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VIJAY KRANTI THE PIONEER, New Delhi 19th August,2002 Pl. respond to : Author THE PIONEER :

(The author, a senior journalist and a Tibet watcher for three decades has just returned from a private visit to Tibet. He is the first ever Indian journalist who could visit Tibet without Chinese patronization or control)

If you are a first time visitor to Lhasa or visiting this 'Roof of the World ' after a gap of over ten years then irrespective of whatever you have read or heard about Tibet from a distance, you can not escape the psychedelic bombing that comes crashing on you with the very first visuals of the city. This bombing is far more overpowering than the splitting headache that sets on most visitors as a result of high altitude and the shortage of oxygen, a striking feature of China's most celebrated colony - Tibet.

If you have been hoping to see yaks roaming muddy streets of this Tibetan capital, then herds of swanky Pajeros, omnipresent Land Cruisers, luxurious green-top Taxis and cars supporting the best known international brands are bound to give you the shock of your life. The most overpowering sight is that of one kilometer long shopping plaza that connects Potala, the traditional seat of Dalai Lamas and Jokhang, the national cathedral and the most revered temple of Tibet. With their glittering facades and well packed modern merchandise the massive Chinese stores lining this street can put even the best shopping malls of western cities like Washington, Berlin, Paris, Zurich and London to shame.

But the worst shock lies in stock for those western tourists who have been hooked to the picture postcard images of old Tibet and have been wondering if there are still some Tibetans left in Lhasa.There are thousands to choose from in the Barkhor, the heart of Tibetan quarter of Lhasa. Walking in a hip-to-hip crowd of circumambulators along the periphery of Jokhang temple many among the crowd hail from distant villages and are distinguishable from their colourful and best traditional attires and, of course, their rosaries and hand held prayer wheel 'Mani'. The rest include the locals and Buddhists from Mainland China, Taiwan, Hongkong and Japan etc. Even if there are a few hundred video cameras watching the crowd from trees and walls of surrounding houses, don't worry, they are meant only for Tibetans.

Inside Potala and monasteries like Jokhang, Drepung, Sera and Tashi Lhumpo too, the locals offer mounds of butter, scarves and small currency notes while the foreigner leave behind heaps of dollars, Yens and Sing-D's (Singapur Dollars) to reflect the height of their faith. Each monastery has its own population of maroon robed monks. In Sera courtyard you can see about 200 of them debating religion. Their session is well synchronized with the tourist buses. As tourists are tired or taking their picutres and buses start moving out the debate session also comes to an end. How many of them are genuine monks and how many are on PSB (Public Security Bureau) duty to keep watch on the visitors and fellow monks is only a matter of guess. Previous experience shows that no sensible tourist can afford landing into trouble by engaging in a serious dialogue with them.

As in any other given situation this visual encounter with China 's Tibet too offers enough space to draw many meanings and interpretations to each interested quarter. The first ones to venture are, obviously, Beijing masters of Lhasa who present the astonishing civic progress of Lhasa as a precious 'gift' from the 'Great Motherland' to an impoverished people of Tibet. They are also quite enthusiastic in presenting the surging crowds of pilgrims at Barkhor, as a proof of religious freedom given to the Tibetans. Interestingly, these two also happen to be the major issues on which China has been facing international community's ire since it forced the Dalai Lama to flee to exile in 1959 and finally assimilated Tibet into the fold of 'great Chinese motherland'.

It is not surprising that China has, of late, adopted a new aggressive policy of saying this all by opening Tibet to international tourism and inviting the world citizens in a true Deng Xiao-Ping spirit to 'seek truth from facts'. As a result of this approach Beijing has opened its Tibetan doors even to Indian visitors who, barring a hand picked select group of 'China Friends', had been simply barred from visiting Tibet during past 50 years.

For a keen watcher of the Tibetan scene for three decades now, this opportunity to seek truth from facts was too tempting to ignore. Even if it meant travelling 750 km as an ordinary tourist in an air-tight bus and staying in 'sanitized' country hotels under the supervision of a China trained Tibetan tour guide and a government sponsored driver.

If you have a reasonable background on the subject and the right kind of eye to separate chaff from barley you cannot escape admiring the great Chinese art of creating colourful and breathtaking facades. But then if you want to see the real colours of this city then, unlike the typical Western 'Ingee' (a Tibetan synonym for the white Europeans and Americans) tourist who loves to remain within the confines of old Lhasa zone of Potala-Shol-Jokhang-Barkhor and its dingy lanes and restaurants, you will have to take a 10 Yuan taxi ride in any direction of this ultra modern city. And, as I did, just allow yourself to be lost in the streets and discover it without a guide.

