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Tibet Leaps Forward

Date:2012-07-04 13:36 Hits:

Professor Dr Balmukunda Regmi

Chairman, Awareness Campaign Nepal


‘Roof of the world’ was the term that attracted me to the mysterious land to the north of the Himalayas. I had not seen a topographic photo of the globe where I could understand the meaning of roof. I linked it to the inclined roof of my own house.

Every Chinese I interacted with recommended to me to visit Tibet, Qinghai, Guizhou or Ningxia to see how economically backward place there was in China. Their suggestions reinforced my desire to visit the Sangri-la (which I then considered to be in Tibet). In cold month of December, 1990, with two Nepalese friends, Mr Yadavraj Dhakal and Mr Meghraj Nepal, I set for Lhasa.

Railway travel to Golmud was easy. After getting permission to enter Tibet, we took a jeep to Lhasa. There were about eight passengers including us. We were shivering with the winter chills of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and there was no heater in our vehicle. The road was rough. On the way one of the tires got punctured. We fixed and started again. We were enjoying the vast surrounding pastures spread to the distant horizons. I was trying to discern its edges in all directions my eyes could reach. I had never seen a land right around me that elegant, that vast, that virgin, that calm, that natural, that attractive, that enchanting, that splendid, that out-of-imagination! Forgetting all the coldness and throbbing headache due to high altitude, the inner I was appealing to the sacred land, “hold me in your arms!” Somewhere it looked like heaps of nascent silver flakes, somewhere she looked like a beauty goddess lying under moonlight oblivious of human presence around, somewhere she was seen nourishing her children humans, sheep and cattle, and somewhere it was like mirror played by a mischievous woman to attract the cupid. I stopped sharing my fantasy only after fellow tourists ridiculed my desire to settle in a plane area standing where I could feel the surrounding snow-peaks as tall as (better say, as stout as) myself. All along the way, nothing manmade except the paintings of Buddha image on big stones and decorations of the mountains with Tibetan sutra flags attracted me. The things manmade to attract me in Lhasa were the Potala Palace, Johkhang Temple, Rimpoche Temple and other cultural sites. Nothing compared to its natural beauty! Overwhelmed with joy I derived from the Tibetan Nature, I visited it once more the next year.

After almost two decades, in 2010, I got two opportunities to visit Tibet as a scholar. In one trip, I visited Zhangmu (also known as Khasa) to New Dingri (also spelled as Tingri) by road. In another trip I flied from Kathmandu to Lhasa.

When I put all this background, one may ask, what was the difference? What changes did you see in these decades? Answer is simple: unbelievable and unexplainable! Let me share a small piece of experience of two decades ago. After getting stranded in Shigatse (Rikezi in Chinese pinyin) for almost a week, one early morning around 5 AM Beijing time (about 3:30 AM local time), I set for Shigatse Hotel to chance a vehicle that could drive us to Khasa. On the way I met two clumsily dressed poor-looking Tibetan farmers walking with clubs in their hands. Afraid of them, I paced fast showing confidence to create distance. It was drizzling and I was wearing a folding umbrella. Unfortunately, I encountered about a dozen stray dogs which barked at me and it seemed to me that they were determined to enjoy a feast. Nervous, I tried to defend myself with the umbrella in vain.  Fortunately the farmers arrived, chased away the beasts with the clubs, escorted me to the hotel, and went their way. I refer to them as ‘Tibetan gods!’ I bet nowhere in Tibet can you see farmers get up that early now-a-days, nor would you have to get stranded for so many days for lack of public transport. So far as dogs are concerned, one fulfilled the wishes of those unsuccessful ones after twenty years biting a leg of my friend Dr Ravi Aryal one bright noon in Old Tingri  July 2010.

The natural beauty is still there in Tibet. But what came to my eyes are the smooth clean road, the healthy Tibetans in clean dress, the hospitals and schools in each settlement (I do not want to confuse you with the terms like prefecture, town, county and village!), the hydropower electricity generation plants here and there, the well developed agriculture (see the photo of barley crop field in Yalaicun 4200m), the solar heating panels, and above all happy smiling faces. When we asked about a clean-looking organized group of some vehicles on the road, we were informed that they were the highway maintenance squad and each squad was responsible to clean the assigned section of the road.

