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Lhasa – between heaven and earth

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By Vishal Gulati 

Lhasa:If there is anything between heaven and earth, it’s Qinghai – the Tibet Plateau in southwestern China.

Surrounded by chuckling mountains, abounding with virgin biodiversity at an elevation of over 4,000 metres, it’s also known as the Roof of the World or Third Pole of the Earth.

The plateau is no longer an enigma. For, China has opened the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) to the tourists after keeping the region, which attracted more than 15 million visitors last year – up more than 20 percent – out of bounds for ages.

This administrative, economic, cultural and economic centre of TAR and its nearby small, scattered villages, located at elevations ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 ft above sea level, give a taste of Tibetan Buddhism, culture, heritage and adventure too.

“It’s simply a land of Buddhism, dotted with holy mountains and lakes,” remarked British tourist David Cook in Lhasa, also known as City Sunshine and which has a history of over 1,300 years.

Spread over more than 1.2 million sq km, the Tibet region constitutes about one-eighth of China’s territory.

It has a population of about three million. Tibetans (2.7 million) and people of other ethnic groups (40,500) account for 92 percent of the population, says the sixth national census of 2010. The balance eight percent (245,200) population is made up of Hans.

At the hilltop of Lhasa stands the famed mud and wood structure – the 13-stored Potala Palace that was once the seat of the Dalai Lama.

It was added to the list of world cultural heritage sites by UNESCO in 1994.

The authorities restrict visitors to the Potala Palace to less than 4,000 a day and it stays open from 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. every day.

The busy season is May to October. At that time, a fee of 200 yuan (Rs.2,000) is charged from each visitor. Otherwise, it’s 100 yuan (Rs.1,000) per visitor.

“Since the current (14th) Dalai Lama is not in China, the Potala Palace is used for cultural purposes, not for religious purposes,” an official told this visiting IANS correspondent.

The current Dalai Lama is residing in India with his followers. He fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

The Potala Palace was first built by Srongtsen Gampo in the 7th century during the Tang Dynasty and was extended during the 17th century.

The white and red palace, comprising a group of large-scale castle-like buildings with 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and 200,000 statues, along with the Norbulingka and the Sakya Monastery, constitute the three main Tibetan cultural heritage sites.

Located on the popular Barkhor Street in the vicinity of the Potala Palace is Tibet’s holiest Jokhang Temple with a golden roof.

The temple, also a World Cultural Heritage Site, has a life-size, seated statue of Sakyamuni (the Buddha) when he was 12 years old.

On an average 10,000 devotees visit the temple daily, say officials. There is an 85 yuan ticket (Rs.850) for the tourists at the temple, while the locals are exempted from this.

The entire Tibet region is populated mainly by tribals. The climatic conditions are harsh as much of the land is a cold desert where the mercury drops to below minus 20 degrees Celsius in winter.

The important festivals of TAR include Shoton, also known as the Yoghurt festival, in Lhasa, the Yarlung and Qomolangma (Mt. Everest) festivals in Shigatse, the Grand Canyon festival in Nyingchi and the Khampa art festival in Qamdo.

The staple food is barley, wheat, peas, rice, rapeseed and salted tea mixed with yak butter.

‘Lhasa’, beer from the Roof of the World, is the most popular brew in Tibet. A 350-ml can costs 5 yuan (Rs.50). It’s a light drink made from barley.

Located in eastern Tibet, picture-perfect resort Nyingchi, some 420 km from Lhasa, is known as ‘Switzerland in Tibet’.

It is home to fauna like the Tibetan antelope, the common wild yak, the elusive snow leopard and the Tibetan kiang.

Getting to Lhasa:

How to travel: By public or private transport.

Beijing and Lhasa are connected by the rail, road and air.

The 4,000-km rail journey, which takes roughly two days, reach altitudes of over 5,000 metres on the Tibetan plateau.

The rail link connecting Lhasa and Shigatse – an extension to the Qinghai-Tibet Railway – is now in service.

Tibet also has five airports.

A network of optical cable, satellite and long-distance telephone lines has been established in the region. By the end of 2013, the penetration rates of telephones and Internet stood at 98.1 percent and 37.4 percent, respectively.

