These days China is in regular news but for the wrong reasons, and whenever China is discussed Tibet cannot be left behind.  

    Tibet, in other words—Tibet Autonomous Region, is a historic and autonomous region of China that is often called “the roof of the world.” Tibet is a region in East Asia covering most of the Tibetan Plateau. Tibet lies on a vast elevated plateau of Central and East Asia, covering most of the Tibet Autonomous Region, North-western Yunnan (a province in south-west China), western half of Sichuan (a south-western Chinese province that contains a stretch of Asia’s longest Yangtze river). It also covers Southern Gansu and Qinghai province in Western China, and Indian regions of Ladakh and Lahaul Spiti (Himachal Pradesh) as well as Bhutan. In the Southeast there is Myanmar (Burma), India, Bhutan and Nepal in the South.

    Tibet stretches approximately 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) north to south and some 2,500 kilometres (1,600 miles) east to west. It is the world’s highest and largest plateau, with an area of 25 lakh square kilometres (or 970,000 square miles) (about five times the size of Metropolitan France). With an average elevation exceeding 4,500 metres (14,800 feet) and is surrounded by imposing mountain ranges that harbour the world’s two highest summits, Mount Everest and K2. K2, at 8,611 metres above sea level, is the second highest mountain in the world, after Mount Everest at 8,848 metres. K2 is located in the Karakoram Range and lies partly in a Chinese-administered enclave of the Kashmir region within the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang province in China, and partly in the Gilgit-Baltistan portion of Kashmir under the administration of Pakistan.

     Tibet’s incorporation into the People’s Republic of China began in 1950 and has remained a highly charged and controversial issue, both within Tibet and even worldwide. Many Tibetans (especially those outside China) consider China’s action to be an invasion of a sovereign country, and the continued Chinese presence in Tibet is deemed an occupation by a foreign power.

    Public opinion outside China (especially in the West) has tended to take the side of Tibet as an independent (or at least highly autonomous) entity. There is no question, though, that the 14th Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual and temporal leader, has become one of the world’s most recognizable and highly regarded individuals.

        Before the 1950s Tibet was largely isolated from the rest of the world. It constituted a unique cultural and religious community, marked by the Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhism. Little effort was made to facilitate communication with outsiders, and economic development was minimal.

    Tibet is on a high plateau—the Plateau of Tibet—is surrounded by enormous mountain masses. The relatively plain, northern part of the plateau is called the Qiangtang. It extends more than 800 miles (1,300 km) from west to east at an average elevation of 16,500 feet (5,000 metres) above the sea level. The Qiangtang has brackish lakes, (Saline water lakes). The largest being lakes Seling and Namu. There are, however, no river systems there. In the east the Qiangtang begins to descend in elevation. The mountain ranges in south-eastern Tibet cuts across the land from north to south, creating meridional (southern) barriers to travel and communication. In central and western Tibet the ranges run from northwest to southeast, with deep or shallow valleys forming innumerable furrows.

    The Qiangtang is bordered on the north by the Kunlun Mountains, with the highest peak, Mount Muztagh (on the Tibet-Xinjiang border), reaching up to 25,338 feet (7,723 metres). The western and southern border of the Plateau of Tibet is formed by the great mass of the Himalayas—where the highest peak is Mount Everest, which rises up to 29,035 feet (8,850 metres) on the Tibet-Nepal border. On the north of Lake Manasarovar, or Manas Sarovar, also called Mapam Yumtso in Tibetan and stretching eastward is the Kailash (Gang-disi) Range, with clusters of peaks, several exceeding 20,000 feet (6,100 metres). This range is separated from the Himalayas by the upper course of Brahmaputra river (in Tibet called the Yarlung Zangbo or the Tsangpo), which flows across southern Tibet and cuts south through the mountains into India and Bangladesh.

