Archive for the 'Tibet' Category

Tibet’s man on fire

More than 80 Tibetans have self-immolated to protest China’s policies in their homeland. This is one man’s story. In National Geographic:

At the time he decided to set fire to himself, Jamphel Yeshi was living in the Tibetan refugee colony of Majnu ka Tilla, on the northern outskirts of Delhi. The colony was first settled in 1963, four years after the Dalai Lama escaped to India from advancing Chinese forces. The early residents built thatched huts and made a living brewing and selling chang, a traditional Tibetan barley-and-wheat alcohol. As refugees from the roof of the world, they were unaccustomed to the heat and humidity of the low-lying plain. They had no idea how long they’d be staying but imagined they’d return home soon.

 Today, about 4,000 people live in the colony, which has been overtaken by the city: A busy thoroughfare runs alongside it, and Indian neighborhoods have grown up nearby. New construction in the colony is illegal, yet ragged workers continue to dig foundations, carrying rubble and dirt in handwoven baskets balanced on their heads and dumping their contents on the nearby banks of the Yamuna River. They navigate a warren of multistory buildings, a shambolic jumble of several hundred homes with colored prayer flags fluttering from the rooftops. The alleyways, many just wide enough for two pedestrians to pass, are populated by crimson-robed monks and nuns, mangy dogs and barefoot kids, activists and drifters, petty merchants, and beggars with missing or mangled limbs who offer a broad smile and warm thanks for receiving the equivalent of 20 cents. A Tibetan far from home can enjoy familiar scents and tastes here: salty butter tea, steamed dumplings, Tibetan bread and biscuits. (Learn about Tibetan traditions under Chinese Rule.) More:


Tibetan self-immolations over Chinese policies

Since March 2011, more than 30 Tibetans – monks, nuns and lay people – have set themselves on fire, reportedly in protest against Chinese policies in Tibet. Visit The Guardian interactive and click on the faces to find out more.

Bringing Tibet Home

Bringing Tibet Home is a documentary film that tells the story of Tibetan artist Tenzing Rigdol, as he sets out on a great mission to bring Tibet closer to Tibetan exiles through an unprecedented art project – a site specific art installation titled “Our Land, Our People”, that involves smuggling 20,000 kilos of native Tibetan soil across the Himalayas. Here’s the link to the website.

 Andrew Buncombe from Dharamsala in The Independent:

Some took a handful and placed it in a shrine kept in their homes, others poured a little into a pouch that they looped around their necks on a string, while the office of the Dalai Lama dispatched a jeep and gathered a sack-full.

Everyone wanted to get their hands on some Tibetan soil.

The recent distribution of 20 tonnes of the pale-coloured earth by a Tibetan artist in Dharamsala marked the conclusion of an intriguing project that was part-art installation and part-smuggling operation. Inspired by the regret expressed by his gravely ill father that he would never again walk on Tibetan soil, the artist Tenzing Rigdol decided to arrange for the earth instead to be taken to those Tibetans living in exile. The result was the installation upon which Mr Rigdol encouraged people to tread. More:

Chinese handshake: a shameful kowtowing

What lies behind India’s craven crackdown on peaceful Tibetans in order to please China, asks Mihir Sharma in Business Standard

The awe-inspiring leadership of the People’s Republic of China probably doesn’t concern itself much about public opinion among those people not fortunate enough to be born Chinese. But they certainly scored a pretty impressive own-goal during the BRICS summit in New Delhi last week, efficiently aided by India’s timorous leadership. It isn’t just that the Chinese delegation at the Oberoi ate all the mutton chops at the lunch buffet (true) or that they shut off all traffic around Khan market at lunchtime (also true) — although a power that carelessly antagonises Lutyens’ Delhi lunchers is unwisely overconfident.

It was, of course, what millions of Delhiites saw that will have turned them off China-sympathy: Tibetans being rounded up, made to squat in the sun; the ever-sensitive Delhi Police indulging in the worst sort of racial profiling, demanding that people who look even vaguely Tibetan prove their credentials or be locked up. People of Manipuri descent wondered why they left home without their passports. Those living in dozens of Tibetan-dominated areas were cordoned off from the rest of the city like Palestinians on the West Bank. The Tibetan poet, Tenzin Tsundue, was bundled offstage by the cops after an academic discussion at the India Habitat Centre, and sent to Tihar. more

From India, a view of what China works to block

Sruthi Gottipati and Rick Gladstone from New Delhi in NYT:

Over the past year, nearly 30 Tibetans in remote areas of western China have set fire to themselves to draw attention to what they call Chinese government repression, but the visual images of their protests have seldom been seen by outsiders. Censorship authorities in China, which regards the immolation as a form of terrorism, have made sure of it.

