In a country where drinking tea (green tea, herbal tea) is done religiously throughout the day, and fitness level of the locals is very high –at least from a layman's observation – as exemplified by absence of obese natives it gets scary when one is instructed upon landing in Lhasa Gonggar Airport, Tibet: "Do not bath/shower on the first day of arrival; Do not run; Walk slowly; Do not eat heavy meals; call a doctor immediately if you notice difficulty breathing...". Even before embarking on a visit to Tibet a thorough medical examination is conducted particularly for those suspected to be asthmatic while as a precaution against medical complications, a conditioning capsule is administered for three consecutive days after meals. Tibet is popularly known as The Roof of the World derived from the region having the highest average elevation above sea level in the world at +4000 metres. Due to the high altitude precautions are advised just as much as a doctor is always on standby. I had first-hand experience recently in a whirlwind tour of different parts of China including Hong Kong, Beijing, Tibet and Shanghai.
Also called the Sunlight city because of the 3 000 hours of sunlight it enjoys annually, Lhasa is the capital city of Tibet – one of the five ethnic autonomous regions/provinces of China. It is the political, economic, cultural and transport hub of Tibet. Lhasa, which means holy land in Tibetan, covers an area of 30 000 square kilometres, with a population of about 600 000. While capturing moments and posing for selfies is not a problem per se, high resolution cameras have to be declared to and cleared by the authorities. Safe for the intimidating assortment of military arsenal lining the Lhasa airport, the place appears peaceful with people going about their daily business without a hitch. Such open show of aggression is presumably due to the controversy surrounding Tibetan leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, living in exile just across the border in neighbouring India. Even senior officials here refuse to discuss the subject, saying only Beijing has such authority. Generally, the peace and quiet of the cities in Tibet are a far cry from atrocities and ravaging widespread poverty reported by Western media. There is clear evidence of economic development in the Himalayan Tibet province. Massive airports, state-of-the-art infrastructure and more developments, spaghetti roads and rail roads are springing up everywhere. Even in Linzhi airport. Two prominent landmarks in the history of Tibet were included in the World Cultural Heritages List by UNESCO in December 1994. A magnificent monument of ancient architecture, the Potala Palace –located at the centre of Lhasa – is the largest and most intact ancient castle style complex in Tibet and also the highest above sea level in the world. The Potala palace square is a favourite tourist attraction for taking photos in front of the massive building atop a hill, currently undergoing renovation before opening up to the public. On the other side of town is the Jokhang Temple, not far from the ancient but still intact former office of Qing Imperial Minister in Tibet. Built in the mid seventh century by Songstan Gambo, Jokhang Temple is a holy place for pilgrims to pay their respects to Budhha. The chapel with a statue of Sakyamuni is the most important one. There are frescoes with different themes on the walls of the corridors of the temple.
Lying in the south-eastern part of Tibet, Nyingchi is in the middle and lower reaches of Yarlung Zanbo river. Shouldering Qambo on the east, Nyinchi has Nagqu as the northern neighbour, with Lhasa and Shannan on the west and southwest. India and Maynnmar lie on the southern border. It enjoys the lowest elevation on the Qinghai – Tibet Plateau of about 3100 metres with the lowest elevation just only 900 metres. Warm and moist, Nyingchi is rich in forest products, rare animals and plant resources and is therefore known as the 'green pearl' on the Qinghai – Tibet plateau. A mini bus-ride from Bayi town of Nyingchi municipality to the state of the art Y3.8 billion Lulang International Tourism town is breath taking, exhilarating and nerve wrecking. Air conditioned mini buses ferrying tourists race past at amazing speeds in the rain soaked roads that meander on the edges of mountains for long stretches on end. Due to non-stop rain and cloud cover visibility is very poor on some sections of these roads but the drivers do not seem bothered. The tourist facility deep in the rural areas off the small city of Nyingchi is nestled between a confluence of mountains and only accessible by road. Complete with 5G technology, the marvellous Lulang International Tourism town, promises to be a serious attraction when it opens up to the public soon. So, for two days I was on the roof of the world! After a tour of Tibet, the next stop was Shanghai, a city fast transforming into a big culture metropolis moving away from concentrating on traditional industries. The culture industry will harness technology for film and animation productions. Shanghai epitomises the true development story of China, as the mayor explains that the city plans to be the international science and innovation centre of the world. To achieve this, she said, they have diverted concerted efforts towards artifical intelligence, the internet of things and bioscience. Government provides a Y3 billion subsidy per annum, while 1% of the GDP goes to cultural courses. The trip to Tibet was preceded by a four-day stay in fog covered Beijing where we visited the Development Research Centre of the State Council, the National Museum of China, Exhibition Centre of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, China Academy of Space Technology, a Visit to the Forbidden City (Emperor's City), the Badaling Great Wall and a speed train visit to Tianjin Port city.
* The writer was part of a delegation from Botswana on a sponsored tour of different parts of China in July2017.