    China has fought and will keep fighting battles over water. The Plateau of Tibet is the principal source of the rivers, of East, Southeast, and South Asia. The Indus River, known in Tibet as the Sengge Zangbo (“Lion Spring” in Chinese: Shiq-uan He), has its source in western Tibet near Mount Kailash, a mountain sacred to Buddhists and Hindus. It then flows westward across the Kashmir region into Pakistan. Three other rivers also begin from the west: the Xiangquan River (Tibetan: Langqen Kanbab, “Elephant Spring”) flows west to become the Sutlej River in north-western India and Pakistan. The Mabja Zangbo River flows into the Ghaghara (Nepali: Kauriala) River to eventually join the Ganges (Ganga) River; and the Maquan River (Tibetan: Damqog Kanbab, “Horse Spring”) flows east and, after joining the Lhasa River south of Lhasa, forms the Brahmaputra.

    The Salween (Nu) River has its source in east-central Tibet, from where it flows through eastern Tibet and Yunnan and then enters Myanmar. The Mekong River begins in southern Qinghai as two rivers—the Ang and Zha—which join near the Tibet border. The river then flows through eastern Tibet and western Yunnan and enters Laos and Thailand. The source of the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang) rises in southern Qinghai, near the Tibet border; after flowing through southern Qinghai, the Yangtze turns south to form most of the Tibet-Sichuan border.

    Tibet’s three largest lakes are centrally located, on northwest of Lhasa. They are Lakes Dangre Yong (Tibetan: Tangra Yum), Nam, and Siling. On the south of Lhasa lie two other large lakes, (Yangzho Yong) and Puma Yung (Pumo). In western Tibet two adjoining lakes are located near the Nepal border—lake Mapam-Mansarovar, sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus, and lake La’nga.

        The (CPC) Communist Party of China gained control of the People’s Republic of China in the year 1949, after the civil war that started in 1945. Post that they invaded Tibet in the year 1950. Tibet had earlier declared independence from China in 1913. In 1951, the Tibetans signed a seventeen-point agreement reaffirming China’s sovereignty over Tibet but providing an autonomous administration led by Dalai Lama. In 1959 the 14th Dalai Lama fled from Tibet because of the uprising to India where Government of India gave him shelter under cover where he established the Central Tibetan Administration. The Tibet Autonomous Region within China was officially established in 1965.

    The Tibetan Empire existed from the 7th to 9th centuries AD when Tibet was unified as a large and powerful empire and ruled an area considerably larger than the Tibetan Plateau, stretching to parts of East Asia, Central Asia and South Asia, in the 7th century, but with the fall of the empire the region soon divided into a variety of territories.

    Following the Xinhai Revolution against the Qing dynasty in 1912, Qing soldiers were disarmed and escorted out of Tibet Area (Ü-Tsang). The region subsequently declared its independence in 1913 without recognition by the subsequent Chinese Republican Government. Later, Lhasa took control of the western part of Xikang, China. The region maintained its autonomy until 1951 when, following the Battle of Chamdo, Tibet was occupied and incorporated into the People’s Republic of China, and the previous Tibetan government was abolished in 1959 after a failed uprising. Today, China governs western and central Tibet, called Tibet Autonomous Region while the eastern areas are now mostly ethnic autonomous prefectures (in certain countries a district under the authority of a prefect or governor) within Sichuan, Qinghai and other neighbouring provinces. There are always tensions regarding Tibet’s political status and dissident groups that are active in exile. Tibetan activists in Tibet have reportedly been arrested and even tortured.

    Although Tibetans refer to their land as Gangs-ljongs or Kha-ba-can (“Land of Snows”), the climate is generally dry. Most of Tibet receives only 18 inches (460 mm) of precipitation (both rain and snow) annually, with much of that falling during the summer months. The Himalayas act as a barrier to the monsoon (rain-bearing) winds from the south, and precipitation decreases from south to north. The perpetual snow line lies at some 16,000 feet (4,800 metres) in the Himalayas but rises to about 20,000 feet (6,100 metres) in the northern mountains. Humidity is low, and fog is practically non-existent.

Posted by Kamlesh Tripathi



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