On Monday, however, a 26-year-old Tibetan exile in New Delhi offered the world a visceral view of a self-immolation, setting himself on fire at a demonstration to protest the impending visit to India by China’s president, Hu Jintao. Photographs of the man, a literal human torch in flames who sprinted for 50 yards with contorted screams before he collapsed by a tree, raced around the world by way of India’s unfettered press and the Internet.

“From head to toe, he was full of fire,” said a witness, Tenzin Dorjee, the national director of Students for a Free Tibet. “He was shouting. I was in shock. There were women crying.”More:

Tibetan exiles rally around Delhi self-immolator

Edward Wong from Dharamsala in NYT:

By Tuesday afternoon, posters of the man in flames were plastered along the narrow streets of this town adopted by Tibetan exiles. Monks, merchants and tourists stared. In the early evening, more than 200 people walked through the town center waving Tibetan flags and carrying banners that proclaimed the critically injured man, Jamphel Yeshi, a martyr.

The shocking images of Mr. Yeshi’s self-immolation in New Delhi on Monday have provided the Tibetan exile movement with a rallying point and an iconic expression of the anger and frustration that Tibetans suffer over Chinese rule. At least 29 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in Tibetan areas of China since March 2011, and many have died. But Chinese security forces have clamped down across the plateau, so only a handful of the self-immolations have been recorded and transmitted, and only in grainy cellphone photographs or video. More:

One Tibetan woman’s tragic self-immolation

Tsering Kyi had witnessed the erosion of her family’s way of life and the repression of her fellow students’ protests. This month she doused herself in five litres of petrol and set herself alight. In The Guardian, Jason Burke tells her story.

As a young girl, Tsering Kyi’s favourite days of the year were the eve of her village’s annual move to their summer pastures and the eve of their return. The lives of the 30 nomadic households of Tethok, in China‘s Gansu province, followed the rhythm of the seasons. In the spring they would load their household on to yaks and ride up into the high valleys and hills where their herds would find grass and the children would play with frogs in the lakes and streams. As the winter approached, they would return to lower grazing.

A day before they moved all the heavy items would be packed and sent ahead. The women and children would remain behind, sleeping under the stars, to follow the next day. This was Kyi’s favourite time. more

Blurring the flag

By cracking down on visuals of the Tibetan flag in Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar, the Indian Censor Board has shown lack of spine against China. But, writes Kaushik Barua in Indian Express, no amount of censorship can wish away the rights and aspirations of the Tibetan people.

If you watch the new Imtiaz Ali-directed Rockstar, you might see a mysterious blue-and-red haze waving over the heads of the raucous fans as Ranbir Kapoor furiously belts out ‘Sadda Haq’. You will see a blur because the censor board has asked for images of the Tibetan flag to be blurred (or deleted).

It is ridiculous, but perhaps no longer surprising in our cynical times, that the sight of a few Tibetan flags has sent the censor board into such a tizzy. Governments across the world are scurrying to distance themselves from the Tibet issue. This was seen recently when the Dalai Lama could not obtain a visa on time to attend Archbishop Tutu’s birthday celebrations in South Africa. One might have expected a post-apartheid South African government to be more sympathetic to the cause of a disenfranchised people, but the sheer size of investments flowing into the region nudge these expectations into the realm of fantasy. more

A burning issue

Another Tibetan monk, the eight in recent times, sets himself ablaze to demand independence from China, reports Edward Wong in New York Times

BEIJING — A 19-year-old former monk in a Tibetan town in westernChina set himself on fire on Saturday in a desperate plea for Tibetan independence, according to reports on Sunday by Tibet advocacy groups. The flames were put out by police officers stationed on the street, and he was taken to a police station, the reports said.

