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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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Amazon Plans to Close its Domestic Marketplace in China by Mid-July

Amazon shoppers in China will no longer be able to buy goods from third-party merchants in the country, but they still will be able to order from the United States, Britain, Denmark and Japan via the firm’s global store

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FILE - Amazon plans to close its domestic marketplace in China to focus on more lucrative businesses there. VOA

Amazon.com Inc. plans to close its domestic marketplace in China by mid-July, people familiar with the matter told Reuters, focusing efforts on more lucrative businesses selling overseas goods and cloud services in the world’s most populous nation.

Amazon shoppers in China will no longer be able to buy goods from third-party merchants in the country, but they still will be able to order from the United States, Britain, Denmark and Japan via the firm’s global store. Amazon expects to close fulfillment centers and wind down support for domestic-selling merchants in China in the next 90 days, one of the people said.

Home-grown e-commerce

The move underscores how entrenched, home-grown e-commerce rivals have made it difficult for Amazon’s marketplace to gain a foothold. Consumer insights firm iResearch Global said Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s Tmall marketplace and JD.com Inc. controlled 81.9 percent of the Chinese market last year.

“They’re pulling out because it’s not profitable and not growing,” said analyst Michael Pachter at Wedbush Securities. Ker Zheng, marketing specialist at Shenzhen-based e-commerce consultancy Azoya, said Amazon had no major competitive advantage in China over its domestic rivals.

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FILE – A logo of JD.com is seen on a helmet of a delivery man in Beijing, June 16, 2014. VOA

Unless someone is searching for a very specific imported good that can’t be found elsewhere, “there’s no reason for a consumer to pick Amazon because they’re not going to be able to ship things as fast as Tmall or JD,” he said.

Amazon’s customers in China will still be able to purchase the firm’s Kindle e-readers and online content, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing unit that sells data storage and computing power to enterprises, will remain as well.

The U.S.-listed shares of Alibaba and JD.com rose 1% Wednesday after Reuters first reported the move, before paring gains later in the day. Amazon’s shares closed flat.

US retreat, e-commerce showdown

The withdrawal of the world’s largest online retailer — founded by the world’s richest person — comes amid a broader e-commerce slowdown in China. Alibaba in January reported its lowest quarterly earnings growth since 2016, while JD.com is responding to the changing business environment with staff cuts.

 

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FILE – A worker removes an advertisement billboard of Indian online marketplace Flipkart, installed along the roadside in Mumbai, India, Oct. 16, 2015. Amazon.com Inc. is concentrating on India and its competition, Flipkart. VOA

It also follows the Chinese e-commerce retreat of other big-name Western retailers. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sold its Chinese online shopping platform to JD.com in 2016 in return for a stake in JD.com to focus on its bricks-and-mortar stores.

Similarly, the country appears to factor less in the global aspirations of fellow U.S. tech majors Netflix Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Pachter said.

ALSO READ: Microsoft, Amazon in Race For $10bn Pentagon Project

Amazon bought Chinese online shopping website Joyo.com in 2004 for $75 million, rebranding the business in 2011 as Amazon China. But in a sign of Tmall’s dominance, Amazon nevertheless opened an online store on the Alibaba site in 2015.

The firm is still expanding aggressively in other countries, notably India, where it is contending with local rival Flipkart. (VOA)