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Tibet Travel Guide

Tibet — History and Culture

The Tibetan Buddhists who worship serene lakes, snow-capped peaks, and all things white could not have settled in a more perfect part of the world. Tibet may have been closed off to most outsiders for centuries, but its own proud history dates back to the middle of the 7th century, when Tibetan Empire founder Songstan Gampo married two princesses, one Nepalese and the other Chinese.

Tibet was frequently caught in the middle of Chinese and Nepalese disputes over control of the legendary Silk Road between the 9th and 17th centuries. During the mid-1700s, the Dalai Lama asked a Mongol tribe to settle these disputes once and for all. Even though the Mongols seized military control and established their own leader as Tibet’s new king, the Dalai Lama maintained administrative control.

The early 18th century was Tibet’s next tumultuous period, but the Dalai Lama’s next attempt at peace by asking another Mongol tribe to control Tibet wasn’t so successful. The Chinese emperor invaded the region, expelled the Mongols, and controlled the territory during the 1904 British invasion and the remainder of the Qing Dynasty.

In 1911, the Qing Dynasty was overthrown and Tibet declared its independence, which lasted for more than three decades. During this time, Tibet’s boundaries extended past present day Tibet Autonomous Region territory into the current Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Qinghai, and Sichuan.

After the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, the People’s Liberation Army entered Tibet and officially brought the region under Chinese control during the following year. However, China gave Tibet full autonomous status and even named the Dalai Lama as the Chinese Communist Party’s vice secretary. This agreement, however, did not last long.

In 1959, the Tibetan people protested against Chinese rule, causing the Dalai Lama to establish a government in exile in the Indian community of Dharamsala. The Red Guards imprisoned or killed well over a million Tibetans during the Cultural Revolution, which also destroyed much of the region’s own cultural heritage.

Apart from three more major uprisings in 1987, 1989, and 2008, Tibet has remained a generally calm place, and is attracting growing numbers of tourists from China and other parts of the world even though its political situation remains tense.

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