The former monk, Norbu Damdrul, was the eighth monk or former monk to set himself on fire to protest Chinasince March. All the self-immolations have taken place in Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province that lie in the remote region Tibetans call Amdo. At least four Tibetans have killed themselves in the wave of self-immolations, which scholars of modern Tibet say are a new and startling protest strategy by monks. more

Tibet’s next incarnation

Hannah Beech from Dharamsala in Time:

He has never been to Tibet, never breathed the thin air of the high plateau, nor spun a prayer wheel in the shadow of the great Buddhist monasteries. Yet on Aug. 8, 43-year-old Lobsang Sangay was sworn in as the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Born in a refugee camp in India and educated in the U.S., Sangay holds no passport or nationality, only a travel certificate. He expresses homesickness for a place that exists in the foreign mind as an otherworldly haven, and in the Tibetan one as an occupied homeland. “Like all of us in exile, I will never be completely at peace until I go to Tibet,” he says when we meet in Dharamsala, a scruffy settlement in the Himalayan foothills of India where the Tibetan refugee community coalesced five decades ago. “The question is: How do we get there?”

Sangay’s inauguration as Kalon Tripa, or Prime Minister, comes at a critical moment for Tibet — both for the 5.4 million Tibetans living inside China and for the 150,000 or so who have chosen exile. Young refugees whose votes carried Sangay to office are questioning their movement’s longtime commitment to nonviolent resistance, while an ongoing crackdown by Chinese security forces has failed to suppress dissent within Tibet.

Unlike protest campaigns in the 1950s and ’80s, the new wave of demonstrations has flared across the entire Tibetan Plateau, from what China calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region to Tibetan-dominated parts of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces. Beijing routinely blames Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, for political instability on the high plateau. But many Tibetans argue that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in fact prevents a violent uprising from erupting in the region. “There is so much anger in Tibet now; it is only because of His Holiness that the people don’t rise up,” says Tsering Migyur, a Mandarin-speaking undersecretary in the Dalai Lama’s office in Dharamsala. Migyur should know. For decades he was a senior officer for the Chinese police and military intelligence in Lhasa, serving as a minority poster boy. In 2000, however, he defected to Dharamsala. “China believes that once the Dalai Lama dies, the movement will lose power,” says Migyur. “But the Dalai Lama is actually China’s best friend because the next generation will not be so accommodating.” More:

No sting in the monk’s tale

How a blundering shoot-first-think-later accusation by Indian authorities nearly made an enemy of a very influential Tibetan. Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

When I was leaving Tibet, you must appreciate I was leaving everything behind… India was the land of the Buddha, a place where wishes were fulfilled. I told the people who came with me, as we turned to India, that even if we are caught and killed after taking just three steps towards India I would not have an iota of remorse, that was the amount of faith and hope and affection I had for India. After 11 years here this should now be clear. Yet such an unwarranted accusation has been a source of tremendous hurt, it is difficult to forget it in my lifetime.

Words of dismay, but understandably so. For any Tibetan to be called a Chinese spy would always be a source of consternation, but the young man speaking at the press conference in Delhi was no ordinary Tibetan. On any other day his anguish would have made headlines, but it was also the day Osama’s death became public. In the ensuing frenzy, the story of the quiet withdrawal of a bizarre charge has not received the attention it deserves.

As spy stories go, it was always a difficult sell. Thanks to some imaginative leaks by senior Himachal policemen, the seizure of Rs 1 crore traced back to a monastery in Dharamshala became the source of allegations against the young man who is by far the most widely accepted claimant to the title of the Karmapa, head of the Kagyu sect.

But even to make sense of what the young man was doing in Dharamshala, and why the charges mattered, requires relating an old story. More:

Harvard professor to be Tibetan PM

From The Telegraph:

A Tibetan from Darjeeling who lugged wood to light kitchen fire at home as a youngster and was briefly jailed in Tihar over anti-Chinese protests before becoming a Harvard academic has been elected Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Lobsang Sangay will assume the political role played by the Dalai Lama, who had announced his retirement last month but said he would remain the community’s religious head.

The 42-year-old research fellow at the Harvard Law School pipped the two other contenders— one of who studied in Darjeeling — in an election that saw non-religious figures in the fray for the first time. Over 83,000 Tibetans in exile in 30 countries, including India, the US, Europe, Bhutan, Nepal, Russia and Japan, voted.

Announcing the results of the March 20 polls today in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamsala, where the government-in-exile is based, election chief Jampal Chosang said Sangay bagged 55 per cent of the votes. More:

Tibet’s quiet revolution

Pico Iyer in the New York Review of Books:

It’s been startling to witness mass demonstrations in countries across the Middle East for freedom from autocracy, while, in the Tibetan community, a die-hard champion of “people power” tries to dethrone himself and his people keep asking him to stay on. Again and again the Dalai Lama (who tends to be more radical and less romantic than most of his followers) has sought to find ways to give up power, and his community has sought to find ways to ensure he can’t. It could be said that almost the only time Tibetans don’t listen to the Dalai Lama is when he tells them they shouldn’t listen to him. Now, on the eve of an important election for Tibet’s government-in-exile, he has announced he is relinquishing formal political authority entirely—and the Tibetan government has accepted his decision, even as the move has alarmed many around the world and struck some as the end of an era.

