“I wonder if there is any place in the World that is more beautiful than Tibet” - PalzomPhayul’s Kathmandu correspondent talks to a Tibetan woman who recently visited Tibet after seven years since she first left her native hometown for exile in 2000. Palzom, (name changed) narrates her experiences of the visit, and explains how she is still confused seeing all the unrecognizable changes she witnessed in her homeland since she last saw Tibet.By Tenzin Choephel
A changing scene of a street in Lhasa. (Photo by Mathew Akester)
A Tibetan woman, in her late twenties, currently living in Kathmandu returned home in Dege (Derge) County, located in Kham Province in eastern Tibet, last month to visit her family after a gap of seven years. Like many Tibetans who escape Tibet without proper documents every year to seek better education in exile, Palzom (name changed on request) managed to get out of Tibet in June 2000, and received opportunity to study for three years at Sogar School in Dharamsala, the seat of the Dalai Lama led Tibetan Government-in-Exile.
To visit Tibet, you need to apply for a permit at the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu giving details of your family in Tibet she says. After clearing verifications and confirming family ties from concerned authorities in Tibet, the Embassy issues a one time entry permit valid for two years to travel inside Tibet. Once you enter Tibet, you need to register your arrival at a Reception Center in Dram border town, then in Lhasa and finally at your home County. Palzom says that people at the Reception Center are extraordinarily warm, welcoming and helpful, but she doubts their motive.
Palzom arrived in Lhasa on Sunday and was lucky that Jokhang temple, one of the holiest shrines in Tibet, was open for visitors the next day. She later came to know that Jokhang is open to public only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and between 7-11 AM only. “If there is religious freedom in Tibet, Jokhang should be open everyday to allow Tibetans to pray freely and openly any time they like,” Palzom argues.
After spending three days in Lhasa, Palzom traveled to her native place Dege County. Mesmerized by the stunning beauty of the vast stretches of Tibet’s wilderness all along the way, she remarks, “I wonder if there is any place in the World that is more beautiful than Tibet”.
She found that her native Dege county has undergone tremendous change in terms of infrastructural development that she now finds it difficult to believe that it used to take six days to reach Dege from Lhasa, which now takes only a day and a half.
Palzom says, traditionally and before she left Dege, people there were mostly farmers and nomads and live a simple life but now there is almost no one farming and rearing livestock. According to her, as she has been told by people from her native place, this has been due to the green policy of China that requires plantation of thorny bushes on all farmland and destruction and slaughter of all livestock supposedly to protect the environment and prevent flooding in “Mainland China”.
Lives of Tibetan people have been transformed by an immeasurable degree. The once traditional agro-pastoral lifestyle has been abandoned completely and people there now almost totally depend on collection of sought after herbs like the Yartsa Gunbu
[Scientific name: Cordyceps sinensis], construction labour or, Government compensation for farmland that does not last more than two years in most of the cases. Yartsa Gonbu
(Summer-grass Winter-worm) is a species of fungus found wildly in Tibet and is used as a precious ingredient in Tibetan and Chinese traditional medicines.
Although people in her village are now increasingly exposed to modern amenities, Palzom wonders how long this kind of provisional living pattern would support those Tibetans in the long run. Palzom particularly observed that people there do not have any permanent or specific jobs but, have somehow managed a fairly good living. Her interactions with people told her that many of them depend mostly on collecting Yertsa Gunbu, which fetch them high price in the market.
China has introduced a nine years compulsory education to all children in 2006 and the policy has been supposedly implemented in Tibet also. If a family does not send a child to school then their farmland compensation could be deducted. Good school buildings with good facilities are now established in Tibet. These schools look impressive from outside for Palzom. However, quality of education did not impress her. She learned from her fellow native men that the inside of schools is empty and the teachers are known to be playing mahjong
at school. The Tibetans she met would quite often complain that even after sending their children to schools for more than three years they could not read and write properly.
Palzom’s family urged her to stay back home in Tibet but, she chose not to because “even if I talk, I have to be scared, people are suspicious, young people mostly talk in Chinese even though they are Tibetan; almost all boys and girls drink alcohol and visit nangma
, they fool around alcohol”. “People there asked me how Tibetans are now in Tibet; I would tell them - Tibetans were drunk before 1959 and they are still drunk. There are bars, gambling houses, brothels; all the business centers are owned by Chinese, even though I grew up there, I didn’t feel like living there anymore”.
However, she found that young Tibetans in her native place are not totally ignorant of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans in Exile. She was surprised to see that songs of Phurbu T. Namgyal, like ‘Kyo lhang lhang’
and others are quite popular and played even in a small village in her native place.
Palzom, now in her late twenties returned back to Nepal from her native place, however, like many other fellow Tibetans living in exile, she is not very happy with her situation in Nepal either. She wishes to move to America for a supposedly better life.