Tibetan culture a strong brand with tourists

Publish Time: 2019-10-12 Author: Phuntsog Tashi and Palden Nyima in Lhasa From: China Daily USA

Region's beauty, history driving surge in its tourism revenue, GDP

Tsering Chukyi is one of a dwindling number of nomadic women from Amdo county in north Tibet who can still knit yak hair and sheep wool.

She presented her skills at an exhibition of cultural items and ethnic tourism products Sept 26 and 27 at the Tibet Museum in Lhasa, as part of the First China Tibet International Tourism and Culture Expo.

"I am delighted to attend such an exhibition," she said. "My mother taught me these skills which have been passed down for five generations."

One of her eye-catching works was a pair of sunglasses woven with black yak hair. These were traditionally worn by nomads in northern Tibet. Each pair, with a fine mesh over the eyes, takes four days for her to weave. She is trying to pass the skills on to a new generation.

"I have one young apprentice, and I hope she will learn all that I know," she said.

The sunglasses are just one example of Tibetan culture, said Losang Gyaltsan, the chairman of the Tibet autonomous region. The government is prioritizing the preservation of Tibet's unique culture while protecting the pristine scenery as it boosts tourism.

"Culture is the soul of tourism in the region," he said, while stressing that this did not lessen the commitment to environmental protection and sustainable development.

Tibet, with its snow-capped peaks and crystal-clear waters, along with the hospitality of its people, has achieved global renown.

Its rapid development over the past few decades means it is no longer geographically isolated. Airports, rail stations, highways and modern communications provide easy access.

Tibetan culture is unique and steeped in history stretching back millennia, providing tourists with lasting memories, the chairman said.

"The pre-historic Karuo remains, the first palace of Yumbu-Lha Khang, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery Samye, the spectacular Guge dynasty remains, the breathtaking Potala Palace, and the King Gesar Epic, comparable to the epics of Homer, are witnesses to the evolving history of Tibetan civilization," he said.

Han and Qiang culture as well Mongolian, Indian and Nepalese have all played a role in forging a remarkable cultural landscape.

Tibetan culture a strong brand with tourists

The central region is heavily agricultural, with nomadic culture in the northwest, while the southwest is more commercial.

"The central government has always valued cultural protection and tourist development in Tibet," he said. The government has pledged to build Tibet into a sanctuary of Chinese culture with its own unique ethnic character and establish it as a major world-class tourist destination.

"We have always regarded tourism and cultural development as a strategic pillar to optimize the economic structure and transform the mode of development," the chairman said.

Tourism to Tibet has surged in recent years, growing more than 20 percent. In 2013, Tibet attracted more than 13 million tourists, responsible for about one-fifth of its GDP. Tourism has become the flagship industry for Tibet's rising development, he said.

Budawa in Tibet's remote Lhaze county is well aware of what tourism means to his handmade Tibetan knife business.

"Thanks to the government promoting tourism in our county in recent years, my business has been booming, and sometimes my supply fails to meet demand," he said.

For Budawa, making knives is not only a business but a cherished skill to pass on to his son.

"Our ancestors left us with such excellent crafts; for me, passing it down to the next generation seemed more important than the business itself," he said.

The central government has invested funds in the maintenance and restoration of key cultural relics.

The Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka Park are included on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.

Tibetan opera and the Gesar epic also are on the world heritage list. Tibet's traditional handicrafts and folk art are included in the state intangible cultural heritage list.

"Our bottom line in tourist development is to protect the environment and the traditions and cultures," Losang Gyaltsan said. Tibet's environment is so fragile that any damage will be difficult to reverse, he said.

"To protect the environment, we refrain from gold mining," he said. "We will not pursue profits for today at the cost of tomorrow."

Tibetan culture a strong brand with tourists

Tsering Chukyi is weaving a pair of sunglasses with yak hair in the Tibet Museum, Lhasa on Sept 26.  Palden Nyima / China Daily

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