China unleashes tourism in latest invasion of Tibet

Wealthy tourists will soon be able to gaze out at the Roof of the World as a smartly dressed waiter expertly pours a glass of imported wine in the intimate setting of the Decanter bar of Tibet's first luxury hotel.

For centuries an isolated, mystical enclave ruled by Tibetan Buddhist monks, Lhasa – the administrative centre of the Tibet Autonomous Region – has changed profoundly since Chinese troops entered in 1950 and imposed the dominant Han Chinese culture on the ancient territory.

The introduction in recent years of regular flights, as well as the building of a high-tech train service from central Qinghai province to Tibet – the first rail link between the area and the rest of China – has seen tourists arrive in droves to the city where, historically, neither foreigners nor Chinese dared enter.

The surge of tourists to the Himalayan region has seen visitor numbers jump during the first nine months of 2010 to 5.8 million, up 23 per cent on the same period a year earlier.

And newly wealthy Chinese want luxury accommodation. "The St Regis Lhasa Resort offers refined luxury and superlative service in a storied city," gushes the breathless blurb on the St Regis website. "Discover Potala Palace and Norbulingka, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Jokhang Temple, all minutes from our resort."

A room for the night at Lhasa's newest place to stay will set you back about £200. The Intercontinental and Shangri-La hotel groups are also about to unveil high-end luxury hotels in coming months.

But the opening up of the region has not been seamless. In March 2008, violent protests focused on Han Chinese settlers in the region left 22 dead, according to government figures, although Tibetan rights groups say the figure was far higher. Officials blamed protest activity across the plateau on separatists loyal to the Dalai Lama.

There is a heavy police presence on the streets of Lhasa and hardline measures have been put in place to maintain religious and political stability.

Lhasa used to be one of the most remote and inaccessible places in the world, but Beijing has been keen to promote the city as a tourist destination.

"The opening of St Regis ends Tibet's history of no luxury hotels. High-end hotels will help boost Tibet's tourism," Wang Songping, deputy chief of the Tibetan Tourism Administration, told the Xinhua news agency.

Beijing says the People's Liberation Army rescued Tibetans from a feudal system run by Buddhist monks and insists the remote Himalayan territory has been part of Chinese territory for centuries.

It accuses the Dalai Lama, who left Tibet after a failed uprising in 1959 and has not returned since, of being a dangerous "splittist," agitating for independence. The Chinese government says it is bringing prosperity to a traditionally impoverished area. It has started a huge building programme and says it has done much to lift the enclave out of isolation.

Tibetan activists have warned that tourism and migration by Han Chinese could swamp Tibet's distinctive culture, with Tibetan people not receiving their fair share of new jobs and income.

But the hotel is less concerned with the politics and more interested in promoting its image as a go-to destination.

"Four meeting rooms surpass your expectations, while Iridium, the Spa, brings a uniquely Tibetan flavour to a soothing array of indulgent treatments," promises the brochure.

Overseas groups who demand Tibet's autonomy say the opening up of the region could lead to an influx of ethnic Han Chinese migrants who will eventually displace Tibetans in their own homeland.

For Chinese tourists, Tibet has a spiritual dimension which people feel is missing from the Han areas of China and the cities on the eastern seaboard. Chinese tourists don Tibetan cowboy hats and robes and seek to share in the spirituality that the mystical Tibetans are supposed to exude.

The hotel features 162 guest rooms and villas with plasma TV, broadband and spacious marble bathrooms.

"Our St Regis Butler will address your every request for an unforgettable stay," the hotel promises.

Suggested Topics
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?