(TibetanReview.net, Apr29’23) – Although Covid restrictions had been lifted months ago, Tibetans across the Tibetan Plateau must still surmount another, existing but now stricter obstacle for visiting their spiritual capital Lhasa: They are required to obtain a permit from their concerned local authorities and also a guarantor from a known contact in the destination city, promising and assuring no anti-state or anti-party activities, reported the Tibetan Service of rfa.org Apr 28.
Tibetans from across ethnographic Tibet visit Lhasa for a variety of purposes, but especially for pilgrimage. Many have barely travelled outside their hometown before and do not have any contact in Lhasa to vouch for their good behaviour even if they manage to obtain the coveted permit from their local authorities. Visiting Lhasa for pilgrimage is often a life-long ambition for many Tibetans.
Many undertake the journey on foot over many hundreds of miles, some even with a series of prostrations.
Tibetans travelling to Lhasa, a city of about 560,000 people that include a large influx of Chinese immigrants, visit its major religious sites such as the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple (and its Barkor circuit), the Norbulingka Palace, and the major seat monasteries of Drepung, Sera and Gaden.
The current permit-based restrictions, applicable only to Tibetans in Tibet Autonomous Region as well as other Tibetan populated regions wishing to travel to Lhasa were first introduced in 2018.
The system was made more stringent from the beginning of this year, just after the Covid-19 restrictions were eased, with Tibetans being required to fill up a separate application form which upon approval by a concerned local official needed to be submitted to a designated office in Lhasa. A Lhasa-resident must provide assurance of the applicant’s good behaviour.
The report said that a group of Tibetans on a pilgrimage to Lhasa from Kyungchu county of Ngaba county in Sichuan province could not register their names in the Lhasa office as they did not know anyone in the city, leaving them with none to approach for guaranteeing their good behaviour. This also meant that they could not book hotel rooms, leaving them with no option but to turn back, the report cited a local source as saying.
“One must obtain a permit letter from their respective county or village office to enter Lhasa beforehand,” the unnamed source has said. “And then, once you get that, you need a resident in Lhasa to verify that you will not engage in any sort of riots.”
Lhasa residents who verify a traveler must sign a document upon the latter’s arrival in Lhasa, he has added.
He has added that Tibetans from Nyarong, also in Sichuan province, and other places in Qinghai Province were seen being similarly forced to return home for the same reason.
The rule is blatantly discriminatory, another source has pointed out.
“If you are Chinese, you can just show your identity card to enter Lhasa, but for Tibetans, the Chinese government has levelled up their restrictive tactics and implemented an extra process,” he has said.