(TibetanReview.net, Apr 08, 2009) — Tibetan pilgrims may soon have to struggle for space with tourists, many of them travelling in vehicles, along the 57 km circuit of the 6,675-metre Mount Kailash, Asia’s most sacred mountain, suggested a DPA news agency feature report Apr 6. Trucks and jeeps can now already drive along about half of this route.
Contributing to a massive flow of tourists will be the Ngari airport, set for its inaugural opening next year, with its trial run being held this year. “My expectation is that at the beginning, there will be one flight to Lhasa every few days,” the report quoted a Chinese named Li Yujian, head of the Ali (Tibetan: Ngari) tourism bureau, as saying. “We will gradually adjust the flights later, according to the rise in the number of tourists.”
The state run Tibet Tourism company plans to invest up to 600 million yuan (US $88 million) over the next few years to “make the Sacred Mountain Holy Lake Scenic Area into a national-level, and even a world-level, fine-quality tourist area.” The plans include upgrading the main road from Lhasa and build hotels and restaurants near Mt Kailash, where the small village of Darchen serves as the transit point and campsite for Tibetan pilgrims.
However, the fast-track development being pushed by the Chinese government remains controversial amid accusation that it mainly benefits the Chinese majority and rides roughshod over Tibetan culture and religion.
Tibetans welcome appropriate and responsible development that respects their cultural and religious traditions but not the fast-track commercialization that Beijing is prioritizing in so many areas of Tibet including now in the sacred Mount Kailash region,” Kate Saunders, communications director of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, was quoted as saying. She has said evidence from local businesses in other Tibetan areas show that most tourism revenues leave the region.
The development project is also controversial for its negative impact on the region’s fragile environment. Li has claimed that the development would “protect normal religious activity” and the environment around Kailash. That remains to be seen, although one does wonder what kind of religious activities would be considered normal and why other types of religious activities may no longer be protected, if at all they are being protected now.