By Hajota | National Herald
NEW DELHI, India, 23 March 1947
There are few countries on the surface of this globe of which it can be said with approximate certainty that, though plenty of time and spirit has been devoted to their study, they have never been fully understood. Bhot, or Tibet, under which name it is geographically and politically known, occupies the privileged position to be the only cultured nation in the world, which has, until this very day, retained its majestic isolation. Not only that, every one of the various existing and partly very detailed and colourful descriptions clearly reveals the author’s obvious inability to fully comprehend the country’s many singular peculiarities. No, reading through what the fairly numerous travellers and explorers know to relate about Tibet, and carefully comparing it with one’s own impressions and observations, the lover of ethnological originality and cultural characteristics is delighted to find that attempts at drawing the so very popular parallels between this country’s most outstanding features and those the author’s own are extremely rare. More, all the known reports on the hidden realm in the heart of Asia betray an almost amusing unanimity amongst foreigners to penetrate deeper into the soul of the country, to investigate its unique philosophy of life, to unveil but a fraction of the countless problems it so freely offers to the foreigner. The amusing part of it is that even great scholars and experienced globe-trotters take refuge behind a screen of completely non-committal verbosity, their favourite adjective being “forbidden”. Tibet is the “forbidden country,” Lhasa the “forbidden town”.
Actually there is nothing at all forbidden. It is true that during the nineteenth century foreigners, in particular Europeans, were somewhat systematically prevented from entering the country and even as recently as only fifty years ago visitors were, provided they were recognized as such, forced to abstain from any such idea as reaching the sacred capital. The fact that some foreign explorers lost their lives in the attempt to reach the interior of the remarkable country might have added to the fame the Tibetans enjoy as hostile towards strangers.
And yet, strange as this might sound, the notes and observations recorded by recent visitors to the land of untouched mysteries contain absolutely nothing to support the disreputable fame of the inhabitants. The Tibetans are nowadays generally described as extremely friendly, good-natured, hospitable with the generous touch and kind-hearted. Their singular religiosity, and their faithfulness and loyalty to their cultural inheritance and their cultural inheritance and their mode of existence, which is nothing but a continuous hard and bitter struggle against overwhelming natural odds, stands in the plain contradiction to all the many, in their great majority surely unaware, tales of their inhospitality. Footpads and robbers will be found in every part of the world; and to describe the inhabitants of a country as hostile just because a few lost travelers attracted the attention of a couple of bad characters by inadvertently showing them that they carried valuables, amounts, in my opinion, to committing a grave injustice.
It is fact, though, that Tibet with all its extraordinary scenic and ethnographical features, with all its strange and attractive people, its fascinating culture and its mysterious religious rites and customs, has managed to remain aloof from foreign influence and almost completely untouched by the horrors of what is in other parts of the world, mistakenly named “civilization”. It is difficult to say what the many foreign visitors who succeeded in forcing their way into the interior of the country with its mighty natural barriers actually wanted. Tibet is materially an area almost exclusively consisting of rocky highland, the very few vegetated districts with their salt lakes and their surprising hot springs affecting the foreigner exactly the same way as does an oasis in the desert. As Shangri-La is but a beautiful fairy tale, it cannot possibly be the quest, for a hidden paradise with the legendary ideal climatic and scenic conditions which drove so many foreigners into the country. Is it treasures, then, the explorers were after? There is a certain probability in this direction, for it is quite well known that substantial amounts of gold are found literally everywhere in Tibet. All the rivers passing through the country carry sands impregnated with gold, and the precious red metal has actually been commercially mined in Jalung in western Tibet since 1875. Still, even gold does not seem to hold any magnetic power for travelers in the land of the Dalai Lama for not a single case is known in which a foreigner has left the country burdened with the most precious of all the coveted minerals.
Is it the population with its picturesque garments, its manifold crafts and arts? Or is it, in the end, the Dalai Lama himself, the great, omniscient, allpowerful religious and secular ruler, whom the foreigners come to see? Or do they aware of being intruders simply wish to admire Lhasa, the impressive capital with its magnificent Potala, the early 17th century fortress palace? It is, I am afraid, all of there things and at the same time none of them. This sounds evasive, but it is nothing of the sort. I shall explain presently. Man’s ambitions are many, but one of his most powerful obsessions is to be the first somewhere. Be it the peak of a mountain, the North Pole or an uncharted Island in the South Seas, there will always be people who, just because a spot is not exactly in convenient reach of the masses will insist on having been there. Very often it is not even the true exploring spirit of wishing to discover and describe. How else could the visits of so many foreigners to Tibet be explained? All of them with a very few exceptions, take great pride in being referred to as explorers. Yet only some of them actually were pioneers. The rest are partly adventurers, partly sensation-seekers.
Tibet is, as explained above, by far not the only centre of attraction to this kind of globetrotters. It is, however, the only inhabited area of international interest which has very successfully managed to preserve its unspoiled characteristics, and its untouchedness. Nowhere in this country can traces of alien infiltration be found. It is a virgin ground. Foreign influence is traceable exclusively amongst high dignitaries and state officials, and it consists mainly of the knowledge of foreign languages such as Chinese, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, English and Russian. Telegraph and wireless are represented, of course. but they serve state purpose only, the population betraying a distinct reluctance to become closely acquainted with contraptions of this uncontrollable sort.
Bhot, as which it is known in India, is a very fortunate country. Surely has it been a playball of foreign powers on various occasions, and even invasions are reported to have taken place. But in spite of the partly very material changes in history has Tibet remained what it was: a homogeneous nation; proud, self-sufficient, strong and independent. Its eight delegates who arrived in Delhi after a particularly varied journey will have an important say at the Inter-Asian conference.