October 18, 2005

The New Tibet (has even better roads than Bangalore!)

India Today has a very nice article about Tibet. No more monks or yak butter. I have made the sections in bold where Tibet's infrastructure is even better than Bangalore. The corrupt villager-attitude govt of bangalore needs to go back to its village. We don't need such bastards in Bangalore.
With China eager to put Tibet on top of the tourism map, the land of the Dalai Lama has undergone a drastic transformation in its image and outlook.
By Uday Mahurkar in Lhasa photographs by Shailesh Raval 
THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE: Several swanky shopping malls have come up in Lhasa whose only landmark for long had been the famous Potala Palace (extreme left)
Dance bars are not something that you expect to see on the roof of the world. Even if it is not the type made infamous by Mumbai's nightlifers. The bars now dot localities not far from Jokhang Temple Square, Lhasa's golden mile, which today bears no resemblance to the picture postcards of the Tibetan capital of yore. Instead of the classic images of the Potala Palace or monks in burnished red robes turning prayer wheels, giant electronic billboards, spanking new, sheer glass malls and six-lane highways now dominate the Tibetan cityscape. Come nightfall and flashy neon signs light up newly built streets and roadside cafeterias come alive with people. Blaring music, including Hindi tunes from the dance bars, attract a gaggle of Tibetan and Chinese teenagers, dressed in whatever is the latest in fashion. They guzzle beer through much of the night and shake a leg as their counterparts would do in any other metro in the world. Says Hui Tsang, a Chinese businessman: "Lhasa is as cosmopolitan as one can think of."
After China allowed private investment in certain areas, the economy is getting into industrial mode, though it still remains dependent on agriculture and tourism.
As China opens up the Tibetan capital to eastern and western tourists, it has wrought dramatic changes across what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region (tar). The Chinese Government is pumping in billions of yuan to build Lhasa and its environs into a major tourist attraction. Part of the money is spent on renovating the famous palaces and monasteries in the region. In a worn-out portion of the beautiful but ageing Norbulingka Palace, a band of Tibetan workers are engaged in rebuilding what was once the Dalai Lama's summer retreat. During lunch time the workers divide themselves into two groups, each forming a cordon by slipping arms around each other's waist and dancing to a haunting Tibetan song: "I will do hard work from my side. You do it from your side. And together we will build this place." As they sing, they thump their wooden stumps in unison.
GOING GLOBAL: A plush shopping mall in Lhasa (above) is as common as a roadside beer shop at the mountain village of Arshar Dobary on the way to Mount Kailash
A little distance away is the famed 1,000-room Potala Palace, a repository of an ancient civilisation complete with gilded stupas, royal chambers and spacious high-ceiling halls. The largest number of visitors seems to be Chinese who even offer to the Buddhist pagodas currency notes that carry the image of Mao Zedong. It is the ultimate irony for it was Mao who had once vowed to remove Buddhism from China and Tibet with his Cultural Revolution. Even the erect Chinese guards no longer frown at Indians as they hug and shake hands with lamas. One of them said, "It is great that you are from the land of Buddha." Perhaps taking Buddha's name instead of the Dalai Lama's is a formality in deference to the Chinese who are still the rulers.
The winds of change were first fanned by Deng Xiaoping, who tried to partially reverse Mao's policies, realising the long-term danger to China from them. He allowed partial religious freedom and even the reconstruction of demolished monasteries. Now President Hu Jintao and the new generation of Chinese leaders are only accelerating the process.
WHERE THE ROADS MEET: (Clockwise from top Armymen at Zhangmu town on India-Nepal border; an ethnic restaurant at Lhasa; the broad Beijing-Tungla road
Everywhere sweeping changes are evident. When the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 on horseback, Lhasa had just two cars. Both were owned by the Potala Palace. One was a gift from India and the other from the United Kingdom. Today, Lhasa boasts a showroom of some of the most expensive cars, with the latest models of the Buick and Toyota Land Cruisers available. Not far from it are dazzling gold jewellery shops patronised by women who are part of Tibet's growing new rich. At a nearby dance bar, Norbu, 28, a popular pop singer of Lhasa and a Shah Rukh Khan film buff who had studied in India for many years, isn't much concerned about Tibetan culture being replaced by flashy western lifestyles. He sings both English and Tibetan numbers on stage. One is about a money-crazy Chinese girl falling for the charms of a Tibetan youth, but only after he shows her tonnes of wealth. Says Thupten Phuntshok, a Tibetan employee in a Chinese firm and a frequent visitor to these dance bars: "Apart from the development that the Chinese have brought about, one of the reasons why the Tibetans have slowly come to accept Chinese suzerainty is the dance-bar culture. A good part of the Tibetan youngsters is happy holding the beer glass, instead of the Buddhist chanting mala. The urge in them to grow economically overrides every other concern."
COSMOPOLITAN: Villagers play pool near Lhatseh
