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Paradise Lost

May 05, 2008
The Chinese takeover of Tibet is only superficially about force. Less noticed, Tarun Vijay reports from an earlier visit, is the subtle, almost unnoticed cultural makeover that has transformed Lhasa into a shadow of its former spiritual self.
Ancient Sanskrit texts call it Trivishtap; the modern world knows it as Tibet. We reach the eternally enchanting land of the Lamas after an hour's flight from Kathmandu by China Southwest Airlines.

Lhasa: The name itself is electric with imagined possibility. It opens up the pages of shared history and culture; it enchants with its beauty; it is different from anything one has experienced before.

Our plane touched down smoothly and taxied to the vast airstrip's parking bay. We looked out and found smiling Chinese security personnel standing at leisure near the tarmac. The smiling face of security is very much the theme. Dominating it all was a huge billboard featuring the image of a Chinese policeman, and the legend 'live and let live'.

The mood was relaxed. We folded our hands in a namaste, shook hands with the police personnel, shot pictures, giggled, and emerged from the airport after a perfunctory security check to board Lhasa city-bound luxury coaches.

We were part of an eclectic group organised by the renowned Hindu sanyasin Swami Chidananda Saraswati in June 2003. The group comprised Indian media tycoons, Hindus from Africa and Britain, Hollywood actress Jessica Cauffiel of Legally Blonde fame, and globe-trotting drummer and ardent Shiva-worshipper Sivamani.

Image: A view of the Potala Palace, once the home of the Dalai Lama. Text and Photographs: Tarun Vijay

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