In truth, the Dalai Lama’s statement was merely a continuation—and a stronger expression—of what he has been saying for years: that political leadership for the Tibetan people (in exile at least) belongs with the democratically elected government-in-exile he has so painstakingly set up over decades in Dharamsala, in India (elections for a new prime minister are to be held March 20); that he will function only as a “senior advisor,” helping to oversee the transition to a post-Dalai Lama era; and, most important, that the spiritual and temporal sides of Tibetan rule will at last be separate. As he noted in the speech that mentioned his “retirement”—his annual state-of-the-nation address, in effect, delivered on March 10, the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the People’s Republic of China and a frequent day of protest—he has believed, since childhood, that church and state should not be one and that the fate of Tibet should be in the hands of all Tibetans. More:

Dalai Lama to give up his role as Tibet’s political leader

The Dalai Lama said on Thursday he would step down as Tibet’s political leader. His role now is spiritual leadership only. The political functions will be devolved on an elected prime minister.

“As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power,” he said in his annual speech marking 52 years since he fled Tibet after a failed uprising against the Chinese.”Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect,” he told a subdued crowd of 2,000 monks and Tibetans. More here.

The question of who succeeds the Dalai Lama as spiritual leader will come to a head when he dies. Read here

Who is the Dalai Lama? Read here and here.

Language researchers chart vanishing voices

In a video produced by Cambridge University, anthropologist Mark Turin discusses his work helping speakers of Thangmi, a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in eastern Nepal. He aims to document disappearing languages, most of which haven’t been written down before, as part of the World Oral Literature Project.

Dalai Lama’s 1959 flight from Tibet

Mark O’Neill in Asia Sentinel:

At 1 pm Beijing time on the afternoon of March 17, 1959, two meetings took place in Lhasa and Beijing that would change the history of China.

In the Norbulingka palace, the summer residence of the Dalai Lama, the 23-year-old leader and his advisors were debating whether to leave Lhasa, minutes after two artillery shells had landed 200 meters away, causing a huge explosion. A monk entered into a trance, his body swelled and he screamed in a loud voice: “leave quickly, leave quickly, leave tonight.”

At the same moment, in Zhongnanhai, Premier Liu Xiaoqi was chairing a meeting of the Politburo to discuss the same issue.

“The best outcome would be for the Dalai Lama to stay,” they concluded. “But, if he goes, it would be no big deal. The focus of our work does not depend on the feelings of Tibet government leaders but is our determination to put down the rebellion and reform everything.”

So reads a dramatic new account of the most important event in Tibet of the last century — the decision by the Dalai Lama to leave his homeland. It appears in ’1959 Lhasa’, published in Chinese language in Hong Kong and Taiwan and written by Li Jianglin, a Chinese historian. The daughter of a Communist Party official, she is a graduate of Fudan and Shandong Universities who went on to study at Brandies University and lives in New York. The book has the great merit of using material from both sides. Li interviewed more than 200 Tibetans in 14 places of exile and also quotes widely from material from the Chinese side.

The book’s conclusion challenges Beijing’s version of history – that the Tibetan nobility and clergy led their people in an armed rebellion against the Chinese state and that the Dalai Lama had planned the rebellion from early 1957, with support from the CIA, which trained 170 guerillas and supplied them with weapons from the air, including anti-aircraft machine guns and 10,000 rifles. According to this version, the Dalai Lama was forced to leave Tibet against his will. More:

The indispensable incarnation

Talk of the Dalai Lama’s “retirement” shows how much Tibet still needs him. Yet so does China. In The Economist:

Enthroned in a maroon and saffron pavilion, the 14th Dalai Lama chuckled often as he preached to the football stadium, though his text was not taken from the jolly slogan behind him: “Play soccer for world peace”. Ringed by snowcapped Himalayan peaks in Gangtok, capital of the Indian state of Sikkim, which borders Tibet, tens of thousands basked in midwinter sunshine—local Sikkimese of Nepali and ethnic-Tibetan descent, visitors and, of course, Tibetan exiles. The Dalai Lama may exaggerate a bit when he says that 99% of Tibetans trust him. But not by much. So his recent talk of “retirement” has unnerved many.

