Tourists discover exotic beauty of Tibet
November 2, 1996
Web posted at: 2:30 p.m. EST (1930 GMT)
From Correspondent Bruce Kennedy
LHASA, Tibet (CNN) -- To much of the world, Tibet is best
known as the former home of the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist
spiritual leader who now lives in exile in India.
But Tibet also is gaining recognition as a popular
destination for tourists.
(765K/20 sec. QuickTime movie)
China first inched open Tibet's doors in 1980, offering
the world a glimpse of breathtaking beauty with spectacular
Buddhist temples framed against an awe-inspiriting mountain
backdrop. The landscape and the unique lifestyle of its
people are luring tourists to Tibet in ever-growing numbers.
The mountain region's biggest claim to fame remains the Dalai
Lama and his campaign for Tibetan autonomy -- and the tension
between the spiritual leader and the Chinese government is
not lost on residents or visitors. The Dalai Lama fled from
Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
"I do not want to say too much about the political situation
for several reasons," said Norwegian tourist Bodil Grindal.
"But as Norwegians, we gave the Nobel Peace Prize to the
Dalai Lama and ... I think we have said what we need to say."
Despite the antagonistic relationship between Beijing and the
Dalai Lama, China has played a considerable role in
developing tourism in Tibet. One such aid was recreational
facilities set up to draw more tourist dollars to a poor,
underdeveloped and largely inaccessible region.
"From the point of view of the government, the Tourism
Bureau, and my own personal view, we are all very confident
about the development of tourism in Tibet," said Zhou Lizong,
vice director of the Tibet Tourism Bureau.
One of the more popular attractions is the Jokhang Temple in
the capital, Lhasa. At the temple, devout Buddhists chant
prayers and spin prayer wheels that contain tightly rolled
scrolls of handwritten scripture. Each spin of the wheel is
a symbolic way of reading the prayers hidden inside.
Outside the temple, pilgrims pray while juniper incense burns
in huge urns.
Lhasa's Potala Palace, the former home of the Dalai Lama, is
another popular tourist destination. And from the temple to
the palace, Lhasa's skyline is lit by the ornate golden
rooftops of religious shrines.
The Chinese government's attitude toward Tibetan Buddhism has
varied from complete rejection two to three decades ago to
the public policy of tolerance today. Behind the scenes,
however, China has been placing hand-picked choices within
the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy in an effort to reign in its
At any rate, there are a growing number of Buddhists in
Lhasa, most making pilgrimages to ensure that their next life
will be a better one.
In addition to Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace, pilgrims
and tourists are drawn to Sera Monastery on the outskirts of
the capital, near cliffs decorated with religious paintings.
Their backdrop is a breathtaking view of the Himalayan
U.S. tourist Mary Beth Cooper thinks Tibet is worth the trip.
"It's pretty much indescribable," she said. "It's vast,
overwhelming, awesome, beautiful, interesting."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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