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Tibet - the Old, the New and the Developing

Print edition : Sep 02, 2000 T+T-

A photo feature by N. RAM, who visited the Tibet Autonomous Region of China in July 2000.

Idealising Tibet's far-from-the-madding-crowd isolation, primitive impenetrability, undeveloped economy, frozen-in-time traditions and Lama-led spirituality is a favourite device of western travel writing and media reportage and analysis of China's vast and sparsely populated autonomous region. The other side of the coin is hostility, mostly of the patronising kind, vented both against unification with China and the process of modernisation that you see at work everywhere in Tibet. But this ancient land , a once-great-sea that has become a high altitude plateau averaging 4,000 metres, the 'roof of the world', offers fascinating contrasts. Everywhere, you see alternations of the old and the new, the modern and the traditional, the entrenched and the deve loping. But Tibet, whose annual economic growth rate has been close to 10 per cent over the past six years, is decidedly on the move.

A view of modernising Lhasa from the Marpo Ri, the 130 metre 'Red Hill' on which the Potala Palace stands.

Lhasa's No. 1 Senior Secondary School, founded as a middle school in 1956: it has 1,800 senior high school students, 134 teachers and improving facilities.

The new Tibet Autonomous Region Museum, one of China's finest historical museums: the Chinese Central Government has invested over 100 million yuan in building and developing this.

A typical rural scene in central Tibet.

A glimpse of the production process at the Tibet Lhasa Brewery Company Ltd. A highly successful beer producing venture, the company - which went public and got listed on the Shenzen Stock Exchange in 1997 - has diversified its activities into tourism, hotels and biotechnology.

An Internet bar near Lhasa's world-famous Jokhang Temple.

Yumbulagang, reputed to be Tibet's first castle or 'palace', is situated near Tsetang in the Yarlung Valley, which is often described as the cradle of Tibetan civilisation and the birthplace of the Tibetan nationality. Theresidence of Nyatri T sanpo, the first King, it is a striking looking structure on a hillock that draws a large number of domestic and foreign tourists. Yumbulagang overlooks extremely fertile agricultural land and enchanting scenic spots.

This priceless statue of Jowo Sakyamuni, that is Buddha at the age of 12, in Jokhang Temple's main chapel is the most revered religious image in all of Tibet. The 1.5 metre statue, draped in silks and jewellery and flanked by silver pillars wi th dragon motifs, is believed by Tibetans to have come originally from India to China and to date back to the time of the Buddha himself. The statue took three years to make the journey from Xian in the seventh century A.D., along with the Tang dynasty P rincess Wncheng, who married songtsen Gamp, Tibet's 33rd king.

The statue of Tibet's most celebrated King, Songtsen Gampo, who spread Buddhism throughout his kingdom, inside an ancient chapel in Jokhang Temple.

Songtsen Gampo's Nepali wife, Princess Tritsun.

Songtsen Gampo's Han Chinese wife, Princess Wencheng from the Tang Emperor's family.

A typical street scene in Lhasa. Tibet has over 1,700 Buddhist religious places and an estimated 46,000 resident monks and nuns.

A view of traditional rural Tibetan dwellings in Yarlung Valley in central Tibet.

People go about their business in Lhasa's old Tibetan Barkhor area.

A Lhasa bazaar scene.

Fifty-six year old Lhondru, head of a seven member Tibetan peasant family in Tsetang in Shannan Prefecture. He noted that living standards had improved considerably since the 1970s.

Portraits of the tenth Panchen Lama, a beloved figure who took a very different path from the fourteenth Dalai Lama and died in 1989, are on display or sale in most parts of Tibet.

The Angler's Club on the outskirts of Lhasa.

Tibet's mighty river, the Yarlung Tsangpo, known as the Brahmaputra in India.