Thursday, August 10, 2006

China May Abolish Permit Rule for Tibet Visitors

Reported by the Daily News & Analysis (India)

By Venkatesan Vembu

August 09, 2006; Lhasa -- Foreign travellers to Tibet, including Indian tourists, could benefit from a planned relaxation of Chinese regulations that currently require them to secure a special permit to enter the erstwhile Himalayan kingdom.

Officials of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), in China's western region, told a visiting Indian media delegation on Tuesday that the proposal, which could take effect later this year, was intended to open up Tibet, the original Shangri La, to more international tourists as part of an overall programme to improve the economy of this backward region.

The proposal, if implemented without caveats (and that's a big if), would mean that foreign tourists will be able to enter Tibet on the strength of a China visa alone.

It is also a sign of increasing confidence on the part of the Chinese government in opening up the region, which it "liberated" in the 1950s and where it still faces pockets of disaffection, particularly among worshippers of the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Even as recently as a fortnight ago, a Chinese commentary in the official media had accused the Dalai Lama of "collaborating" with the Indian Army and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

"In the name of 'organising armed troops to fight their way back into Tibet', (the Dalai Lama) collaborated with the Indian military and American CIA to organise the 'Indian Tibetan special border troops'," the commentary in China Daily had said.

Lhasa boasts of several tourist attractions associated with Tibetan Buddhism, including ancient monasteries and the Potala Palace, the former winter residence of the Dalai Lama.

The city receives an estimated 5,000 tourists a day from other parts of China and from across the world, particularly after the Qinghai-Tibet railway opened on July 1.

Visitors from the US and Europe top the number of foreigners; travellers from India do not currently make up a critical mass, and the few who do come to this region are on pilgrimage to Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar, which hold significance in Hindu mythology.

Currently, there is only one international flight to Lhasa - from Kathmandu - although there are about 20 flights a day to other parts of China.

Plans are afoot to open up more international flight services, according to Lioa Li Sheng, director of the general administrative office of the TAR, and Zha Nuo, vice-director-general of the Tourism Bureau of the TAR.