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The New Face of Tibet

China Radio International, China 9 August 2006

International jounarlists are visiting Gongzhong Village, Linzhi County in Tibet. (Photo: CRIENGLISH.com) by Sunita Dwivedi, India

Tibet has undergone mind-boggling changes and her mesmerizing beauty defines the Roof of the World. For centuries few people could lay eyes on the mysterious kingdom of Tibet, called the 'land of the snow and the roof of the world'. But with the Chinese policy of 'opening up' this landlocked Autonomous Province of China is no longer the hidden kingdom that so charmed and mesmerized the early western travelers that they risked their lives to reach Lhasa and have a glimpse of the famous Potala. India is naturally gifted with a long border with this enchanting 'Shangri-la'-the paradise on earth that even surpasses the beauty of Switzerland. One of the most fascinating places to visit in Asia, Tibet offers fabulous monasteries with their beautiful wall paintings, stunning views of the high snow-clad mountains, gushing milky streams and the famous rivers and lakes of the world. But for nearly four decades this 'Shangri-la' in the aftermath of the 1962 war and the border dispute that ravaged the 2000 year old friendship shared by China. A testimony to the deep cultural integration between the two countries is the 'Journey to the West' the travelogue of the famous Hieun Tsiang in the seventh century AD.

Focus on friendship: Notwithstanding the set back of the 1960s in the bilateral relations and the acrimony expressed by some Indian leaders, for example George Fernandez stating that China was our enemy number one-the recent open and frank exchanges on trade and border issues between the two countries and realization that both need each other is the biggest change in the five decades of Indo-China relations. There is more understanding now than ever. The two countries have been able to put the past behind them and revive the deep ties they shared historically. After nearly five decades, both India and China have expressed deep feelings for each other and the recognition of the need for mutual cooperation in building a conductive environment for growth and prosperity through the principles of peaceful co-existence. Both agree that the border question has mutually acceptable solutions and that peace in the border area is the imperative for progress. In this regard Wu Dawei, vice minister of China pointed out recently during a meeting with the Indian press delegation that the border between India and China must become an asset and not a stumbling block and must benefit the people of the two countries. With strong focus on friendship India can hope that in future, apart from trade Nathu la more points could be opened along the Indo-China border for trade and tourism. For example, India's border areas in Ladakh and in the North-East states could provide the shortest route for both trade and tourism in China. Taking a positive attitude on border trade between the two countries Wu Dawei said that the long border between India and China should be the life line not the death line for the people of the two countries.

Growth in economy: It is for every visitor to see that the Chinese economy has been growing rapidly in the past years. The impact of this can be best observed in Tibet, which just a few decades ago was undeveloped and completely shut off from the world. Now the Tibetans are shrugging off their past and redefining their world. They have worked hard to raise their GDP to ten percent. In recent times the province is changing faster than anyone can dream of. One can now travel anywhere in Tibet through the wide network of national highways and provincial roads connecting every major town and almost every village, communicate using the internet from the remotest destination, and eat the best of meals even in small wayside restaurant. It was a pleasant surprise to see land tractors being used for ploughing the fields instead of the traditional ploughs. Traveling on the Tibet-Sichuan highway 318 one can see power cables all along the mighty mountains. Not even for a second does the mobile phone service go off on the long high way that passes through some of the most difficult terrains of Tibet and Sichuan provinces. Tibet has experienced a remarkable progress during the autonomy. Since Tibet was less developed economically and socially and was a minority region China took steps for its development and allocated a huge budget for it. The constructions of railways, airways and road networks in Tibet are an exemplary task that China has accomplished. Major progress has been made in agriculture and animal husbandry. There has been rapid headway in education. The people's living standards have improved. Key prestigious construction projects include comprehensive development of 65,700 square kilometers of the middle reaches of the 'three rivers'-Yarlung Zangbu and its tributaries-LhasaRiver and Neyang Qu River. The GonggarAirport at Lhasa and the BamdaAirport in Qamdo have been expanded-Nepal, Nagqu-Qamdo and Zetang-Gonggar Airport Highways have been built connecting all parts of Tibet with the neighboring provinces. The most challenging and prestigious of the projects undertaken so far has been the Qinghai-Tibet railways extending 1,118 kilometers from Golmud in the east to Lhasa in the west having an elevation of 4,000 meters for 960 kilometers rail line. The mobile telecom business has developed at a rapid pace. For the first time on the roof of the world optical fiber telecommunication cable has been installed from Lhasa to Xigaze, which extends for 340 kilometers through the mountain peaks through an elevation of 4,000 meters.

Modernity mixes with tradition: There is a heady mix of modernity and tradition. And the Jokhang monastery, in the main bazaar area, one can see every morning thousands of devotees prostrating before the Buddha and turning the huge prayer wheels for good fortune. Monks and nuns can be seen circumambulating. Ordinary men and women move around with the rotating prayer wheel in their hands. At Barkhor Street, Tibetans play the traditional Tibetan music. Modern buildings still follow the basic structure of the traditional style. Cultural and historical monuments are being protected throughout Tibet and being opened to the public. Nearly all Tibetans follow Tibetan Buddhism with the expectation of a miniscule minority who follow Islam and Catholicism. Respecting and protecting the religious belief is a basic policy of the Chinese government. The citizens have the right to believe or not to believe in any religion or to follow any sect within a religion. Normal religious activities can be seen anywhere in Tibet. Religious institutions are being restored. At present there are about 1700 monasteries in Tibet. In this regard China has allocated more than 380 million yuan for the repair and restoration of monasteries including the Potala Palace, Jokhang, Samye, Sera, Tashilhunpo, Gandain monasteries, to name a few. The government-funded Institute of Buddhism is the place where Living Buddhas and Buddhist scholars teach sutras and religious history. Major monasteries hold classes for studying sutras and arrange debates on Buddhist doctrines.

Tibetology: Tibetology has become a special area of study in China and there are more than 50 institutions specializing in Tibetology. The China National Centre for Tibetan Studies was set up in Beijing in 1986. These institutions have undertaken many research projects on a wide variety of topics including regional economic and social development strategies, editing and studying and researching Sanskrit sutras written in pattra palm leaves and conducting research on Tantric Buddhism.


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