Where to stay in Lhasa: Hotels in Lhasa and home stays with local people on its outskirts.

(IANS)

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NASA’s plan on getting Martian samples to Earth

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NASA brings Martian samples to Earth from Mars.
NASA brings Martian samples to Earth from Mars. IANS
  • NASA plans on getting Martian samples to Earth from Mars
  • To know if life existed anywhere other than on Earth

Washington, Dec 11: (IANS) NASA has revealed how it plans to bring back Martian samples to Earth for the first time with the help of its next rover mission to the Red Planet, Mars 2020.

After landing on Mars, a drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they will be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission, NASA said.

“Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer,” said Ken Farley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we’re alone in the universe,” Farley said.

Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012.

Despite its similarities to Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different goals – it will seek signs of ancient life by studying the terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.

To achieve these new goals, the rover has a suite of cutting-edge science instruments.

It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale.

An X-ray spectrometer will target spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the “glow” from excited rings of carbon atoms.

A ground-penetrating radar will look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 10 metres deep, depending on the material.

The rover is getting some upgraded Curiosity hardware, including colour cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporise rocks and soil to analyse their chemistry, NASA said.

The mission will also undertake a marathon sample hunt.

The rover team will try to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly as many as 30 or 40, for possible future return to Earth, NASA said.

Site selection has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the science community narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three.

All three sites have rich geology and may potentially harbour signs of past microbial life. But a final landing site decision is still more than a year away.

“In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites,” Farley said.

“It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us,” Farley said.

The mission is set to launch in July/August 2020. (IANS)

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Dalai Lama says that India and China have great potential

The spiritual leader feels that both the countries are doing compassionate works

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Dalai Lama talks about India and China
Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai says that India and China can work together. VOA

New Delhi, Nov 19

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Sunday said India and China have “great potential” and they could work together at a “practical level”.

“I think, a great potential… India and China combined are doing more compassionate work… At a practical level also. Imagine two billion people working together,” he told reporters here after inaugurating Smile Foundation’s initiative, The World of Children.

The spiritual leader, who has lived in India in self-imposed exile since 1959, said neither country had the “ability to destroy the other”.

“Whether you like it or not, you have to live side by side,” he said.

Underlining the ancient spiritual connection between the two countries, he said Chinese Buddhist Hsuan Tsang visited Nalanda (now in Bihar) and brought Nalanda Buddhist traditions to China.

“All thinkers of Nalanda are Indian. So Nalanda’s tradition is India’s tradition,” he said.

The Nalanda traditions had turned Tibetans, who were warriors, into more compassionate, peaceful and non-violent nation, he said.

“So sometimes in Delhi, teasing my Indian friend, (I say) if Tibet still remained in the previous way of life, like Mongols, Chinese invasion may not have taken place,” the Dalai Lama said in a lighter vein.

He said nobody in the world wanted violence but it was happening “because our minds are dominated by destructive emotions due to short-sightedness”.

“Nobody wants problems. Yet, many problems are our own creation.”

The Dalai Lama said the existing modern education was oriented to material values. India can take lead in improving the education system by combining modern education with ancient knowledge, he said. (IANS)

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Donald Trump Planning to meet Putin during his Asia tour

Donald Trump's first trip to Asia is the longest international tour.

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US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump. wikimedia commns
  • US President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during his Asia tour.

“I think it’s expected we’ll meet with Putin, yeah. We want Putin’s help on North Korea, and we’ll be meeting with a lot of different leaders,” Donald Trump told reporters on Air Force One before landing at the Yokota Air Base in Japan, Efe reported.

Putin is scheduled to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, which Trump will also attend as part of his long Asia tour.

The North Korean nuclear threat is expected to dominate Donald Trump’s meetings in Japan and the next two stages of his tour, South Korea and China, where he will have a highly anticipated sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The remainder of the tour will be more focused on economic issues, with Trump scheduled to take part in the APEC meeting in Da Nang and then in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines.

Donald Trump’s first trip to Asia is the longest international tour by a US head of state since the one then-President George H.W. Bush embarked on in 1992.

Bush became ill at the end of that trip, famously vomiting on the Japanese prime minister’s lap at a formal dinner before fainting.(IANS)