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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Destination romance: Lhasa, Tibet

February 15, 2010

Pico Iyer is enchanted by a mountain-top city on the cusp of great change
Pico Iyer
The Observer (UK)
February 14, 2010

I walked out on to the balcony in Banak Shol
guesthouse in Lhasa, Tibet, in 1985 and looked up
to where the Potala Palace sat, on a ridge
overlooking the small cluster of traditional whitewashed houses.

A few backpackers were gathered on the terrace,
talking about the days of hard travel they'd
survived to get there. Tibet had opened up to the
world only a few years before, and all of us had
the sense of stepping into a place almost never before seen by foreign eyes.

The Banak Shol could not have been a less
propitious setting for romance. There were no
windows in my little cell and I had to crawl into
it before flopping on to the bed. Yet even then,
on that first night, I knew, as one does in love,
that I was in a place I'd never see again.

The kids on the streets were already asking for
pens from the foreigners who arrived, and a Rambo
Café in Lhasa was clearly on its way. I realised
that the same impulse that had allowed me to come
here would ensure that Lhasa would not remain a
deeply Tibetan settlement for much longer.
Besides, many of its temples were already in
ruins, and by the time I came back, five years
later, the place was under martial law, with soldiers on the rooftops.

Next morning, the mountains were so sharp and
bright in the high, thin air, I felt
light-headed. I stepped out of my real life in
that crystal light, and seemed to be looking at
everything from a great, clear height. One of the
things I saw from there was the end of a romantic Tibet.

Pico Iyer is author of The Open Road: The Global
Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
(Bloomsbury). Fly from Heathrow to Chengdu with
Cathay Pacific ( from £700,
then fly Air China ( to Lhasa
for £130. Banak Shol (0086 891 632 3829) has
doubles from 80CYN (£7.50) per night. For details go to
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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