Tibet | People of Tibet | Highlights of Tibet
Tibet is an autonomous province of the Peoples’ Republic of China. It is the region located in Eastern Asia across the Himalayas. Tibet is a vast area of mountains and plateaus. The region is the historic region with the most ancient glory of the Tibetan people and their cultures and traditions. Tibet is the highest plateau in the world. Thus, it is known as “The Roof of the World”. Tibet is a vast arid plateau with an average altitude of 14000 feet above the sea level.
Tibet covers a vast territory. It covers an area of 2.5 million square kilometers. That is to say, it is bordered by Sichuan, a landlocked province of China, in the east, Myanmar, Bhutan, India, and Nepal in the south, Kasmir in the west, and Qinghai, a Chinese Province in the north-east.
Tibet is the center of one of the ancient civilizations in Central Asia. It has remained beyond the human reach for hundreds of years. It was initially an unexplored and un-accessible region across the tallest mountain of the world, Mount Everest. By the way, the valley remained hidden for centuries. Today, Tibet is a known place with a unique and exceptional ecosystem, diverse culture, mysterious topographic position, etc. Many perennial and big rivers of Asia have their headwaters in Tibet.
Generally, there are three Regions in Tibet; Central and Southern Tibet, Eastern Tibet, and Western Tibet. Central and Sothern Tibet is both a cultural and business hub. It is the most developed region. This region is also the home of many popular spiritual leaders. Shigatse, the biggest city of Tibet, Gyantse, Tsedanda, and also the Everest Base Camp are located in this region. Eastern Tibet has heavily forested areas with pristine biome and cultures. Kham and Amdo are the most popular villages from Eastern Tibet. Western Tibet is more remote and barren. The geographical structure of the region is also complex. However, some sacred sites of Tibet are located here.
Tibet has been classified into seven administrative regions. Among them, Lhasa, which is also the capital of Tibet, is a municipality, and Shigatse, Nagri, Lhaoka, Chamdo, Nakuru, and Nyingtri are the Prefectures. The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is the highest administrative authority in Tibet.
Table of Contents
- 1 History of Tibet
- 2 Flag of Tibet
- 3 People of Tibet
- 4 Tibet Population
- 5 Highlights of Tibet
History of Tibet
Tibet was the peaceful Buddhist Kingdom until 1949. It was an independent kingdom. Tibet had little contact with the outside world. It was like a melting pot of cultural treasures. For instance, it has a distinct language, literature, art, and architecture. At the same time, it was a fertile land where the Mahayana and Vajrayana Sects of Buddhism grew profoundly.
The kingdom was under the Rule of Dalai Lama, who remained as a spiritual and political leader of the Kingdom until 1949. Communist China has invaded the peaceful Tibet in 1949 which led to the complete overthrow of the Tibetan Government. Dalai Lama (14th), the then ruler of Tibet, and 100,000 Tibetans went on exile in 1959.
The Communist Chinese invasion has become the greatest tragedy for the Tibetan people. Since then, over a million Tibetans have been killed. People criticized this kind of brutal treatment of China all around the world. However, China continued to surpass the peaceful demonstration by arresting and killing the demonstrators and laymen. The imperial Chinese Army tortured Political prisoners and held in substandard conditions. The brutal Chinese invaders destroyed over 6,000 shrines, exploited the natural resources, preyed the wildlife, threatened the Tibetan Culture, and famines appeared for the first time in the recorded history. In this way, Tibetans became a minority in their own country.
Testimonials show that the history of Tibet started in 127 BC after the establishment of the Yarlung Dynasty. Since then, it has developed as a microcosm of human cultures and traditions. The vast territory of Tibet was first unified in the 7th century by Songtsen Gompo and his successors. Then, it remained as the mightiest power in Asia for the three centuries. Tibet conquered the Chinese Capital Changan in 763. Between 821 and 823, China and Tibet signed a “Peace Treaty” which demarcated the border and they started to live happily.
Buddhism was introduced in Tibet in the 8th Century. However, Bon Religion has remained as the earliest religion in Tibet. Tibetan people were highly spiritual and secular-minded. The Bon people easily intermingled with the new Buddhist traditions and by the end of the 12th century, the Shakya dynasty had made a strong influence in Tibet. Meanwhile, Genghis Khan was extending his Mongol empire towards Europe in the west and China in the east. The Tibetan leaders of powerful Shakya schooling signed an agreement with the Mongols to protect them from the invasion.