In November he said he was seriously thinking of retiring. An election in 2001 for his government-in-exile had already ended the 400-year tradition of Dalai Lamas as both spiritual and political leaders. After an election in March this year, he would discuss with the new parliament when to give up his remaining “temporal” role. He expected to retire in the “next few months”.

The Dalai Lama has long stressed his work not as a political leader but as a scholar and guardian of the Buddhist tradition he embodies. In Gangtok he attended a seminar on spirituality and science. His lecture on the soccer pitch was on a rather abstruse commentary by a second- or third-century Indian philosopher, Nagarjuna (“The form particle does not produce sense-consciousness because it transcends the senses.”). The Dalai Lama turned it into an accessible sermon on how to live your life.

Politics, however, will not let Tibet’s spiritual leader go. His presence in Sikkim was in itself a measured gesture of Indian defiance towards China. India annexed the former kingdom in 1975. China long refused to recognise Sikkim’s incorporation into India, though since 2004 Chinese maps have shown it as an Indian state, and in 2006 a modest border trade began. The Dalai Lama’s eight-day tour of Sikkim was pointedly timed to come just after Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister, had been in Delhi, discussing how to improve ties. Tibet remains one of the strains. The Dalai Lama, with some 100,000 followers, has made his home in India since fleeing Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, in 1959. More:

A short walk in the Afghan countryside

Kristin Ohlson in The Smithsonian:

After a week in Kabul, I traveled by van to the Bamiyan Valley, most famous, in recent history, for being the place where the Taliban blew up two giant stone Buddhas in 2001. I planned to visit and maybe offer a little help to the Bamyan Family Park, an enormous enclosed garden with flowers and caged parakeets and swing sets and fountains, where Afghan families—especially women—can stroll and play. My friend Marnie Gustafson oversees the park, but she was stuck in Kabul running the venerable PARSA, a nonprofit that’s helped widows, orphans, the wounded and other Afghans since 1996, and she couldn’t come along.

“Be sure you get out and walk around,” she said before I left the PARSA compound.

“In the park?”

“No, everywhere! Bamyan is one of the safest, most peaceful places in Afghanistan.”

Kabul felt anything but safe and peaceful on this trip, my fourth since 2005. It took a while to break free of the city’s orbit, even though we left at 4 a.m. I had assumed Kabul was dustiest during the day, with all those cars grinding the dirt streets to dust and spinning it into the air. But it was even worse at night, when truck convoys rumble through the city and create a choking haze of diesel and dust. We passed through several checkpoints on our way out, the officials at each demanding to know what we were transporting in the back of the van. Flowers, we said. They opened the back of the van, stared at the pots of petunias and bougainvillea intended for the park, then waved us on. Soon we escaped the traffic and the helicopters and the fancy new villas wearing multiple verandas like so many garish ruffles and reached the countryside, where the traditional Afghan architecture—mud-brick buildings surrounded by mud compound walls—took over. More:

The Dalai Lama’s great escape

Author Stephan Talty’s book gives the fullest account yet of the Dalai Lama’s 1959 escape from Tibet and the CIA’s role. From The Daily Beast:

Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero. By Stephan Talty

In the middle of a Saturday night in the spring of 1959, a phone rang on a quiet suburban block in Chevy Chase, Maryland. John Greaney mumbled an apology to his pregnant wife and reached for the nightstand. The clipped voice on the other end said that an “OpIm” had just come in and, after giving a few details, promptly hung up. Greaney sat on the edge of his bed in his pajamas, wondering just what in God’s name was going on.

Unknown to his neighbors, John Greaney was not the gray-faced government functionary he appeared to be. He was in fact the deputy chief of a small unit at the CIA known as the Tibet Task Force. It sounded dashing, but in fact the work of the five or six men that comprised the unit was so lacking in excitement that Greaney compared it to running an import-export firm. All the action was down the hall, where the Latin American group would soon be planning the Bay of Pigs invasion.

But beginning that Saturday, Tibet—through the story of the Dalai Lama ‘s great escape—was about to become famous. More:

Also read: History’s great escapes

Goodbye Dalai?

From Asia Sentinel:

The Dalai Lama’s recent announcement that he would give up his ceremonial role as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile and retire next year in favor of a simpler life away from politics has sent a wave of concern through Tibetan exiles and supporters across the globe.

The 75-year-old head of Tibetan Buddhism, who his followers believe is the 14th in a line of reincarnated religious leaders going back hundreds of years, talked about his desire to retire from public life in a recent interview with an Indian news channel. He has already transferred most of his political powers to prime minister-in-exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, whom he has addressed as his”boss.”

