To the southwest frontier of China, on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau proper lies Tibet Autonomous Region, whose average altitude is 13,200 feet above sea level.It covers a land area of 1.2 million square km,which is about 1/8 of that of the entire China, with a population of 2.26 million in which 95% are Tibetan. Tibet borders Sichuan Province on the east, Shinjiang and Qinghai on the north, Yunnan on the Souhteast, Kashimir on the west and India, Nepal, Burma, Sikkim, Bhutan on the south.
Tibet had various names before Qing Dynasty.It was named Xizhang(west chang in Chinese)in 1663 by the Qing Government .Zhang is given by Han people, the Tibetan people, for centuries, call themselves Bo. It was translated into Chinese as Tubo during Tang Dynasty, thus came the English version,Tibet.
Lhasa(the holy place in Tibetan), Tibet’s political, economic, communicative, cultural and religious center, is the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region.
Being upon the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Tibet boasts 11 of the world’s highest mountain peaks that are above 26,400 feet above sea level. The world ‘s summit, Himalaya, which strides across the border between China and Nepal, claims a height of over 30,000 feet above sea level. It’s also nicknamed as the “the Third Pole of the Globe”. In the middle and the north of Tibet line Gangdis mountains, Nianqing Tanggula mountains, the famous Hengduan mountains lies to the east. Below among these mountains lie plateaus and valleys.
Tibet is characterized with its unique plateau climate because of its altitude: thin air, 60-70% that of the sea level; less oxygen, 35-40% less than that of the sea level; lower air pressure, only half of that of the sea level; water boiling point is only 84-87 degrees centigrade. So, altitude sickness is common to new comers.
Also, because of its altitude, Tibet bathes more in sunshine than do other places. The yearly average sunny hour is between 1,550 and 3,390 hours in different parts of Tibet. Lhasa enjoys 3,005 hours approximately in a year, that’s why it is called “Sunshine City”.
Lower temprature characterizes Tibet’s yearly temprature differences; the northern Tibetan plateau is -2 degrees centigrade approximately in a year, the southern valley is 8 degrees centigrade, and it’s 10 degrees centigrade in the southeast area. And weather in a year is obviously divided into dry months and rainny months in Tibet; the dry months is from Oct. to next March, and rainny months is from April to Sept.
In Tibet, there are more than 20 rivers whose single drainage area is more than 10,000 square km.and more than 100 smaller ones whose single drainage area is above 2,000 square km. Some of the world famous rivers are from Tibet, such as Yarlungtsampo River, Lujiang River, Nanchangjiang River and Jinshajiang River.
Plateau lakes dot the whole Tibet proper. There are more than 1,500. The most famous are Namtso Lake, Selingdontso Lake, Dangztso Lake, Chaznamtso Lake, Bangongtso Lake and YamdrokYumtso Lake.
The glacier area of Tibet has more than half that in China, they concentrate among Tanggula mountains, Gangdis mountains,Nianqing Tanggula mountains and Himalaya Mountains.The whole glacier area totals27,676 square km.
The pastural area of Tibet is one of the five biggest in China,in which sheep, goats and yaks are grazed. Farming crops mainly are highland barley, wheat, bean and rape seeds as well as some apples and walnuts. Tibet has a forest coverage of 60,000 square km, which is the second largest timber deposit in China. Famous and rare animals and herb medicines are world-widely known, such as musk, pilose antler, bear’s gall bladder, Chinese caterpillar fungus, fritilary bulb, the tuber of the elevated gastrodia, and the snow lotus flower. The deposits of hydroelectric and geothermal power are at the top of China’s reserves; solar energy is the second.
Religion and folkways in Tibet
The indigenous religion is called Bonpo before the 7th century, whose belivers believe in the being in everything of the holy spirit. The high ministers of that religion presided over almost everything on the earth, so they were the most powerful men even than the kings. Buddhism was introduced into Tibet since the 7th century, after centuries of ups and downs it flurished throughout Tibet from the 10th century on, and came into being various sects till Chongkapa’s religious reform in 15th century. Gelug Sect ,founded by Chongkapa, became he most influential in Tibet since then.
Tibetan Buddhism is characterized with its overall involving into political , economic and everyday life in Tibet. It was influenced by Buddhism from Nepal, India , China mainland and Bonpo ministers.
Two famous Buddhists are especially memorable in Tibetan Buddhism, one is the Indian Lotus-born Shamanist who established the first temple –Samye in Tibet and organized the translation of holy scriptures; the other is Chongkapa whose religious reform made Gelu Sect’s influence possible.
Tibetan people , different from others , bear no family names, their names always have certain meanings, such as Buddhism, the moon, the sun, the flowers, Friday, liberation , red flag and so on so forth. Their costumes are traditionally made from woolen materials and sheephides decorated with diamonds and headdressings with only the obvious difference between men and women in styles and patterns. Their main food and drink are barley cake, corn, potato, mutten, beef,butter tea and barley wine.
Because of its nation-wide belief in Buddhism,marriage in the life of Tibetan people is saturated in religious atmosphere. The engaged parties first of all,must invite a living Buddha to decide whether their marriage is suitable or not according to holy scriptures. When decided appropriate, the two parties must sign engagement certificate on a given good day and present hada and other valuables to each other. The day before wedding day, the family of the bridegroom must send dowry to the bride, then , wedding will last for three happy days . Dowry must contain three very important things:a small golden Buddha Statue, a set of holy scriptures and a small Buddhist pagoda.
