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Ahead of Olympics, Beijing welcomes visitors to Tibet


Suhasini Haidar,CNN-IBN
Sep 30, 2007 at 05:03pm IST

Lhasa: Meditating monks on cobbled streets, bustling bazaars lined with coral and turquoise, tangkhas and mandalas depicting ancient Buddhist mythology and Tibetans selling yak meat and butter — it's all part of the Lhasa one imagines before they reach there.

But there is another side of Tibet's capital, an unimaginably modern Lhasa, with skyscrapers and highways that tunnel through mountains and high streets that rival with fashion capitals around the world.

The contrast between Old Lhasa and New Lhasa is like night and day and nowhere is it more stark than in the main square where the Potala Palace stands in front of this tribute to the Chinese takeover of Tibet — called the Peaceful Liberation Monument.

Since that Chinese crackdown in 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled to India, all political activity in Lhasa has shifted base to Dharamsala.

As more and more Tibetan activists moved to India and the west, more and more Chinese have moved into Lhasa, particularly after the Lhasa rail-link was inaugurated last year, now bringing in more than 4,000 passengers each day as well as newer trade opportunities, fueling a GDP growth of more than 12 per cent.

Some like Tibet Daily newspaper Senior Editor, Wendy Liu, say they moved to Tibet because of all the promise.

"I want to write and make more people know about Tibet," says she.

Most shops and businesses one visits in Lhasa, including traditional jewellery stores are now run by Chinese.

What seems obvious is the changing demographics of Lhasa. Some estimates say that of the 250,000 people in Lhasa more than half may be Han Chinese.

At the state run Tibet TV, star presenter of a travel show Yeshi Jasu says Tibet is changing rapidly as a result.

"The changes are economic and social, but most of all it is the people's mindset that is changing now," says Jasu.

A change that's pitted progress against a culture preserved for centuries, much in the way the Chinese dominated New Lhasa now overpowers Old Lhasa, rewriting the future of the roof of the world.

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