Chinese tourist and the dancing waters at the Potola Palace.

Five and a half million tourists visited Tibet in 2009! This was a 150% increase from the year before. Tibet is currently the number one tourist destination for the Chinese. Certainly the clear mountain air and spectacular scenery offer relief from the air pollution that haunts many of China’s cities. However, it is the Tibetan culture with its rich spiritual heritage that is apparently the major draw.

Chinese tour group at Tashilhupo Monastery, Shigatse, Tibet.

While traveling through Eastern and Western Tibet last spring and summer I found many of the most accessible monasteries packed with a constant flow of Chinese tour groups. On the 32 mile kora (clockwise trail) around the sacred Mt Kailash I met a 30 member Chinese group that was being led by a Tibetan Rinpoche . I heard many in the group refer to him as master!

American tourist at Potola Palace.

The strength of Tibet’s tour industry is all the more reason for China to keep the Tibetan culture healthy.

Tibetan nomads dressed up for photos at popular tour bus stop, Nojin, Kangtsang Glacier, Tibet.

8 Responses to “Tourism in Tibet”

  1. Raam Dev

    I wonder if the tourism industry is having any negative impact on the culture and/or the environment in Tibet. Are the tourists generally respectful? Are there any big downsides to a booming tourism industry there? Or do the benefits far outweigh the downsides?

    • Phil Borges

      The very few westerners currently go into Tibet. Most of the 6 million tourists going to Tibet are Han Chinese. I would say that the more Westerners that go to Tibet, meet the people and see the situation there, the better it is for Tibet.

  2. Sloan Breeden

    “The strength of Tibet’s tour industry is all the more reason for China to keep the Tibetan culture healthy.”

    I have traveled extensively in Tibet and have to respectfully disagree with this statement. Lhasa is more than 50% Han. They own most of the businesses, control all the levers of power and ensure that the proud Tibetan people become increasingly marginalized with each passing day. Ensuring the dilution of their culture and physical numbers within their own country. Does keeping Tibet’s culture healthy mean having Tibetans prostrate at holy temples for hand-outs from Han tour groups, who smoke and spit and walk the wrong way around holy koras? Are the young Tibetan girls working in discos and massage parlors for Han clients maintaining a healthy connection with their culture and traditions?

    The Han are flooding Tibet. Both as colonizers and tourists, embarking on a cultural genocide that has the tacit approval of a silent world. I don’t believe that a culture losing its traditions and being thrust violently into the modern age by an foreign occupying power is positive at all. And the proud Tibetan people deserve much much more than serving as photo props at a Buddhist Disneyland for wealthy Chinese tourists.

    • Sloan Breeden

      I feel like I should add, Phil, that your photography has been incredibly inspirational to me. A Tibetan Portrait is one of the most cherished volumes in my collection, one of the books that made me want to devote my life to photography. The issue is just close to my heart and I wish sometimes that I could see things like his Holiness. To see the Chinese arrival as a positive, an opportunity for growth and the cultivation of patience. Perhaps in another life.

      • Phil Borges

        First of all thank you for commenting on my blog and for your kind words about my first book on Tibet.

        I’m not sure what the correct % of the population in Lhasa is Chinese. And I’m not sure anyone knows for sure. I will say that when I returned to Lhasa in 2009 after a 15 year absence that the number of Chinese businesses and Chinese I saw on the street had increased substantially. It sure seems like more than 50% is Chinese and I met locals both Tibetan and non-Tibetan that thought it was as well.

        In my new book on Tibet I have decided to try to stay clear of politically divisive issues with regard to China vs Tibet and concentrate on the issues like climate change that are substantially effecting the Tibetan people and us all.


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