yunnan. But the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) is only 50% of the landmass of the Tibetan Plateau. This immense region is the traditional home of the Tibetans as well as other ethnic groups such as the Monpas, Qiang and Lhobas, plus Han and Hui Chinese migrants.
In 1950, the People’s Liberation Army invaded Tibet and in 1951 ‘The Seventeen Point Agreement’ was signed. This re-annexed Tibet back into China’s territory with the theoretical condition of Tibet’s full autonomous status for governance, religion and local affairs. Parts of Tibet are now spread across 5 provinces and regions of South-western China; with around 60% of Tibetans living outside of TAR. During the Cultural Revolution (1966 -1976) much of Tibet’s cultural heritage, as well as China’s, lay in ruins at the hand of the Red Guards and the Communist inspired movement, with over 1.2 million Tibetans killed or imprisoned. Things are now more peaceful with monasteries slowly being re-built; however, the Dalai Lama is still not welcome and the Chinese do close Tibet to the outside World and tourists around March, on the Anniversary of the Tibetan Up-risings. However, a younger generation of Chinese people are starting to wish real autonomy for the Tibetans.
Given all this conflicts and history, it is the dilemma of many tourists whether they should or not visit Tibet and the effect of tourism on Tibetan people, since most of the revenue really goes to the Chinese authorities. But the Dalai Lama has encouraged people to visit Tibet regardless, so the world can see Tibet and learn about its people.