Tibet has rightly been referred to as ‘The Roof of the World’ in all general knowledge books published and read worldwide. The topography of Tibet comprises of a high plateau referred to as the Pamirs spread across Central Asia It is perched at an average altitude of 4,900 meters above the sea level. The social, political and cultural set up of Tibet from the 17th century till 1959 has primarily been spiritual and deeply religious. It finds its roots in the doctrines of Buddhism springing support from the guidelines of the bodhisattva of compassion.
The Tibetan Buddhism is the distinguished form of Vajrayan and finds similarity with the Shingon Buddhist tradition practiced in Japan with distinctive ceremonial rituals and sacred gestures and words. The capital city Lhasa is considered to be the most sacred city of Tibet. The Potala Palace in Lhasa has traditionally been the seat of secretarial and political power administered and executed by the His Holiness Dalai Lamas and his regents till its occupation by the People’s Republic of China in 1959. Currently Tibet has been accorded the status of an autonomous region within the fold of China mainland.
In 1624 Portuguese were the first among foreigners to have come to Tibet and built a church. They were most welcome until the mass influx of the Jesuits in the region causing the wrath of the otherwise peaceful lamas and were expelled by mid-18th century. Potato crop was introduced in Tibet by George Boggle, a Scottish man who came to the Shigatse region to explore possibilities of trade with the British owned East India Company. Shigatse is the second largest city and is situated west of Lhasa. Tibet from mid eighteenth century to mid nineteenth century was wrapped amid expansionist tendencies of the British in India and tsars in Russia. This made the government authorities of Tibet to shut its doors to all foreigners by 1855. Surveyor spies such as Nain Singh backed by the British Government in India clandestinely mapped the altitude, longitude and latitude of the Lhasa city and traced the route of the mighty river Tsangpo which enters the Indian mainland as River Brahmaputra.
Places of interest in Tibet include the historical monasteries such as the great Ramoche and Jokhang Temples. The Potala Palace has rightly been assigned a place of honor amongst the list of World Heritage Sites for its grandeur; splendor and magnificent architecture build on the lines of the traditional Buddhist art. Norbulingka is the summer abode of the much revered Dalai Lama is a delight to the eyes.
The colorful thangka paintings and mandalams, The Buddhist wheel with two dragons in fury mirror the meaningful Buddhist approach. It can vividly be seen infused in the architecture of the land. Chanting of the religious mantras in Tibetan or Sanskrit is well integrated into the spiritual way of living that religion inspires to the Tibetans. The air of Tibet has a tone of magic and mystique in it and is currently blending with the winds of modernization.
The Central government in China has done much to push the tourism sector in Tibet by way of infusing in much development. Qinghai-Tibet Railway which is the highest located rail line in the world connects Tibet with the eastern provinces of China and has become functional since July 2006. The serpentine passage of the train amidst the majestic mountains laden with awe-inspiring pictorial panorama and rejoicing of ones spirit in the reverberence of the cool, mystical air is a journey worth remembering for long times to come.
Traditional items of the Tibetan origin primarily the handicrafts such as the typical colorful Tibetan Buddhist murals, paintings, rugs, carpets, quilts, jewellary, fabrics, wooden items, precious stones, hats are very much in demand from the tourists generating returns in terms of the much desired foreign currency. Other items of tourists’ interest include the copper teapots, rosaries, turquoise, precious and semi-precious gems, Buddha figures, masks and costumes. The incoming of the tourism has brought about economic and social revaluation in the otherwise hard-up Tibet. However many view these progressive efforts as the killer of the religious culture distinctive of Tibetan culture. Tourists can avail the services of the experienced local tour operators to take them for the trek in the mesmerizing wilderness and lush greens in the deep interiors of the forest.