The Tibetan priest patrons promised them political loyalty and religious blessings in regard to their protection. But, after a decade later Kubla Khan conquered China and established the Yuan Dynasty. He respected the Shakya leaders and made them the supreme imperial preceptor and pontiff in his palace. The relationship between the Yuan Dynasty and Tibet grew significantly as they shared close racial, cultural, and religious affinity. But Tibet broke political ties with Yuan in 1350 before China got independence from the Mongols. Then Tibet remained away from foreign influences until the 18th Century.
Influence of the Manchu Dynasty:
Dalai Lama, who has established a sovereign rule on Tibet with the help of Mongol Rulers, also established a religious tie with Manchu Rulers. Tibet did not have any ties with the Ming Dynasty. Manchu was the powerful people and they have invaded China and established a Qing Dynasty. They promised to protect Tibet regarding the priest-patron relation. Dalai Lama also had the same type of relationship with the Mongol Princes and some noble Tibetans. However, some Manchu emperors were exerting influence on Tibet in the name of protecting them against Mongols or Gorkhas. It was creating a lot of internal political unrest in Tibet. They had control over Tibet until the British invaded Lhasa and they had a bilateral treaty in 1904.
Tibet in the 20th Century:
The 1911 Revolution in China overthrew the Manchu completely and Dalai Lama started the independent rule. After that, Tibet remained a fully autonomous state until 1950. It avoided every kind of undue foreign influence. Tibet extended its diplomatic missions with many countries in South East Asia. On the other hand, the relation between Tibet and China was still cold. In 1913, the British held a tripartite convention in Shimla to distinguish the difference between Tibet and China and resolve the border dispute. The conference became unsuccessful as Tibet entered the conference as an independent nation recognizing no allegiance to China. Tibet continued to develop its foreign policy with the help of the British, Nepalese, Indian, and Bhutanese mission in Lhasa. During World War II, it remained a neutral country.
The Invasion of Tibet:
The liberation army invaded Tibet in 1949. Around 40 thousand armies of the Peoples’ Republic of China crossed the border of this small and peaceful country. By 1959, they have created chaos in Tibet by crushing the peaceful demonstrations and imposing the ultimate threat to the small Tibetan Army. The Chinese troops killed around 87,000 Tibetans in the Lhasa region alone. Dalai Lama fled away to India, where he heads the Tibetan Government in Exile now.
Flag of Tibet
Tibetan flag is one of the symbolic and beautiful flags in the world. The 13th Dalai Lama introduced the flag in 1916. The flag was in use until 1951. Shortly after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Dalai Lama declared Tibet’s independence from China and he began to modernize his army. The flag was designed with the help of Japanese Priests and all the Tibetan Regiments started to carry it as a symbol. In this way, the Tibetan Flag became the symbol of the Tibetan Army. Soon after that, the Tibetan Government displayed the flag in all the major buildings and palaces of Tibet. The Tibetan flag is also known as “Snow Lion Flag” or “Free Tibet Flag”.
The flag is banned in mainland China since 1959. Tibetan people started to take the flag as a symbol of the Tibetan Independence Movement from 1960. Although the flag principally connects all the major historical movements and linage of the Tibetan rulers, the flag is not in official use in any region of the world since 1951. However, the Tibetan Government in Exile uses the flag even today.
Design of the Flag:
The flag is rectangular. It has two lions holding a flaming blue, white, and orange jewel and blue and orange yin-yang symbol on a white mountain with a gold sun rising over it. In addition to that, there are 12 red and blue alternating rays over the mountain. Moreover, it has a gold border around the upper, lower, and hoist side of the flag. And the right side of the flag does not have any border.
Symbolic Meaning of the Flag:
- The naturally beautiful mountain in the center of the flag represents the great land of Tibet.
- The six red rays of light emanating in the sky symbolize the six original tribes of Tibet: Se, Mu, Dong, Tong, Dru, and Ra.
- The alternating red color of the peoples and the dark blue color of the sky symbolize the un-relentless accomplishments of the virtuous conduct to guard and protect the spiritual and secular rule enacted by the two protector deities, one red and one black, who have safeguarded from old.
- The light rays emanating extensively from the sun rising over the peak of the snow mountain symbolize all the people of Tibet have equal light of enjoyment, freedom, spiritual and material happiness, and prosperity.
- The valiant stance of a pair of fearless snow lions growling to each other symbolizes the complete victory overall by the deeds of the combined spiritual and secular ruling government.
- The three colored jewels symbolize the Tibetan people revering the three precious gems; the objects of refuge: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.
