Friday, November 30, 2007

The tracks to Shangri-La

There are many places that I dream of seeing, and then there are some that I feel would fulfill some of my life's greatest wishes. Paris was one. Vienna was another. And then there was also South Africa. One that I have wished to see for quite some time is Tibet. The trouble is that getting there is a bit of a bear. Or, at least it used to be.

For a year, a rail line has linked Tibet to the rest of China. This is phenomenal news for those who want to see Tibet and would prefer to avoid the arduous plane or bus ride to the area. And the tourism numbers support what a revelation the rail line is - 3.2 million people visited Tibet the first 9 months of 2007, a 67% increase over last year. And there are concerns that this rail line is not only bringing tourists but bring destruction to Buddhist culture. This makes me wonder if my curiosity and interest in the region will actually harm the region itself. Can tourism and popularity wipe out a way of life?

This is of course a constant struggle for environmental conservationists. While we want people to take a keen interest in other cultures, people, and area of the world, there is also a delicate balance to guard to protect the very thing driving the interest. Technology has so many benefits, and yet there are some very powerful disadvantages, one of them being a movement toward sameness across cultures.

I do dream of seeing Tibet some day, of spending time there wandering the mountains, talking to Tibetans, and sharing with them how much their perseverance and strength and belief in happiness have influenced me and the way I live my life. I wander now if by the opening of the flood gates I have missed the window to actually ever see the real Tibet.

The picture above is a Tibetan couple stands at the end of the tracks that link the rest of China to the platform of the Lhasa train station in Lhasa, Tibet. It can be found at

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