One kilometer away from this 'Tibetan Quarter' in any direction will reveal what stuff the new Lhasa is made of. And, for whom! In nicely laid out modern and comfortable multistoried houses one rarely sees a Tibetan face except for in the mornings when they come in groups of twos and fours to sweep the streets and collect garbage on behalf of the local municipality. On the other hand one needs to walk only extra ten meters from the main glittering Beijing Street into the Tibetan quarter of the town to see the Tibetan contrast. It is as dramatic as stepping out of a TV soap set to the back stage in a few seconds. Small, congested houses, Tibetans and the 'Ingees' negotiating their way through ankle deep sewer water spilling out of blocked sewer lines, poor kids playing in mud or hanging around a chain of dingy shops selling cheap goodies.

Just another hundred meters in the street and it leaves no one in doubt who is the real beneficiary of all the visible economic progress in Lhasa. Barring a few Tibetan policemen who are too visible in the Barkhor zone for obvious reasons, one rarely finds a Tibetan face in the government offices or even in the tourist offices of Lhasa, Shigatse, Tingri or Lhatse. On the religious front too, real Chinese game seems to be far from what appears on the face of surging religious crowds at Barkhor or massive offerings inside Potala and big temples. Fifty years of Chinese religious record in Tibet, as presented by various UN agencies, human rights groups, media reports and first hand accounts of visiting diplomats etc. have made it clear to the Beijing leaders that they can not tackle the Tibetan problem by crushing religion and culture. Beijing's eagerness to foist a hand picked Panchen Lama on the Tibetans and its more than open role in the selection of new Karma Pa in past years only shows that Chinese leaders are finally waking up to the power of religion in their worst-headache colony Tibet. (It is Chinese misfortune that the new Karma Pa slipped out to India to join hands with Dalai Lama.)

Beijing leaders' decision of giving religious freedom to the local Tibetans on the one hand and opening the gates of Tibet to the outside world on the other only reflects a new Chinese strategy that aims at turning its old sins to its advantage. After Dalai Lama and his supporters having worked for more than 40 long years to make Tibet a household name in the West, Beijing has now decided to cash in on this awareness and mint millions of Touro-dollars. Chinese can surely afford to do so. Besides a massive network of informers and spies to its credit the population-transfer policy of Beijing has already tilted the population scale against the Tibetans in all their cities in a ratio of at least 10 to one. With examples of hundreds of political workers languishing in jail since ages, Beijing has already ensured that Tibetans do not create any significant political problem for the Chinese masters. No wonder the Chinese rulers of Tibet can now make political as well as financial capital through selling Tibet as the most popular cultural zoo of our times.

VIJAY KRANTI THE PIONEER, New Delhi, 20th Aug. 2002

[The author, a senior journalist and a Tibet watcher for three decades has just returned from a private visit to Tibet. He is the first ever Indian journalist who could visit Color Tibet without Chinese patronization or control]

In China's Tibet today one thing which is at premium is the knowledge and fluency in English. A Radio Jockey on Lhasa's Radio China International is a dream position that a young Chinese girl or a Tibetan boy would love to reach - irrespective of the trash or pidgin that some of the RJs roll out. Young girls and boys, working as tourist guides in Potala palace or in the government controlled tourist circuits are another lot who are a target of envy among the youths living in today's Lhasa.

But there are situations when being young, educated and English speaking does not guarantee any convenience and advantage. More, if one is a Tibetan and sitting among inquisitive foreigners in a restaurant or another public place. I learnt this lesson in a sudden meeting with a young Tibetan in a Lhasa restaurant. The ease with which he answered my quarries in English about a place was tempting enough for me to ask him if I could share his table.

He was a graduate from a Chinese university and works in Lhasa. Soon I realized that he was waiting for his girl friend to have dinner in that restaurant. After exchange of formal niceties I placed order for cold drinks for both of us and kept asking him elementary questions about the social life in Lhasa. In the beginning he looked enthusiastic but as our meeting crossed five minutes I could see his discomfort and restlessness. From the sides of his eyes he was looking at people on tables around us to ensure that he was not being watched for talking to a foreigner.

The last straw came when I asked him about his assessment of how acceptable was the Chinese sponsored Panchen Lama boy to the Tibetan people as against the one recognized by the Dalai Lama in exile. By that time his girl friend had also joined us and he had already explained to her about me. I too had waved for a third drink to the Tibetan waiter girl for the lady. My question had an electrifying effect on him. He looked down on the table for a moment, held his girl friend's hand and signaled her to stand up.

In a soft and friendly voice he said, "You are asking very difficult questions. I am afraid my wrong answer will not satisfy you." And before I could absorb what he had said, he stretched his hand for a good bye and said, "I am sorry, we have to reach a friend's place for dinner." He nearly pulled his girl friend out of her seat, went to the cash desk, paid for all the drinks and walked out with a light good-bye nod to me. His statement was far clearer than I had expected.

I got the real answer to this question in Shigatse, the second largest city of Chinese occupied Tibet. The town is home to Tashi Lhumpo monastery, the seat of Panchen Lamas. In 1995 China arrested the six year old Gedhun Choeky Nyima, the boy recognized by the exiled Dalai Lama as the 11th incarnation o f Panchen Lama, and installed its own hand picked boy Gyaltsen Norbu as the 'real' incarnate. Tibetans are fond of displaying the pictures of their incarnate lamas at any and every available place in the house or place of work.