- The holding of the two colored jewels of bliss-swirls by the two snow lions refers to the observance of self morality under the exalted tradition which is represented principally by the ten divine virtuous actions and the sixteen human moral rules.
- The three-sided yellow border of the flag symbolizes the flourishing Buddhism in Tibet.
- The side without a border represents the Tibet’s openness to non-Buddhist thoughts.
People of Tibet
The indigenous people living in Tibet and Surrounding areas are the Tibetan People. They primarily live in the mainland of Central Asia in the north and occupy the areas over Myanmar in the west to China in the east.
There are many popular traditional and mythological explanations about the origin of the Tibetan people. One of the popular explanations states that the Tibetan people are the direct descendants of the Qiang people. Most importantly, the recent genetic studies indicate that the ancestors of the Tibetan people diverged from the ancestors of the “Han Chinese” about 5,000–6,000 years ago.
The Tibetan people are divided into several groups. These include the “Changri”, “Nachan”, and “Hor”, who are further divided into fifty-one sub-tribes. The Tibetans living in Kham are of “Qiang” descendants. The “Hor”, who are further sub-divided into thirty-nine sub-tribes, are of Mongolian descendants. The Tibetans in Kham are also known as the “Khampa”, while those in the far west and north are known as Poiba. Descendants of the “Karjia” are known as the “Ando”. Although the “Tangut” are now extinct people, their descendants can be found in Gansu and surrounding territories.
At present, the Tibetan people are concentrated in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Chinese Province of Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan as well as India, Nepal, and Bhutan. The major ethnic group of Tibet includes Qiang, Ngalop, Sharchop, Ladakhis, Baltis, Burig, Kachin, Yi, Bamar, and other Sino-Tibetan speaking people.
Here is a short description of the major inhabitants of Tibet:
The Tibetans are the main inhabitants of Tibet. They cover up more than 92 percent of the regional population. They practice traditional farming and animal rearing. Some Tibetans run their livelihood by making crafts. They feed on beef, mutton, and dairy products. They wear traditional local clothes which are thick, warm and a wide waist and long sleeves and skirt. Most of the Tibetans are Buddhists. They also profess Bon, Islam, and Catholicism.
Menpa is the people living in the Tibet who share a very close affinity with the Sharchops of Bhutan. The Menpa is subdivided into six groups: Tawang, Dirang, Lisha, Bhut, Kalaktang, and Panchen. Menpa is typically adherents of Gelung Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Their language is also called Menpa languages which include Kho-Bwa, East Bodish, and Tshangla. These people are experts at making Thanka, wood carving, carpet making, and weaving. They make paper from the pulp of the local Sukso tree. They celebrate the Choksar harvest festival, Losar, and Torgya festivals.
It is one of the officially and culturally recognized ethnic groups in Tibet. This tribe is heavily concentrated on the Chinese side of the Indo China Border. Moreover, the Lhoba people live in the south and south-eastern Tibet. These people practice traditional agriculture and hunting. They engage in barter trade, exchanging goods like animal hides, musk, bear paws, dye, and captured game for farm tools, salt, wool, clothing, grain, and tea from Tibetan traders. Few Lhoba knows the Tibetan language. Many Lhobas profess Tibetan Buddhism.
Han Chinese is the descendant of the native Han Dynasty. It is the largest ethnic group in the world. Today, they represent the most civilized tribe in Tibet. Historically, they are the native people of the Yellow River Basin in China. The Han dynasty is also referred to as the driving force behind the civilization and prosperity of China. Han Chinese covers 19% of the total world population. They share the oldest culture and traditions.
The Sherpa is another important Tibetan ethnic community. They live in the eastern part of Tibet. They run their lives by rearing animals and growing potatoes. Some of them also are involved in trekking and tourism. Sherpa, who is also known as the Himalayan people, make dairy products, trade and make woolen garments. They wear thick clothes. They practice Tibetan Buddhism.
Deng or Dengba are the indigenous people who live in the Tibetan territory of Zayu or secluded forest areas. Most recently they have moved towards the terraced river valleys. They practice slash and burn methods in agriculture. They build two-story structures, with the family living above and livestock housed below. Men and women both wear a typical dress of their own. Although they have no written language, the Deng people have their spoken language. The Dengba have rejected conversion to Buddhism, but many of them outwardly practice Buddhist rituals.
Tibetan Population consists of numerous communities. Some of the dominant communities of Tibet are Menpa, Chinese, Sherpa, Han, Dengs, and Loupa. Most of the regions of Tibet come under the Trans Himalayan region. It has rugged terrain and uninhabitable topography. Therefore, the population density of Tibet is fairly thin. However, the cities and popular villages are densely populated.
