Tibet’s history dates back to 604 CE, with its first ruler, Songtsan Gampo, who founded the Tibetan Empire. When he married Princess Wencheng, the niece of Chinese emperor, Emperor Taizong of Tang China, Tibet’s power spread quickly into China. Buddhism became the official religion of Tibet, and it has remained so through the ages. Many years later in 1624, a group of Portuguese missionaries arrived in Tibet, and they were allowed to introduce Christianity. However, in 1745, all the missionaries were expelled from Tibet, and Buddhism reigned as the sole religion.
Tibet has been known through the ages as a private, secretive place. During the 18th century, the Qing Dynasty, a resident commissioner, called an Amban, was sent into Lhasa. The first Dalai Lama was anointed as the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. By the 19th century, Tibetans had become very suspicious and untrusting of foreigners, and by the 1850’s all foreigners, except the Amban, were banned from entering Tibet.
There were many struggles in the early 1900’s between the Tibetans and the Chinese for power. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, the 13th Dalai Lama expelled the Amban and the Chinese troops from Tibet and proclaimed it a free, independent nation. It remained so for thirty-six years, until the People’s Republic of China invaded in 1950, and once again claimed power.
Tibet is a beautiful region with some of the world’s tallest mountains, like Mount Everest, the tallest in the world. Mount Kailash, part of the Himalayas, is one of the few mountains in the world with no recorded climbs. It is forbidden to climbers by Hindu or Buddhist believers. The Hindus believe that Mount Kailash is the center of the world. The Buddhists believe that it is the home of a sacred Buddha who means supreme bliss. For thousands of years, followers have trekked the sacred pilgrimage around Mount Kailash believing it will bring good fortune. They experience altitude sickness, fatigue, and treacherous conditions, but gladly go. They are forbidden to climb or set foot on the mountain, believing it is a sin, and will cause sure death.
Lhasa is the capital of Tibet, and home to the Potala Palace and Norbulingka, the houses of the Dalai Lama. With little irrigation, Tibetans rely on raising livestock for their livelihood. In recent years, tourism has increased because of interest in the Buddest temples. It provides revenue through sales of Tibetan handicrafts and rugs, but Tibet remains a poor land, ranked the lowest of China’s thirty-one provinces.
Tibet is a place for tourists to experience a different lifestyle, with ancient traditions and history. The architecture of spectacular temples that depict Buddhist art and culture, the religious music, and the colorful festivals are something to see. Local cuisine of goat or yak stew, served with yak yogurt or cheese, and butter tea is a favorite. Tibetans are a simple people who place religion, family, and the joy of life above all else. For tourist who visit Tibet, maybe this inner peace Tibetans possess, is the best experience of all.
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