A developing Tibet shows its new face
By Sunita Dwivedi (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-09-21 06:14

Tibet's mesmerizing beauty defines the mysterious "land of the snow and the roof of the world." The mystery of the land was compounded by the fact that, for centuries, few people could lay eyes on it.

However, Tibet has undergone mind-boggling changes of late.

With the Chinese policy of "opening up," this landlocked autonomous region is no longer the hidden kingdom that so charmed and mesmerized the early Western travellers who risked their lives to reach Lhasa and have a glimpse of the famous Potala Palace.

India is naturally gifted with a long border with this enchanting "Shangri-la" - the paradise on earth. One of the most fascinating places to visit in Asia, Tibet offers fabulous monasteries with beautiful wall paintings, stunning views of the high snow-clad mountains, gushing milky streams and world-famous rivers and lakes.

But for nearly four decades, this Shangri-la has lain in the shadow of the 1962 war and the border dispute that ravaged the 2000-year-old friendship between India and 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.

Notwithstanding the setback of the 1960s to bilateral relations, the recent open and frank exchanges on trade and border issues between the two countries, and the realization that both need each other, is the biggest change in the five decades of Indo-Chinese 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 co-operation in building an environment conducive to 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 imperative for progress.

It is for every visitor to see that the Chinese economy has been growing rapidly in recent 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. In recent times, the autonomous region has been changing faster than anyone could 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 restaurants.

It was a pleasant surprise to see land tractors being used for ploughing the fields instead of the traditional ploughs. Travelling on the Tibet-Sichuan highway, 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 highway that passes through some of the most difficult terrain of Tibet and Sichuan Province.

Since Tibet was a minority region, and less economically and socially developed, China took steps for its development and allocated a huge budget for it. The construction of railways, airways and road networks in Tibet is 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 have been finished. The most challenging and prestigious of the projects undertaken so far has been the Qinghai-Tibet railway, extending 1,118 kilometres from Golmud in the east to Lhasa in the west and reaching an elevation of 4,000 metres for 960 kilometres of rail line.

There is a heady mix of modernity and tradition. And every morning in the Jokhang monastery, in the main bazaar area, one can see thousands of devotees prostrating themselves before the Buddha and turning the huge prayer wheels for good fortune. Monks and nuns can be seen circumambulating. At Barkhor Street, Tibetans play traditional Tibetan music. Modern buildings still follow the basic structure of the traditional style. Cultural and historical monuments throughout Tibet are being protected and opened to the public.

Nearly all Tibetans follow Tibetan Buddhism. Respecting and protecting religious belief is a basic policy of the Chinese Government: citizens have the right to believe or not to believe in any religion. Normal religious activities can be seen everywhere in Tibet. Religious institutions are being restored. At present there are about 1,700 monasteries in Tibet.

(China Daily 09/21/2006 page4)