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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 Kepler Discovers Nearly 100 New Exoplanets

NASA researchers found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft

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UFO religion as a concept is now becoming a part of popular understanding.
Countless galaxies exist in the universe, each hiding secrets that humankind is yet to unearth. Pixabay
  • NASA’s Kepler has discovered nearly 100 new exoplanets
  • Some of the planets discovered are as large as Jupiter
  • NASA has also found planet which orbits very bright stars

An international team of scientists have confirmed the discovery of nearly 100 new exoplanets — planets located outside our solar system.

The discovery was based on data from the second mission of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope or K2 released in 2014.

NASA has discovered nearly 100 exoplanets. Wikimedia Commons
NASA has discovered nearly 100 exoplanets. Wikimedia Commons

K2 searches for exoplanet transits by registering dips in light caused by the shadow of an exoplanet as it crosses in front of its host star.

NASA researchers found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft.

But they also detected planets that range from sub-Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger.

Also Read: Milky Way’s neighbouring galaxy is of the same size, not bigger

One of the planets detected was orbiting a very bright star.

“We validated a planet on a 10-day orbit around a star called HD 212657, which is now the brightest star found by K2 missions to host a validated planet,” said lead author Andrew Mayo, a doctoral student at the National Space Institute (DTU Space) at the Technical University of Denmark.

Some of the planets found are as big as Jupiter. VOA
Some of the planets found are as big as Jupiter. VOA

For the study, appearing in the Astronomical Journal, the team started out analyzing 275 candidates of which 149 were validated as real exoplanets.

In turn 95 of these planets have proved to be new discoveries, Mayo said.

The Kepler spacecraft was first launched in 2009 to hunt for exoplanets in a single patch of sky, but in 2013 a mechanical failure crippled the telescope.

NASA has found many planets before as well. Wikimedia Commons
NASA has found many planets before as well. Wikimedia Commons

However, astronomers and engineers devised a way to repurpose and save the space telescope by changing its field of view periodically. This solution paved the way for the follow up K2 mission.

Adding the newly discovered exoplanets brings the total number of exoplanets by K2 mission to almost 300, the study said.

Also Read: NASA sounding rocket probing dark regions of space falter

The first planet orbiting a star similar to our own Sun was detected only in 1995. Today some 3,600 exoplanets have been found, ranging from rocky Earth-sized planets to large gas giants like Jupiter. IANS