The territory of Tibet is the largest provincial territory in china. It covers an area of 474,300 square miles. Despite having the largest area, Tibet holds a significantly low population. The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) or formerly, Tibetan Government-in-exile, states that the “total Tibetan population in Tibet is 6 million” and 2.09 million live in the Tibet Autonomous Region (“TAR”). As we examine the latest census report, the population of Tibet was 3, 180,000 in 2014. The estimated population density of Tibet is 6.7 per square kilometer. It is the lowest population density compared to any other region in China. However, Tibet is the 32nd most populous region in the world.
Tibet has the most significant population growth in recent years. Around 90% of the Tibetan population is made up of the Tibetan ethnic groups. More than 70% of the people practice and profess Tibetan Buddhism. The rest of the Tibetans follow Bon, Islam, Christianity, and other Chinese folk religions.
Some Astonishing Facts about Tibet
- Communist China invaded Tibet in 1949. Since then, over 1.2 million out of 6 Tibetans have been killed, over 6000 monasteries have been destroyed, and thousands of Tibetans have been imprisoned.
- There is no freedom of speech, religion, or press in Tibet.
- The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s political and spiritual leader, fled to India in 1959. He now lives among over 100,000 other Tibetan refugees and their government in exile.
- Forced abortion, sterilization of Tibetan women, and the transfer of low-income Chinese citizens threaten the survival of Tibet’s unique culture.
- Within China itself, massive human rights abuses continue. International Reports claim that above twenty million Chinese citizens work in prison camps.
- Most of the Tibetan plateau lies above 14,000 feet. It is also known as the “Roof of the World”.
- Tibet is the source of five of Asia’s greatest rivers, which 47% people of the world depend upon.
- Many international surveys prove that there is a lack of respect for the critical issues of political and religious freedom and human rights in China.
Highlights of Tibet
Tibet is a Sangria-La of the unique cultures and the most astonishing natural beauty. It has always been the top choice of the visitors since it was open for foreign visitors in the 1950s. Tibetan art, culture, traditions, customs, rituals, music, drams, costumes, everything put us in awe. One visit to Tibet is never enough and you would bring very different memories each time you visit Tibet. Below are Tibet’s most beautiful places we must visit if we are in Tibet once in a lifetime.
It is a UNESCO enlisted World Heritage Site. The palace was built in 637. It is located in the north-west of Lhasa on the next side of Marpo Ri (Red Mountain). The palace is large and impressive. It was the Royal Palace of King Songtsan Gompo. Later on, the palace became the residence of Dalai Lama. The palace is very magnificent. Besides, it is also referred to as “The Palace of Art”.
Jokhang Temple is the greatest temple of Tibetan Buddhism. It was built in the 7th Century. The temple is located in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. It is considered as the most sacred temple. The temple was built by Songtsan Gompo. The design of this temple is unique because it is the combination of the architectural design of the Chinese Tang Dynasty, Nepal, and Bihar, India.
Mount Kailash is the most sacred site located in western Tibet. Firstly, it is the center of belief for many Tibetan people as well as the followers of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jain, and Bon religions. Though the mountain remains covered with snow throughout the years no one is allowed to climb on it. However, many pilgrims go round the mountain as a part of their pilgrimage. It is also a famous destination for breathtaking sceneries.
Norbulingka (Tibetan: Jewelled Park) is another important palace located in the west of Lhasa. The palace lies a little away towards the south-west of Potala Palace. It was built in 1755. Norbulingka was used as a summer palace by Dalai Lama. Now it has converted into a beautiful park. It is best to observe the most beautiful panoramas and the ancient art of Tibet. Shaton, a Tibetan festival is observed here. In the same vein, during the festival, a lot of activities are carried out here including Tibetan drama performance.
Tashilhunpo Monastery is the largest monastery of Tibet. It is located in the west of Shigatse City. The monastery was built in 1447 by Gendun Drup. It is one of the four Gelugpa Monasteries. The other monasteries are Gandan, Sera, and Drepung. Surprisingly, it is the largest monastery in Shigatse 2000 people can pray at the same time.
It is one of the three holy lakes in Tibet. The lake is 70 Km away from Lhasa. It covers an area of 638 Km. Likewise, Yamdrok is a coral-colored lake and it is also called a coral lake. Yamdrok Lake is one of the must-go places which provides the most amazing natural scenery of Yamdrok Lake, Samding Monastery, combining lake, pastures, island, surrounding mountains, varieties of plants and animals, and many more.
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