Situated on a mountainous plateau in western China, the autonomous region of Tibet, known as 'Xizang' in Mandarin Chinese, is often referred to as the "Shangri La", or 'the roof of the world'. Tibet presents an amazing, and mysterious civilization to outsiders, offering such spectacles as natural, snow-capped peaks of Mount Everest, Tibetan Buddhist architecture such as the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the Jokhang Temple, several sacred Buddhist places, Tibetan festivals and customs, and much more.
In the past, farmers often settled in small villages with barley as their main crop. While roaming nomads earned their living by herding yaks and sheep, those Tibetans dwelling within cities made a living as craftsmen. However, presently Tibetan society is witnessing an influx of people into the field of business.
Since China's Family Planning Program is not enforced among the Tibetan people, the Tibetan population continues to expand. According to a census conducted in 2000, there are 2,616,300 people in Tibet, with Tibetans totaling 2,411,100 or 92.2% of the current regional population. The census also revealed that Tibetan's average lifespan has increased to 68 due to improved standards of living and greater access to medical services. Illiteracy has additionally decreased to 850,700.
With a way of life that stayed the same for centuries, Tibet is so high up and far away that few visitors ever reached its borders until last century. Interrupting the ancient peace of the Buddhist mountain kingdom came first the British and Indian traders. Coupled with their interest was that of China and Russia who asserted their influence and sovereignty over the region. Now, as an autonomous province of China, religious Tibet has entered the modern world, and is trying with the help of its allies to keep apace with developments of the rest of the country.
Most Tibetans are devout Buddhists while a few believe in the old Bon. Islam and Catholicism also have a few followers in Lhasa and Yanjing. In its early years, Tibetan Buddhism was greatly influenced by Indian Buddhism, but after years of evolution, Tibetan Buddhism has developed its own distinctive qualities and practices. A well-known example is the belief that there is a living Buddha, who is the reincarnation of the first.
Dalai Lama & Panchen Lama
The Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, both of the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, are at the top of the lama hierarchy in old Tibet. The title "Dalai Lama", meaning Ocean Of Wisdom, was first conferred on Sonam Gyatso by the Mongol King Altan Khan who was converted to Tibetan Buddhism in 1578. Sonam Gyatso is the third Dalai Lama since his two predecessors were posthumously conferred as the first and the second Dalai Lamas.
The practice of conferring the title "Dalai Lama" became established when Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty bestowed the same title on the Great Fifth (the fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Losang Gyatso) in 1653. The Dalai Lama is considered the incarnation of Chenrezi (Avalokiteshvarra), Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron deity of Tibet by Tibetan people. There have been fourteen Dalai Lamas, each one considered a reincarnation of the former.
The title of Panchen, Great Scholar, was conferred on Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen by Qosot Mongol Gushri Khan in 1645. Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen was the fourth Panchen Lama and the three abbots before him were conferred the title posthumously. In 1713, Emperor Kangxi conferred the title of Panchen Erdeni (Erdeni, in Manchurian, means treasure) to the fifth Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is esteemed as the incarnation of Amitayus, Buddha of Infinite Light. Tashilungpo Monastery is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lamas. Till now there have been eleven Panchen Lamas. The eleventh Panchen, identified in 1995, now lives in China.
Monks in Drepung, Tibet
This distinct form of Tibetan Buddhism, also called Lamaism, developed during the 10th century and was firmly established from this time onwards. As the years passed and Tibetan Buddhism spread into neighboring provinces and countries, a number of different sects evolved which were to develop both political and religious influence. The following five are the most influential.
Tibet lies on the Qinghai Tibet Plateau of China. Known as the world's highest region, the Tibetan region averages more than 4,500 meters (16,000 feet) above sea level with its highest peak claiming 8.846.27 meters (29,029 ft) above sea level. This peak known as Everest Peak is also the highest peak in the world.
Tibet is to the south of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province, to the west of Sichuan, to the northwest of Yunnan and to the north of India and Nepal. Its population of 2.3 million people consists of a variety of ethnic groups including Tibetan, Han, Monba and Lhota. Its capital city is Lhasa.