While no Tibetan would dare display a photo of Dalai Lama or Gedhun Choeky Nyima, the photos of the Chinese sponsored Gyaltsen Norbu too are conspicuously absent from shops, small bakeries, restaurants and even poster shops that dot each street in Tibetan cities. People, instead, display big portraits of the late 10th Panchen Lama - a too clear statement to be misunderstood.

The only place where I could see the Chinese sponsored Panchen Lama's picture during my 8-day and 750 km. long encounter with today's Tibet, was inside Tashi Lhumpto monastery. Here too, one can not miss how the Tibetan devotees quietly bypass his seat and picture. In sharp contrast one can recognize the vacant seats of Dalai Lama in every big or small monastery just by the large heap of Khatas (ceremonial scarves), and currency notes offered by the devotees. One also can't miss long scarves tied around wooden pillars of Norbulingka, Dalai Lama's summer palace from where he escaped to India in 1959. Yet another statement of an occupied people?

There are occasions when Tibetans make loud political statements too. But after the 1987 public demonstrations and the ruthless Martial Law that followed, the frequency of open public demonstration of anger has gone down drastically. It is only once in a few months when a couple of monks, nuns or lay Tibetans would surprise the PSB agents and the bystanders in Barkhor with a Tibetan flag, flying pamphlets and shouting slogans. It is a public knowledge that this kind of act is bound to result in severe physical torture plus 8 years in jail, if not 25 or 40 years. There are more than 400 of them languishing in the dreaded Drapchi prison of Lhasa alone.

In past 50 years Tibetans have had enough lessons on how to live with their Chinese masters. They have been through testing periods when anything Tibetan was the focus of Chinese destruction. Not only the temples and the omnipresent Chorten (Stupa) were destroyed, even the 'Dhongmo', bamboo tea mixer used for making Tibetan salt-and-butter tea was banned for decades. It was not uncommon to face public ridicule, even public spitting and kicking, in a 'Thamzing' (community conducted public trials) for crimes as serious as holding a prayer wheel 'Mani' in public or for making tea in Dhongmo which makes gurgling sound that is audible a street away in quiet morning hours.

No wonder Lhasa looks peaceful and Tibetans appear to be content with the Chinese rule to a visiting tourist who is overwhelmed by massive buildings, ultra-modern shopping arcades and, off course, by Tibetans going around the Jokhang temple with their rotating prayer wheels and clicking rosaries.

But if you are one of the kind who would not get swayed by this glitter, then you are surely not going to miss the statements people make even at an as impossible place as a discotheque. Unlike the Chinese Karaoke bars that offer every kind of music and sex escapades through an ever increasing population of Chinese prostitutes from the mainland, the Tibetan 'Nangma' is a different kind of experience in beer, dance and social life. These discotheques have come to stay practically as the only public place where 10, 50 or even a hundred Tibetan youths can meet under one roof.

A Nangma would come to life after 11pm when Tibetan girls and boys in the age range of 13 to 30 suddenly start pouring in groups of twos, fours and even a dozen at a time. All dressed in jeans and T-shirts sip Coke, beer or just mineral water and swing on hard Chinese Rock amidst a flood of laser beams, crystal lights, dry ice fog and nauseating cigarette smoke. Dance sessions take intermittent breaks when live singers take to the floor.

The evening when I witnessed the show started with a 'Tashi Delek!' song by a young male singer. Sung in Tibetan, the good-luck wishing song attracted a long scarf from the management and many cheers from the crowd. Next song was a politically correct one praising Beijing for whatever it does to Tibet. Not a single clap. No cheering. No scarves. The real hero was another young Tibetan who presented a traditional love song that filled the hall with a bursting applause and two scarves from the crowd in addition to the one from management. But anyone hardly listened to him when he presented a politically correct song in Chinese that showered praise on Tibetans for improving the environment of the country. But the real stealer of the hearts was 'Madhuri Dixit', a young Tibetan girl dressed in an Indian Saree and over done make up. Though a poor imitation of the famous Indian cinema heroin from whom she borrows her nick-name, yet her Hindi song 'Chal Jhhoothi.' pulled all the plugs and drowned the hall in claps, cheers, whistles and - five scarves from the audience.

Among the Tibetan society at large too, there are many innocent looking songs like 'Agu Pema' (Uncle Pema) which quickly do rounds in the community and disappear before the Chinese authorities realize that the song had a political message behind it. This particular song which looks like one sung in the memory of a lost dear uncle is actually dedicated to the exiled Dalai Lama who is also revered as 'Pema' (meaning 'Lotus') among the Tibetans. This song is already out of circulation inside China's Tibet but it is still a hot number among the exiled Tibetans who are always eager to hear any political statement that emanates occasionally from their colonized motherland.

VIJAY KRANTI BC-48, West Shalimar Bagh New Delhi-110088. India Phone - +011-7486961, -7486442 Mobile - + 9810245674