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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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
  • Get to the point
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

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss