Sunday, August 20, 2006

In Today's Lhasa: Dalai Who?

As reported on NDTV (New Delhi Television LImited)

By Nitin Gokhale

Sunday, August 20, 2006 (Lhasa) -- In Lhasa, Tibet's most famous icon is persona non grata. But officially, the Dalai Lama does not exist there.

Ever since he was forced to flee Tibet in 1959, the Chinese government has done everything possible to obliterate his presence.

Each day tourists flock to the 13-storey Potala Palace, Tibet's most recognisable landmark.But at the Dalai Lama's former winter headquarters they learn little about the man or his government in exile.

The Potala Palace is in fact so popular that the curator has had to put a daily ceiling of 2,300 visitors, to ensure the largely clay and wood structure does not crumble under the weight of eager tourists.

But the otherwise reasonable rulers of the Tibetan Autonomous Region go ballistic at the very mention of the Dalai Lama.

The deputy chief administrator insists there is no support for the Dalai Lama in Tibet."I would like to make two points, one is, that the Dalai Lama has no or very little popularity in Tibet. Secondly since his fleeing overseas, the Dalai Lama has not done anything for the well-being of the Tibetan people," said Hao Peng, Deputy Chief Administrator, TAR.Local support

But out on the streets, it's clear that ordinary Tibetans have neither forgotten nor given up on the Dalai Lama.

At Lhasa's famous Barkhor street, most vendors are eager to talk as soon as they realise the NDTV team was from India. But on camera, they were rather candid.

NDTV: How is it here for the Tibetans?

Karma, a vendor: The Chinese are terrible people. They run the big business. We are all marginalised. I will be in trouble if they see me talking to you.

NDTV: What about Tibet's development? Doesn't it help the ordinary Tibetans?

Karma: No, all benefits are taken by the Chinese. We are nowhere.

The vendor took a great risk in talking to NDTV but his feelings mirror those of very many Tibetans who spoke off camera.

Beijing has brought many changes to Lhasa's skyline -- tall buildings, swanky shopping malls, wide streets -- all the trappings of a modern city but at heart it pines for its most famous son, the Dalai Lama.

Today, the place where the Dalai Lama used to live in winters before he fled Lhasa, is a must see place for every tourist who comes to Tibet, but there are no memories of the Dalai Lama there.