Lhasa, the lost soul of Tibet
Three days separate the Nepali border from Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. Three days confronted with staggering landscapes of 1700 feet passes, mountain lakes and views of Mount Everest. Three days during which one goes through millenary villages and Buddhist temples, where nothing seems to have changed. Three days during which one meets nomads, shepherds and peasants, that neither modernity nor the Chinese occupation, seems to have affected.
Then comes the asphalt, land cruisers, check points, endless avenues, steel and glass buildings, neon lights, business suits, platform shoes. We’re in Lhasa. We open the guidebook, filled with exotic images of Tibet and question the driver: Where is Tibet? Where are the Tibetans? Of course, we can see the Potala, (the exiled dalaï Lama’s official residence) sitting high up on the hill. But bellow, on a deserted square, the monument dedicated to the liberation of Tibet is guarded by the hovering flag of China. Austere streets, newly built department stores, military barracks, cell phone shops; there are no signs of Tibetan culture as we imagine it.
Suddenly at an intersection we discover the multicolored praying flag that decorates the roofs of all Tibetan homes. Squeezed in between two large avenues, we discover the Barkhor area: an island of Tibet, in the Chinese Lhasa. A historical relic crowded with pilgrims, tourists, and souvenir shops. The only Chinese here are the policemen or tourists from Beijing and Shanghaï. We quickly understand that in China nothing will stop economical development, especially not cultural heritage.
Silence. In Lhasa we do not speak much, especially about politics. Breaking the silence is seen as suspicious. Among the Chinese indifference we encounter what we hope is a friendly smile from a Tibetan. We imagine those that resist, those that collaborate, the majority that simply accepts.
A billboard at the entrance of Lhasa showing Deng Xiao Ping, Mao, and Jiang Zemin, reminds us that the cynicism of the Chinese government must be accessible to the masses. This essay is a journey that navigates between the political reality of the Chinese occupation, the effects of globalization, and the hidden complexity of resistance.