By Tenzin Monlam
Satellite image of Larung Gar
DHARAMSHALA, October 20: On the anniversary of the International Day of Action for Larung, the London based NGO Free Tibet has released satellite images showing a much-reduced Larung Gar, following the demolition drive initiated by the Chinese authorities in July last year.
The two images taken by US-based satellite specialists Apollo Mapping show drastic change with the latest image showing only miniscule remains of once the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist center boosting over 10,000 students.
The joint report, ‘Destroying Heaven: China’s campaign of destruction at Larung Gar’ states that after one year of forced removals of residents and demolitions of their homes, extensive damage has been done to the site. Over 4,800 people have been removed and 4,700 buildings, mostly residences, have been destroyed since July 2016.
“The objectives behind the destruction appear to be the elimination of an alternative source of authority to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule and the reduction of an influential and highly respected Tibetan Buddhist site to a tourist destination,” the report said, arguing the reason of ‘public safety’ given by the authorities.
The report extensively documents the demolition drive since last year and the forced eviction following the destructions of dwellings belonging to residential monks and nuns.
Indicating it as a move to facilitate tourism in Tibet, the report cited an eyewitness seeing ‘more than hundred Chinese tourists walking freely around the site’, while demolitions was taking place at Larung Gar. The eyewitness also mentioned the construction of large hotels in Serthar Town, 15 kms away from the center, with services including oxygen supplies to help tourists acclimatize to the altitude.
Free Tibet’s Director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said, “Beijing’s attempts to reduce this important site to a mere tourist destination make this destruction even more heart-breaking. Larung Gar’s residents understand and appreciate the significance of this site in a way that the Chinese Communist Party never could.”
Eleanor on the first anniversary of the International Day of Action for Larung Gar urged the governments to find ‘courage and principle’ to speak up and press China to put an end to this ‘reckless and wanton destruction’.
The report concluded that the push to make Larung Gar more accessible to tourists, at the expense of the needs of its residents, reflects a wider policy on the part of Beijing to exploit Tibet’s rich culture as a means of growing its tourist industry.