There are things you take for granted in Tibet: magnificent snow caps, powerful gushing rivers, hearty nomads, yaks grazing the grasslands under vast open skies. I never imagined I would have to write the following line: that landscape is undergoing drastic change. The Himalayan snow caps are in meltdown mode, due to climate change – accelerated by a rain of black soot from massive coal-burning in both China and India. The mighty rivers of Tibet are being dammed by Chinese engineering consortiums to feed the mainland’s desperate thirst for power. The grasslands of Tibet are being usurped by desert – due to climate change, and to the short-sighted Chinese policy of forcibly removing nomads from the grasslands and settling them in concrete hovels. Even yaks – the iconic creatures of Tibet – are vanishing from central Tibet.
When I first visited Tibet in the mid-1980s, none of this was apparent. This has all come to pass in a few short decades, unfolding right before my eyes. Accelerating the change was the 2006 arrival of the train to Lhasa, making possible a huge influx of Chinese settlers and tourists, and enabling exploitation of Tibet’s resources on a large scale. Extensive mining in Tibet would not be possible without the train to export minerals. Nor would export of Tibet’s groundwater in the form of bottled water. Nor would the construction of new mega-dams on Tibet’s rivers be possible, as the train brings in materials and technology.
I believe it is the guidebook writer’s duty to give the ‘news’ the way it is – the good, the bad and the ugly. Ugly refers to the harsh realities in today’s Tibet. Tibetans live in a climate of fear: they have no say in preventing the reckless destruction of their sacred land. At the very least, a guidebook should give voice to those concerns. Despite these caveats, Tibet remains an extraordinary travel destination. If you delve into the pages of my guidebook to Tibet, you will find pockets of genuine Tibetan culture – places where the Tibetan pulse runs strong.