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Trouble in Tibet

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Tibetan walking his colorful yak

Tibet has a mystical allure. For centuries it’s been closed off to much of the world due to its desolate terrain and sheer isolation. For the past 50 years, China has guarded it with an iron fist. With images of yaks, saffron-clad monks and mountaintop monasteries dancing in our heads, we had to see it for ourselves.

Sitting atop the roof of the world surrounded by the world’s highest peaks, Tibet is home to roughly three million people. A large majority of inhabitants live nomadic lives or in small villages along the Tibetan plateau. It’s a massive area of land, nearly four times the size of Texas or all of Western Europe combined.

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The beautiful Tibetan sky in Tingri, Tibet

The devout Buddhist nation had for centuries, peacefully bordered China, India, Bhutan and Nepal. In the 1950’s, however, it was invaded and swallowed up by its Chinese neighbor. Under Chinese rule, the Tibetan people have lived as prisoners in their own country and suffered unfathomable torture and abuse.

To strengthen its presence in Tibet, China has spent billions of dollars trying to encourage Chinese people to immigrate there. They’ve offered massive incentives to get them to move to west, including better pensions, higher wages and even lifting the one child per family law. To make it even easier for families to make the move, they recently spent $10 billion alone on improving Tibet’s infrastructure.

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Influence of the Chinese in the town of Lhotse, Tibet

With the arrival of the Chinese, however, comes a loss of Tibet. Mandarin is now taking the place of Tibetan language in schools, and the strong traditions and customs of the people are being suppressed. Changing more in the past 50 years than in the last 500, Tibet is experiencing a cultural genocide, a loss of who they are. We realize the time is now to see Tibet, before it’s gone forever.

As you would imagine, China’s tyranny has lead to massive uprisings and bloodshed. In hopes to hide the reality of the situation from the international community, China has made it very difficult for foreigners to enter. At times, borders are completely closed off while at other times entrance is limited and strictly controlled.

With a recent uprising in 2008, China has tightened its grip even more. They no longer allow tourists to enter the country unless part of an organized tour – organized of course by the Chinese government. They want to control where you go, how you go and who you go with. They want to control the story you get and the story you tell the world.

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A window in Tibet

We couldn’t really plan ahead for getting into Tibet. It would all come down to whether or not our timing would match up with China’s willingness to let foreigners in. We learned they actually close all borders to Tibet during the month of March – the month that marks the anniversary of the Chinese takeover – to ensure no foreign visitors are there to witness any possible political tension and Chinese oppression of the Tibetan people.

Luck was on our side. When we arrived to Nepal, it was early April, which meant the border was just being reopened again. We made arrangements with a Kathmandu travel agency and had high hopes. We were going to experience Tibet after all.

Check out our seven day journey through Tibet here.

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