In every corner we visited we could see the measures Chinese government is taking to protect the Plateau environment and minimize the adversary of the human activities and climate change.

The effects of Chinese efforts have become rewarding. Take Lhasa for example. We had to hire a rickshaw or a jeep two decades ago, now there are plenty of city buses and cabs. Almost all Tibetans can speak Chinese now, although some villagers need interpreters. I saw no Tibetan express grievance or worship the Dalai Lama in these latest visits. In a village 22 kilometers east of Lhasa City center along the Number 318 National Highway, all the farmers were provided new houses with major support from Lhasa Government. The family we visited got a 2-storey house having total living area 120 square meters (400 square meters including courtyard) with RMB 45000. This family is not a well-off one. Most families in the village possess a vehicle; they do not. The six-member family lives on the pension of the family head RMB 2000/month, income from 7 mu (1 mu=  666.7 square meters) farmland which is about RMB 2100 per year in total and part time wages the second daughter and her husband earn. The wage is RMB 40/day. The youngest son is studying penology at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.

The Lhasa administration has provided free elementary education and health services to its resident Tibetans. Ethnic Tibetans pay RMB 2 to enter the Potala Palace whereas non-ethnic Tibetan Chinese and foreigners pay RMB 100. Ethnic Tibetans get free entry to Johkhang Temple (RMB 80) and Rimpoche Temple (RMB 20). This sort of support and concession to Ethnic Tibetans is widespread.

According to Sun Yong, Vice President of Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences, the living standard of Lhasa ranks the third in China, right after Beijing and Shanghai. How is it possible? Lhasa City is getting support from Beijing City and Jiangsu Province, the largest economy among Chinese provinces and province-status cities. And recently the fifth meeting of China Government has decided the supporters should provide 1 % of their income to the recipients. This means Lhasa City receives about 3 billion RMB from Beijing and Jiangsu. Added to support under different headings from the Central Government and local revenue, the yearly budget of Lhasa exceeds RMB 10 billion.

Similar are the cases with other parts of Tibet. Per capita income of cities in Tibet has reached RMB 13000 (rank #3 in China) while that of villages is RMB 3532 (that is 60% the national average). Monthly average income of the government job holders is RMB 4800, higher than that in any part of China.

The Chinese officials say, they are working hard to push the Tibetan development, which at present is mainly concentrated within the Lhasa-Shigatse-Naqu Triangle, to the rest of the autonomous region. Construction of the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway is underway. They hope with peace and stability in Nepal, Tibet can become a business tract linking rest of China to South Asia.

While carrying out the economic construction, the Chinese have paid attention to the cultural promotion, natural conservation and environmental protection in Tibet. The newly built Lhasa Train Station, all the major streets, settlements have been constructed or renovated in Tibetan style. Qomolangma (Everest) National Park and other protected areas have been established. The Potala Palace Square and the Johkhang Temple Square have been expanded. The streets in Lhasa have been widened. I was mesmerized when I learned that significant northern belt of Lhasa was evacuated and protected as Lhalu Wetland National Nature Reserve which covers 12.2 square kilometers of a tiny city of 53 square kilometers. And this is only protected wetland in China that is situated in a city. Of course, modernization has entered Tibet, and as everywhere in the world, is gradually replacing the traditional.

However I saw nothing forced upon the Tibetans, including their religious freedom (see adjoining photo). What I saw is change has entered Lhasa City; its residents are adopting inner Chinese and Western dresses, food habits, culture and education system. Our guide says one can distinguish city dwellers from villagers by looking at their costumes; villagers are more traditional. But it is only a global truth.

In brief, Tibetan nomads are getting settled, the roof of the world is claiming modernity, the mysterious people and tradition are becoming a component of open world. Simply, Tibet is leaping forward!

(The writer can be reached at bmregmi@yahoo.co.uk)




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