Home    |    Celebration    |    Tibet Today   |    Cultural Heritage    |    Ethnic Flavors   |    Cultural Achievement    |     Tibet in My Eyes    
  Closer to heaven: Tibet offers escape from the world with natural, spiritual charm  

Snowy mountains, golden-roofed monasteries, monks clad in saffron robes and tanned nomads -- these are some of the many images of Tibet that stand out.

For centuries, the highest inhabited plateau in the world has attracted thousands of outsiders for different reasons, religious or worldly, spiritual or physical.

In a travel book published in 1927, French writer and explorer Alexandra David-Neel wrote about "a land different from all others".

In 1925, she trekked for four months over high mountains and through deep valleys from southwest China's Yunnan province to Lhasa, which was then forbidden to foreigners.

David-Neel entered Tibet disguised as a poor Tibetan pilgrim, accompanied by a monk friend. She spoke the Tibetan language fluently and had studied Tibetan Buddhism for many years.

Today, getting to Tibet no longer requires subterfuge, and both foreign and domestic tourists are welcome. Last year, about 6.85 million domestic and foreign tourists visited Tibet.

Even though some of the mystery surrounding Tibet may have vanished, it still inspires intense feelings.

"It is always an overwhelming experience when you stand on the roof of the Jokhang Temple, watching a current of people doing clockwise ritual walks on the street and at the distance the Potala Palace standing still against the snowy mountains," says German traveler Sigrid Tenge-Erb, who is visiting Tibet for the third time.

"You can always feel closer to heaven in Tibet," she says.

In 1990, Tenge-Erb first came to Tibet with her husband and son and, in 2007, the couple returned to Lhasa via the newly built Qinghai-Tibet railway. This time, they plan to travel by car from Lhasa to the Nepali capital Kathmandu.

"The attraction of Tibet is a mixture of landscape, religion, culture and people," she says. "I really cannot tell which one interests me most but just want to return again and again."

People's devotion to religion impresses Tenge-Erb. "It seems that local Tibetans devote their heart and soul to their beliefs, which is very moving," she says.

Kristen Odnun, also from Germany, finished her first trip to Tibet in April and, besides the landscape and heritage sites, the friendliness of the local people is something she's unlikely to forget.

"People here are even friendlier than I expected. They love smiling. Even if they're not talking to you, they'll smile at you. I get a feeling that, from the bottom of their heart, they are happy," Odnun says.

She plans to return for a longer stay next time.


First a tour, then a temporary stay and finally long-term residence -- many outsiders have settled in Lhasa this way.

Lhasa has about 300,000 permanent residents, but the city's total population is estimated be around 500,000 to 600,000. A large number of outsiders flow in and out of Tibet, spending about eight months of a year on the pleateau, from spring to autumn. They move to lower areas in winter when oxygen levels drop.

Zhao Xiao'ou has been living in Tibet on a semi-permanent basis for 12 years. She says Tibet has "reshaped" her.

"Tibet has turned an accountant into an artist," she jokes.

Before coming to Tibet, she worked as an accountant at a flour factory in her hometown, a small city in neighboring Sichuan province. In Lhasa, she met some artist friends and learned to paint.

"I'm not a painter but have sold two or three of my paintings," says the 37-year-old.

Zhao runs a small jewelry shop near Barkhor Street, a busy business street and tourist site in Lhasa. She and her assistant design most of the jewelry.

"If I hadn't come to Lhasa but stayed in my hometown, I would have lived a normal but possibly boring life. Here I have met lots of interesting people, artists, monks and other free-spirited people who gave up a comfortable life, families and friends in their hometown and came to Tibet," she says. "In every place there are interesting people, but in Lhasa you meet them more easily."

Lhasa remains one of the happiest cities in China despite an economic growth that still lags behind other Chinese cities.

According to an annual survey by China Central Television (CCTV) among 100,000 residents in 104 cities and 300 counties across China, residents of Lhasa were among the happiest in 2010.

Since the survey began in 2006, Lhasa has topped the list for four years and was among the top three in 2008.

Both natives and outsiders say Lhasa is not filled with tensions common in other parts of China, as the gap between the rich and poor is not so glaring and modernization has not shaken the traditional social structure.

Zhao attests that money and social status are not as important in Lhasa as in her home town.

Buddhism also plays a part. "The belief of incarnation, or the next life, has an impact. You don't complain, just enjoy what you have now," says Sonam, who works for a local newspaper.

"Maybe because of the religious presence, you will find people in Lhasa have a calmer face, and there's less anxiety to earn or win. An outsider can be affected easily and begin to slow down and relax. This may be the main reason why we like to live here," Zhao said. (More)

Some advantages of Tibet enhance the attraction. Fabrice Duche has stayed in Lhasa for five years because of the clean air, abundant sunshine and the convenience of a small city.

"The quantity of air in Tibet may not be enough, but the quality is very good," he jokes.

Duche appreciates that just a five-minute drive from the cafe he manages is a department store, internet cafe and a green hillside ideal for getting a suntan.

"What else can you ask for an urban life?" he says.

Duche first came to Tibet as a tourist and stayed for the business opportunities.

Besides a cafe, he is operating an investment consulting company. He says foreign investment in Tibet is not as much as in other more developed provinces, but it's increasing. "I make ends meet and live a comfortable life," Duche says.

He has been thinking of buying a house here and plans to stay for at least another five years.

1 2 Next
Tibet in Brief
Tibet A-Z MORE
· Peaceful Liberation of Tibet
· Concise Tibet History
· Tibetan Buddhism
Prefectures MORE
· Lhasa
· Shannan Prefecture
· Xigaze Prefecture
· Nagqu Prefecture
· Nyingchi Prefecture
· Chamdo Prefecture
· Ngari Prefecture
Tibetan Bests MORE
· Tibet's First King
· Lhasa:World's Highest City
· Tibet's Earliest Palace
Tibet in My Eyes MORE
Special Products
· Tibetan Quilts
· Tibetan Knives
· Tibetan Hats
Snacks MORE
· Tsamba
· Sweet Milk Tea
· Buttered Tea
Medical Herbs MORE
· Meadow Saffron
· Aweto
· Red Orpin
Local Specialties MORE
· Highland Barley
· Ginseng
| About us | E-mail | Contact |
Constructed by Chinadaily.com.cn
Copyright @ 2011 Ministry of Culture, P.R.China. All rights reserved