“Beijing Olympic Games 2008” was written on the stickers on trucks in Kodari parking. This is the last Nepalese town before passing Zanghmu at the border with China. This is the only official border between the Autonomous Region of Tibet (TAR) and the other countries. We passed the border undercover by a tourist visa (since journalists are not welcomed here).
Ready to have the trip on the road leading the Olympic torch to Everest Mountain at 8.800 meters high in few months. You will probably watch it broadcasted on tv. Millions of spectators will see, but won’t know. In very few hours footages won’t be able to show you the hidden tragedy behind the Olympic Games scene, namely the endangered Tibet. Our cameras attracted border policemen.
Our cameras attracted border policemen. “As Olympic Games get closer, checks become stricter” said a Nepalese villager. We saw no Tibetan, because Beijing didn’t allow them to cross the country. Mountains are the only way-out for occupation’s opponents. We drove our land-cruiser and just as them, we were constantly checked as if in custody. Here, free tourism is not allowed as well as freedom of speech. Our itinerary has been already planned, checked and approved by Chinese authorities. They checked again our trip along the wonderful Friendship Highway’s check-points. From Nyalam ahead, numerous placards urged us to discover the beautiful arts of a no longer existing Tibet. We couldn’t but put it back together: only confused rests on the peaks right ahead the hairpins going higher and higher towards the Himalayan plateau. This is what remains of 6.000 Buddhist monasteries.
They were razed during Mao Tsetung invasion in 1950. Propaganda called it Tibet’s “pacific freedom”, as we could read from the books on sale at the airport duty free shop and from the cement obelisk in front of Potala Palace in Lhasa, former capital and residence of Dalai Lama- the religious and political head, who has been exiled in India from 1959. From the Cultural Revolution, half a century has passed and military conquests too. Today the living Buddha’s reign has been dominated not by using weapons, but by building routes. By 2010 80% of Tibetan streets will be paved. Goal: carry material to build new towns and Chinese settlers to live in.
The “Olympic route” that Beijing wants to extend from Tingri village to glaciers at 5.200 high is just an example. Environmentalist warn the risks for the ecosystem, while the Government promises that the 110 km paved way (and a hotel in few years) will allow tourists to take suggestive pictures of the so-called “Roof of the World”, which now can be reached by a dirt patch only. Last April, a demonstration of the NGO “Students for a Free Tibet” at Everest base camp forced Beijing to stop works –cost: 14 million euro- in order to prevent bad publicity in media. A petition against Chinese oppressors has already been sent to the Olympic Committee by international activists urging to boycott the Games. However, it’s already planned: after a tour from March to July in 137.000 km around the globe, the torch will beat the height record, reaching the mountain of God Qomolangma (the Tibetan name for Everest). We stopped at Shigatse, the second most populated and cemented town after Lhasa.
Panchen Lama’s pictures (who is traditionally appointed as Dalai’s successor, namely appointed by Beijing Government) decorated Tashilhunpo monastery. At lunchtime we saw a crowd of monks -equipped with mobile phones- who preferred watching Chinese TV in the town’s restaurants, rather than eating at their canteen. “Business is actually corrupting Tibetan spiritualism” admitted Nina. By shadowing their orange tunics, we found out a commercial street in a fake Tibetan style, where you can buy imitations of thangkaand other holy relics destroyed by Mao Tzetung’s “freedom army”. Everywhere we went in Tibet, the bad version is mixed with the good one, that created to blind western tourists -meaning 150.000 per year- who make Chinese restaurants and hotels rich. In Shangri-La valleys, not only spritualism but also fresh pure air are actually disappearing. In spite of 4.000 mt height, towns are real CO2 factories.
Anti-smog masks protect villagers from smoking coming out from exaust piepes and chimneys burning paper and animal dung. These are the only fuels they can use, given that TAR natural gas is directely ducted via pipes to Beijing. We got closer to Lhasa, the mythical “forbidden city” now turned into a polluted Chinese metropole. We realized that it was closer because of the numerous flags of Chinese Popular Republic on the rooftops. “They are placed there to show tourists our loyalty to China” ironised Mazang. Real sketches of the ancient Tibet were the multicolored mantra on the snowed peaks in the background and the kind invitations to drink the typical butter tee with nomads. They genereally travel by tractors, as their ancestors rode horses. Most of them leave the steppe for towns.
They prefer towns’ comforts rather than sheepfarming and the price to pay is to accept Chinese rules. For instance, birth restrictions: maximum 2 children per family. The extra children have no rights. This is yet enough to harshlydecrease the Tibetan population -now a minority: 6 against 8 millions- compared to the Chinese growth due to a constant immigration. “Chinese come here since they can easily find a job and have no competition, given that the poor Tibetan education level” commented a fashioned 30 year-old lady. She hated Chinese night clubs in Beijing Road where young Tibetans are used to have fun. However, she took a degree in China and is now a State employee, meaning 20 times more a normal salary. She perfectly represented the new generation, hiding Dalai Lama’s pictures in their houses -because Beijing banned it) and working for a Chinese Governement office rather than praying at the millenary Jokhang Temple.
“Those who want to earn a lot must study in China” complained our guide. “With a Chinese licence I will earn 400 yuan per day (40 euro) instead of 80”. Modernisation goes hand in hand with “chinesization” and is clear from the double language indications: big characters in Chinese, smaller in Tibetan Last day: we cancelled the trip to the rebel monastery in Drepung. One of those still remained safe and active against the so-called “patriotic education” imposed by the regime. They explained to us that Chinese police found out 40 “criminal” religious pictures and decided to close it to tourists. Probably, some monks will be tortured in the same cells where political prisoners are detained. The Prison in Chushur, near Lhasa in the south. -Maybe will it be filmed by cameras- we wondered flying over the Everest back to home -when the olympic torch passes it by?