Profile of Tibet
Mountains, Monasteries, and ancient culture.
Tibet is a land of extremes – you stand in a sand valley looking up at snow capped peaks; the landscape is harsh and inhospitable, yet the people are the kindest and friendliest you can hope to meet anywhere in the world; the politics are complicated, yet the life is simple and basic. Lhasa, the Potala Palace, the forbidden city have become iconic symbols of this mystical land and aspirations to visit them still run deep amongst many westerners.
The autonomous region of Tibet sits north of the Himalayas bordering Nepal and China. Similar to Nepal it is a land of strategic importance between the powers of India and China, but also, and recently becoming more important, it is the watershed of the Himalayas. A hidden Shangri-La it was closed to visitors until the mid 1980’s, and since then many “outsiders” have journeyed to visit this mystical land. Of course, westerners did travel to Tibet in the 1800’s on reconnaissance and intelligence (espionage) trips during “The Great Game” a period of struggle between Russia and Great Britain to gain power of the region. In the 1900’s German expeditions were seeking research on the history of the Aryan race to prove genetic relationships between the pure and perfect race and Tibetans. Then came the mountaineering expeditions with British groups setting out to reach the summit of the world and climb Everest during the 1920’s. Most famous of all Mallory and Irvine who of course both ended their lives in this pursuit, and the question was never settled – did they make the summit or not? Then Heinrich Harrer, escaping the Second World War, spent seven years in Tibet during which time he became a confident and teacher to the current Dalai Lama.
This history has created complex background to Tibet’s relationships with the rest of the world.
The culture is of course Tibetan Buddhism, headed by the Dali Lama who is said to be a living reincarnation of the Buddha of compassion. Buddhism began in the 5th century in central Tibet – The Yarlung Valley and has prevailed and allowed the people of Tibet to find a way of life on this high altitude plateau. An inhospitable environment with harsh winters Tibet also lacks in summer rainfall as the country forms the main rain shadow above the Himlayas. Herding Yaks across vast territories rotating pastures created the Tibetan “nomad” lifestyle. No fixed abode, but living with nature. Indeed, due to the harsh climate and terrain, and the surrounding mountainous regions much of north west Tibet remains extremely remote and one of the least explored corners of the world. Lhasa, and and the major towns along the Friendship Highway are of course more developed now after Chinese influence and are a stark contrast to the original Tibetan lifestyle and culture. Here there is a dilution of different cultures and people of different ethic backgrounds living in a modernised environment.
To visit Tibet is a chance to see a culture which contrasts greatly from western lifestyles, see a land and people far removed from ourselves, and by doing this we go on a journey of discovery, not only of our destination but also of ourselves.