“In order to utilize full democracy,” the Dalai Lama said, “I feel it is better if I am not involved and I am devoted to other fields, promotion of human values and peace and harmony. But firstly I have to discuss, to inform members of the Tibetan parliament.”

The declaration has again raised the question of who might lead the Tibetan movement and spread the message of Tibetan Buddhism worldwide. The Dalai Lama himself has often suggested that he is a simple monk and that his successor could be democratically elected — and could even be a woman. More:

Dalai Lama to shed Tibet leader’s role

Associated Press

New Delhi: The Dalai Lama wants to give up his lesser-known role as the ceremonial leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile, an aide said Tuesday, in what appeared to be another step in the aging leader’s efforts to prepare his people for life after he dies.

However, he will remain the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the focal point of Tibetan national aspirations, said spokesman Tenzin Taklha.

As head of the dominate Gelug branch of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is the top religious leader for Tibet. Many of his predecessors also served as Tibet’s political ruler, and the Dalai Lama served as head of government there after Chinese troops marched into his Himalayan homeland in 1950.

Beijing claims Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the region was virtually independent for centuries. Amid increasing tensions with the Chinese, he fled to India in 1959 and set up a government-in-exile. More:

Also here

Tibetan Spirit Is Very Strong:

On being asked if he is serious about his retirement plans, His Holiness said: “Oh yes, of course. Since 2001 we have put in place a political leadership in exile. So theoretically the more than 400-year-old tradition of the Dalai Lama institution as head of both the temporal and spirituality has ended. Since then my position is something like a semi-retired position. The major decisions are taken by the elected political leadership. So in order to utilise fully democracy, I felt better not to involve myself in any sort of these works. Of course, I can devote my efforts in other fields like in the promotion of human values and religious harmony. So I am thinking about retirement.” Read here

An interview with the Karmapa Lama

Saransh Sehgal interviews the 17th Karmapa Lama, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. In Asia Sentinel:

Q: There has been great interest in your study of environmentalism, psychology and foreign languages. Is it because the restrictions on your overseas travel prompted you to spend energy on these subjects? What relations do you see between Buddhism and these subjects?

The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa: Generally, there are many people using different languages and studying different languages is to overcome the lack of language skill and have clear communication when interacting with some of those people who come here; it is sad when misunderstandings remain with those people who come here from faraway places.

Therefore, I put my best efforts into having, at the least, formal conversations with them. Studying modern psychology and Tibetan Buddhism, with ancient and modern going hand in hand, is to deepen and brighten my knowledge. In the case of environmentalism, the environment has become an important issue and therefore it is important to understand it. I do all this voluntarily to fulfill my personal and social responsibilities of leading a society. It is not at all a new topic I had begun because of overseas travels.

Q: You have been handling an environment protection group. What has the group actually done- what are the findings?

A: This environmental protection group we have here deals with basic issues such as raising environmental awareness, discussing environmental issues, finding and propagating the means and methods to protect the environment, waste management, cleaning the environment, the use of solar power for conservation of energy and planting trees. Generally speaking, we are able to raise new environmental awareness amongst our Tibetan community. What we have been doing deals with very basic issues; we have not yet reached a very high standard concerning protection of the environment. More:

Adventures in very recent evolution

In the last few years, biologists peering into the human genome have found evidence of recent natural selection. Nicholas Wade in The New York Times:

Ten thousand years ago, people in southern China began to cultivate rice and quickly made an all-too-tempting discovery — the cereal could be fermented into alcoholic liquors. Carousing and drunkenness must have started to pose a serious threat to survival because a variant gene that protects against alcohol became almost universal among southern Chinese and spread throughout the rest of China in the wake of rice cultivation.

The variant gene rapidly degrades alcohol to a chemical that is not intoxicating but makes people flush, leaving many people of Asian descent a legacy of turning red in the face when they drink alcohol.

The spread of the new gene, described in January by Bing Su of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is just one instance of recent human evolution and in particular of a specific population’s changing genetically in response to local conditions.

Scientists from the Beijing Genomics Institute last month discovered another striking instance of human genetic change. Among Tibetans, they found, a set of genes evolved to cope with low oxygen levels as recently as 3,000 years ago. This, if confirmed, would be the most recent known instance of human evolution. More:

Tibet’s next leader?