Tibet's Physical Features primarily consists of a plateau, known as "the roof of the world"; a small area in the southeast descends to the Brahmaputra River Valley; north of the Gangdise Range and south of the Kunlun Range is the vast Northern Tibet Plateau with hills, basins, lakes, and snow-covered peaks: the southern valleys between the Gangdise and the Himalayas are Tibet's principal farming and pastoral lands; in the east is a region of parallel mountains and valleys, which are the northern half of the Hengduan Mountains.
The Himalaya Mountains in southern Tibet have an average elevation of 6,000 meters; in the north are the Kunlun and Tanggula Ranges; in the central southwest lies the Gangdise Range, the Hengduan Mountains are to the immediate east of the Nyainqentanglha Range.
The Tibetan economy is dominated by subsistence agriculture. Due to limited arable land, livestock farming is the primary occupation mainly on the Tibetan Plateau, among them are sheep, cattle, goats, camels, yaks and horses. However, the main crops grown are barley, wheat, buckwheat, rye, potatoes and assorted fruits and vegetables.
Tibet is also rich in water, geothermal, solar, and wind energy. It produces approximately 200 million kw of natural hydro-energy annually (about 30% of the nation's total). It has 354.8 billion cubic meters of surface water resources (13.5% of the nation's total); and 330 billion cubic meters of glacial water resources. Tibet has 56.59 million kilowatt exploitable hydro-energy resources, (15% of the nation's total). Tibet also leads China in geothermal energy production. The Yangbajain geothermal field in Damxung County, Lhasa, is China's largest high temperature steam geothermal field, and also one of the largest geothermal fields in the world. Since the 1980s Tibet has launched a series of projects to encourage the wider use of solar energy. The region's location on a plateau some 4,000 meters above sea level puts it closer to the sun than any other place on earth, and therefore, it has an average of 3,400 hours of sunshine annually. Tibet is China's leading source of solar power, with considerable potential for further development in this industry.
Tibet is a giant plant kingdom with more than 5,000 species of high grade plants. It is also one of China's largest forest areas with preserved intact primeval forests. Almost all known, main plant species from tropical to frigid zones of the northern hemisphere can be found here.
In recent years, due to the increased interest in Tibetan Buddhism tourism has become an increasingly important sector, and is actively promoted by the authorities. The Tibetan economy is heavily subsidized by the Central government and government cadres received the second highest salaries in China. Tourism brings in the most income from the sale of handicrafts. These include Tibetan hats, jewelry (silver and gold), wooden items, clothing, quilts, fabrics, Tibetan rugs and carpets.
Tibet's GDP grew 14 percent to a total of 25.1 billion RMB in 2005. In the first half of 2006, the economy grew by 12.5 percent. The rapid pace of economic growth can be credited to the financial support given by both the central and local government to major infrastructure projects in the region. The region's staple exports are traditional items such as goat's wool, serge, herbal medicines and carpets. Imports are mainly electrical goods, steel products, vehicles, pesticides and textiles.
The climate and altitude are extremes in Tibet. Temperature variation between day and night is huge. Be careful not to catch cold, because of Mountain Sickness, which could possibly be fatal in Tibet. One should prepare an aid kit before arriving with necessities to treat the following: diarrhea, giardiasis, hepatitis, respiratory tract infections (colds, influenza and bronchitis). Bring along oxygen tanks to aid breathing in higher elevations. Medicine can be obtained from pharmacies beforehand, most of them on Yuthok Lu Road in Lhasa.
The sun is much stronger at this elevation because there is little atmosphere to filter its rays, and is more likely to injure travelers' skin and eyes. Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat are recommended. Moreover, the boiling point of water is somewhat lower in Tibet. Therefore it is better to boil water for a longer period of time. Drinking water should be purified with iodine or other purification tablets before consumption to prevent intestinal discomfort.
Packs of wild dogs roaming around monasteries and villages are common and can be a potential threat. Get a rabies vaccination (human diploid cell vaccine or purified chick embryo culture vaccine) in advance and stay away from them. Visitors to remote areas may see wild animals, such as wild yaks, Tibetan antelopes and such. For safety's sake it's advised to keep one's distance.