Many of Tibet's young are on the lookout for a well-paying job after having lived for years in hardship. One such woman is Dawa Chamzi, 22, a stylishly dressed waiter at a small hotel in Saga, an impressive town on the Brahmaputra's banks on the way to Kailash from Lhasa. Chamzi's family has 11 members, who once subsisted on farming. So Chamzi headed to Saga, the nearest town, and started working for a modest salary of around 500 yuan per month (Rs 3,000) at a hotel. A bubbly Chamzi says, "I am aiming for a salary of 800 yuan a month once I get married. One thousand yuan a month would be an excellent bonus for me."
COSMOPOLITAN: a family watches a Bollywood film in Lhasa; Chinese
and Tibetans at a dance bar in Lhasa
Even other cities and towns are changing as rapidly as Lhasa is. Take Shigatse, the biggest city of Tibet after Lhasa with a population of around one lakh. The town is better known for its famous Tashilhunpo Monastery, the seat of the Panchen Lama, the only Tibetan monk who sided with the Chinese at the time of the Chinese invasion in the 1950s. The Lama, however, rose in opposition to the Chinese during Mao's Cultural Revolution before being jailed for 10 years up to his release in 1976. Teeming with dance bars, shopping malls, exquisite squares and high-quality roads, Shigatse occupies a special place because of its association with the Panchen Lama and his friendly relations with the Chinese in the last leg of his life. The township is crowded with lamas and vendors who sell attractive pictures of Tibet's second highest ranking lama, one of them showing him riding a horse.
What is common to the major towns of Tibet, including Saga, Nyalam, Lhatse and Nari, that have a population ranging between 8,000 and 15,000, is that all of them have wide, cemented and clean roads. Apart from the ubiquitous dance and beer bars, these towns have good telecommunication network and Internet facilities set up by Chinamobile and China Telecom, both government-run companies. What is more, phone calls within Tibet are cheap. An std call within Tibet costs only 0.4 yuan per minute. On a mobile it costs only a little more, 0.6 yuan per minute. Observes Passang Norbu, 27, a Tibetan guide in Lhasa: "Strong and cheap communication network is the cornerstone of Tibet's development. Our planners have rightly given it the top priority." Outside central Tibet, however, the pace of development is slower as is evident in the kutcha roads there. But as Kalsang Nima, 40, a wealthy Tibetan businessman in Lhatse, says, "One has to agree that Tibet has made rapid strides in many areas."
Almost all regions receiving considerable sunshine have public and private solar systems. It is not uncommon to find house owners cooking yak meat in solar cookers. The local administration has encouraged a responsible culture in villages through awareness campaigns, where people are told that electricity comes at a premium in backward areas and that they should use minimum number of bulbs and tubelights. The Chinese influence in villages as well as towns is visible in the popularity of pool. One can find youngsters as well as elderly men playing the game with single-minded concentration in the smallest of villages.
Some of them do admit to having wondered whether Tibet could have made similar progress under the Dalai Lama. The spiritual leader may be negotiating with the Chinese Government but talking openly about his Holiness in Tibet is still taboo under the Chinese dispensation. When it comes to religious freedom of the Tibetans, the situation has improved, though any Tibetan Buddhist wanting to become a lama has to register himself or herself with the local Chinese authorities. School textbooks might remain silent on the 14th (present) Dalai Lama but they don't belittle the earlier Dalai Lamas or Tibetan heroes. That's the measure of the change that has come, though the usual claims of fruits of socialism do form part of social sciences in schools. However, education at the college level is mostly in Chinese and this makes many Tibetans suspect that the system is aimed at ensuring that only those tuned to the Chinese culture will be able to participate in Tibet's economic development.
CONCRETE IMAGES: A youth at a road side telephone booth (left) Tibetan Countryside 
If the changes on the religious front that the Chinese have brought about in the past few years are partly due to the force of globalisation, they are also a result of the steps that they took in the '60s to dilute the demographic superiority of ethnic Tibetans. In 1965, China divided the original Tibet into three parts and merged two of these parts, mainly Amdo and Kham regions, with mainland China and rechristened the third part, which is today's Tibet, as the Tibet Autonomous Region. In tar the Tibetans are still in a majority, despite the influx of the Chinese. But if one considers the undivided, old Tibet, Han Chinese have overtaken the Tibetans. So now there is hardly any reason for China to feel insecure. The demographic invasion by the Chinese and the sharing of the vast mineral resources of tar are said to be the main bone of contention between the Chinese and the Dalai Lama in their secret negotiations.
After the Chinese Government allowed private investment in certain areas, the economy is getting into industrial mode, but it remains primarily dependent on agriculture, animal husbandry, Tibetan medicine and tourists. Says a Chinese official: "The accent is on tapping the tourism potential of Tibet." The new railway line from Lhasa to Qinghai province, which will start operating soon, is expected to give a big boost to Tibet's overall development. The laying of the railway line itself over the tallest mountains of the world is seen as a wonder by experts. It will connect Beijing with Lhasa through a two-day train journey. Says Jiang Jiao, a Chinese businessman dealing in carpets: "In a few years the railway line will change the face of Tibet completely." Already tremendous winds of change are blowing across what was once the Forbidden Land.

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