From AFP:

Dharamshala: For those looking for the next spiritual leader of Tibet after the Dalai Lama, the ageing monk’s 75th birthday ceremony last week offered some clues.

Sat next to the Nobel laureate at the front of the stage was the imposing figure of the Karmapa, a thick-set, 26-year-old with the highest profile among a cast of young lamas who might fill the void that will one day be left.

Separated by two generations, the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa share a particular bond as Tibetan figureheads who both fled their homeland for an uncertain life in exile.

The Karmapa, who made the perilous journey in 1999, is now 26 — the same age as the Dalai Lama when he escaped in 1959 following a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

“You could say he’s like a father figure to me. I look at him as my teacher and my guide,” the Karmapa said of the Dalai Lama during an interview with AFP the day before the celebrations on July 6.

Both monks live in Dharamshala, the northern Indian hill town that serves as the base of the Tibetan government-in-exile. More:

In Tibetans, evidence of “fastest case of human evolution”

Nicholas Wade in The New York Times:

Tibetans live at altitudes of 13,000 feet, breathing air that has 40 percent less oxygen than is available at sea level, yet suffer very little mountain sickness. The reason, according to a team of biologists in China, is human evolution, in what may be the most recent and fastest instance detected so far.

Comparing the genomes of Tibetans and Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, the biologists found that at least 30 genes had undergone evolutionary change in the Tibetans as they adapted to life on the high plateau. Tibetans and Han Chinese split apart as recently as 3,000 years ago, say the biologists, a group at the Beijing Genomics Institute led by Xin Yi and Jian Wang. The report appears in Friday’s issue of Science.

If confirmed, this would be the most recent known example of human evolutionary change. Until now, the most recent such change was the spread of lactose tolerance — the ability to digest milk in adulthood — among northern Europeans about 7,500 years ago. But archaeologists say that the Tibetan plateau was inhabited much earlier than 3,000 years ago and that the geneticists’ date is incorrect.

When lowlanders try to live at high altitudes, their blood thickens as the body tries to counteract the low oxygen levels by churning out more red blood cells. This overproduction of red blood cells leads to chronic mountain sickness and to lesser fertility — Han Chinese living in Tibet have three times the infant mortality of Tibetans. More:

China intensifies tug of war with India on Nepal

Jim Yardley from Kathmandu in The New York Times:

For years, Nepal never bothered too much with policing its northern border with China. The Himalayas seemed a formidable-enough barrier, and Nepal’s political and economic attention was oriented south toward India. If Nepal was a mouse trapped between elephants, as the local saying went, the elephant that mattered most was India.

But last week a Nepalese government delegation visited Beijing on a trip that underscored, once again, how China’s newfound weight in the world is altering old geopolitical equations.

As Nepal’s home minister, Bhim Rawal, met with China’s top security officials, Chinese state media reported that the two countries had agreed to cooperate on border security, while Nepal restated its commitment to preventing any “anti-China” events on its side of the border. More:

Tibet is no Shangri-La

Christina Larson in Foreign Policy:

That is to say, there was no real place named Shangri-la until recently, when the city of Zhongdian (Gyalthang in Tibetan) changed its name to recall Hilton’s paradise. In truth, the modern city is not quite a dreamscape. Situated on an alpine plateau, in a location resembling that of Lost Horizon, the modern city of 130,000 is divided into an “old” and “new” town. The new town came first. It resembles many midsize Chinese cities that have arisen in recent decades, with hastily erected concrete apartment blocks and glass storefronts. The old town, however, was built entirely in the last decade years; it has “quaint” cobbled streets and wooden storefronts, and when I visited last fall, I stayed in a rustic lodge, with a wood-burning stove and a sloppy dog who slept on the steps. All this is pleasant fabrication for visitors like myself, catering to what we expect to find.

Shangri-la isn’t even in Tibet proper; it’s situated in the far north of China’s Yunnan province. (The region where Tibetans live actually spans parts of five Chinese provinces, and is known as “greater Tibet .”) Han Chinese tourists from the country’s wealthy eastern cities, who now are becoming more curious about Tibetan lands and culture, also come here to take in the view. They roll in on large tour buses and stay in luxury hotels in the new town, with banquet halls and karaoke bars. Chinese tourists generally spend little time in Shangri-la and instead book guided day trips to take in the dramatic scenery. Western tourists stay in old-town lodges, and stock their backpacks and suitcases with hand-sewn Tibetan coats, jade jewelry, prayer wheels and other trinkets, and profess more interest in the Tibetan people. More:

Inside Tibet

The Economist correspondent travels to Tibet on a “rare authorised trip by a foreign journalist”:

Day four

On the plane out of Lhasa, I sit next to a Nepali businessman who frequently visits Lhasa to buy shoes. He puts them in containers to be taken by lorry to Nepal, where most of them are re-exported to India. He has his complaints: about the duties he has to pay at the border, and the snow that sometimes blocks traffic. But of the road from Lhasa to Nepal, he is full of praise. It once took three days by lorry, he says. Now it is a day and a half. “China is so developed,” he says wistfully, looking out of the window at the ribbons of light marking highways and city streets below. He has little positive to say about Nepal and its roads.

