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Tsampa on my shoulder

india Updated: Sep 05, 2009 19:43 IST
Vidura Jang Bahadur

Hoping for a better future
A corner in a Tibetan home en route Lhasa.
In Tibet, there is an overwhelming sense of history and a stark beauty in the landscape. There is also, always, an invisible line between communities and people. A line neither side, Tibetan or Chinese, dared to cross, but were forced to negotiate in order to survive ‘today in the hope of a better future’. The place has a false sense of calm, deceptive to the less discerning.

In the wake of the suppression of the Tibetan uprising last year, and failure of the talks between the Chinese government and representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it is not difficult to imagine that for now, the divide has deepened and it will be difficult to sustain the enforced peace.

The physical landscape and demography of Tibet are changing rapidly. Over decades, Chinese migrants have moved in large numbers to Tibet — for them a land of opportunity. However, adapting to the harsh environment — physical and otherwise — has not been easy. Many continue to stay for lack of anything better back home.

Tibetans see the movement of people to the plateau as an attempt to diminish their claims to the land of their ancestors. This form of subversion extends to education, popular culture and religion, an attempt to end a way of life. It is difficult to say that the plateau would have been different had Tibetans been in power, but like other marginalised communities, their struggle is for self-determination.

For now, there is an uneasy coexistence between the two sides. Tibet is important to the Chinese because of its proximity to India, and as a vast reserve of natural resources with potential for economic use. Meanwhile, the Tibetan movement stands at a critical juncture and seeks global support for the dialogue necessary to sustain a way of life on the roof of the world.

To quote Ma Jian, a dissident Chinese author, "In China, there is a saying; that which is united will eventually separate, and that which is separated will eventually reunite." If so, Tibet’s eventual separation from China is inevitable. Till then, the Tibetans wait patiently, their desire for freedom articulated succinctly by an elderly gentleman I met in Lhasa: "...our Gandhi will come one day..."

Highest saltwater lake in the world
Nam Tso: At a height of 4,718 m, it is one of the highest saltwater lakes in the world and is popular with both Tibetan pilgrims and tourists. A group of Chinese tourists relax along the banks of the lake. Tibet has been a popular destination for Chinese tourists.

Vidura is a freelance photographer currently based in Delhi. He lived and worked in China for more than three years.