There are several kinds of funerals in Tibet according to the dead’s social and economic status.
Heaven funeral is the commonest in Tibet. As Tibetan people believe their ancestors came from heaven, they must join their ancestors after death. The dead must be worshipped and prayed for several days with the help of Buddhist monks before it is carried away to the heaven funeral altar. The family must not escort because the body would be dismembered and left to be swallowed up by vultures. Fire funeral is respectfully for the dead living Buddhas and the nobles, and pagoda funeral is specially for Panchen Lamas and Dalai Lamas, the pagoda would be decorated with gold and precious stones after burial
Etiquette and Traditional Festivals in Tibet
Tibetan custom is traditionally and religously full of everyday etiquette.The commonest nowadays are:
To present Hada when visiting or being visited ; paying respect to elders or to the Buddhist statues; wedding or celebrating holidays. Hada is a long , white , raw silk woven thin scarf, representing traditionally purity , loyalty, respect, good blessings and happiness.
To kowtow on all fours when paying homage to holy places, Buddhist stupas or statues and esp. to living Buddhas.
To bow with hat in hand when meeting with respectful elders and to nod to friends or ordinary people with smile on face.
There is ,at least , a festival in almost every month both traditionally and religiously. The following are some of the most important.
Tibetan New Year It is as important as the Spring Festival to the Han people. At the beginning of the 12th month in Tibetan calendar, New Year preparations stage on:a painted cereals container called “Chemar”as contribution to Buddha are highly important; butter mixed barley cakes, baked barley seeds and ginsengnuts are stuffed in Chemar; barley ears, cockflowers, and butter-made plates are decorated outside. When New Year’s day breaks, people hold “Chemar”and highland barley wine to greet eachother by saying “Tsashidele”, which means “Good luck and happiness to you”. One is not allowed to clean the hous on this day, people sing and dance, visit relatives or friends for several following days ; they drink together and pray for happiness in the temples , everyone is in delight.
Butter Lamp Festival On the 15th of the first month in Tibetan calendar, lamas from every temple and monastery and civil craftsmen make butter flowers with colored butter and hang them from the shafts in front of Jolkhang Temple . When night comes, butter flowers are lighted , and legendary figures , birds and animals painted on the lamps are vivid and eyecatching. People sing and dance under the lamps till daybreak.
Buddha’s Anniversary Day Its common name is “the Festival of setting free the Caged Animals”. All lamas and laymen do not eat meat and kill animals during hte whole 4th month. They pay their homage to Buddha and chant sultras attentively. It is believed that Sakyamuni was born, enlightened and died in the 15th of the 4th month,people meet by the Dragon King Pool rowing boats and singing songs.
Linka Day:Linka means garden or park full of trees in Tibetan. So, on this day,people come to every linka carrying tents and food to enjoy the beauty of nature.
Shoton Festival:Early morning on the 30th of the 6th in Tibetan calendar, people gather at hillfoot of Drepung Monastery , waiting for the first programme of Shoton Festival—Unfolding the Buddha Painting. A giant “Tangka”Buddha is spread on the hillslope for the homage-paying of the people . From the first day of the 7th month on , Tibetan drama troups perform Tibetan opera and dramas in PotalaPalace and Norbulinka.
Historical and Cultural Places of interest
Yumbulakhang With a history of over 2,000 years, it is the first palace built in Tibet. The murals and frescoes inside depict vividly historic figures and other things.
Potala Palace Built on top of the Red Hill in the center of Lhasa in the 7th century and destroyed later. Rebuilt during the rule of the 5th Dalai Lama, extended and repaired later into what it is now. The palace proper contains 13 storeys and is 380 feet high. It is divided into RedPalace and WhitePalace. The former one is composed of Dalai Lama ‘s Saint Ashes Pagodas and different temples , while the latter one is the place where Dalai Lama live and work.PotalaPalace is the largest museum of cultural relics in Tibet.
Jolkhang Temple Built in 647A.D. and located in the center of old town of Lhasa, it is one of the earliest structures in Tibet. Its roof is covered with gold ,making much of a sight. A large number of precious cultural relics are preserved in the temple , among which the golden statue of Sakyamuni, brought to Tibet by the Princess Wenchen in the Tang Dynasty,is the most famous. Walls along lobbies and inner temples are covered with legendary frescoes.
Palcho Monastery , built in 1418, is a complex consisting of 16 monaste ries of three different sects of Lamaism. The Kumbum Pagoda is one of the most magnificent buildings in Tibet. In the monastery there are many wonderful paintings made by Nepalese artists in 15th century, which are the best-preserved examples of the same style in Tibet.
Tashilunpo, was built in 1447 by Gendun Drup, the first Dalai Lama whose body was entombed here. This monastery once housed over 3,000 lamas. It is the largest temple of Glug Sect of Lamaism. Tashilunpo became the official seat of Pamchen Lama, the chief spiritual and authority in Tibet. The most famous image in this monastery is the statue of Future Buddha made by 9th Pamchen Lama in 1914and the work lasted four years. This marvelous staute , with over 86 feet in height , was made of a mixture of 6,700 ounces of gold , 115,875 kilos of copper and the other precious things.
Tombs of Tibetan Kings are located in Chonggye County , 28km far from Tsedang. It is believed that all the early Tibetan Kings are Buried there. Today only 11 of them are still visible . The biggest and most recognizable one is the tomb of Songtsen Gampo, the most famous king in Tibet.It is said that his two queens were also buried with him there.