China has been pouring money into its infrastructure in the past few years, and—from a business perspective at any rate—Tibet has been a big beneficiary. On my last visit to Lhasa, in 2008, I went by train. The railway line, Tibet’s first such link with the Chinese interior, had been opened just two years earlier and is one of the country’s most spectacular engineering accomplishments. Critics of Chinese rule in Tibet condemn its impact on the environment and the encouragement it gives to a flood of immigrants from the rest of China. But as a feat, it amazes: the $4.2 billion line crosses higher terrain than any other in the world, including permafrost—which requires elaborate ground-cooling measures to protect the rails from changes in temperature. More:

On the trail of the first people in India

Akshai Jain in Mint:

The Brokpa villagers who live near Batalik in Ladakh are a colourful but confused lot. Their oral history and songs suggest that they migrated from Gilgit, now in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), a few hundred years ago. But over the last 50 years they’ve come to believe that they’re remnants of an ancient Aryan population that came to India with Alexander’s army.

The “Aryan” theory was floated by a few German Indologists in the 1960s; it caught everyone’s fancy, and the Brokpas turned it into a marketing tool. The problem, however, is that nobody takes it seriously any more and the small, isolated community which had almost convinced itself about the supposition, is now unsure of its roots.

So recently when a group of researchers landed up at their villages, promising to tell them about their genetic history, the Brokpas were excited. The Aryan Welfare Association in Dha village swung into action, organizing a camp at which men from different villages came together to take swills of distilled water and spit into vials. For the Brokpas, it was a solemn occasion. This, they were told, would hold the clue to their origin. More:

High tensions

Tawang Monastery. Photo: Arunachal Pradesh Tourism

Tawang Monastery. Photo: Arunachal Pradesh Tourism

Peter Savodnik travels to Arunachal Pradesh, India’s Himalayan state whose contested border marks the front lines of the increasingly combative rivalry between India and China. In the National:

Tawang sits about 3,000 metres above sea level and is enveloped by sharply etched mountains and crystalline skies. The centre of the village comprises a narrow artery riddled with two- and three-storey hotels offering “fooding and lodging”, souvenir stands, barber shops – the Fancy Hair Cut Salon, with room for just one stool, is a big draw – and 4x4s that ferry tourists from Tawang to Jang and Bomdilla, also in Arunachal Pradesh, and Tezpur and Guwahati, in Assam. The tourists who come to Tawang are mostly young, newly moneyed Indians, according to Bijoy Baruah, a tour guide from Guwahati-based Jungle Travels India, but they also include older people, many with backpacks and ponytails, from Scandinavia, Germany and the United States. Buddhist monks in red robes from the Tawang Monastery, the largest in India and the second-largest in Asia, are ubiquitous. Old men sit in front of rug shops and miniature cafes cupping honey-ginger tea. A eight-metre gate painted aqua blue, orange, green and yellow frames the frenetic, honking crush of cars and people.

Usually, Tawang hovers just above the cloud line, and the only thing that mars the horizon are Army helicopters shuttling troops and materiel to and from the bases that dot the mountains just south of the border with China. Since 1962, when China briefly invaded northern India, Delhi has maintained a sizeable military presence in these parts. The Indian Defence Ministry’s official history of the 1962 war, which was completed 30 years later, states that Indian forces suffered 2,616 casualties against some 700 on the Chinese side. (The exact numbers are difficult to tabulate because many soldiers went missing or died from the cold.) More importantly, the war revealed that India was helpless to defend itself, particularly in the mountains. Chinese troops had gained valuable, cold-weather experience fighting in Korea in the early 1950s and, more recently, in Tibet. (Tibetan guides, familiar with the intricate mountain passes, gave Chinese soldiers critical help during the 1962 conflict.) India, meanwhile, maintained a small and ineffective Army that, much like today, was focused on Pakistan at the expense of its border with China. More: