~ ~ ~ ~
The first thing that hits you when you arrive in Lhasa is just how close to the heavens you are. Literally. The average elevation in Tibet is 16,000 feet. The fact that this place is known as the â€œRoof of the World" makes sense as your newcomer lungs and blood struggle to adjust to the altitude.
Beijing says Tibet is historically part of China, not a sovereign nation. Chinaâ€™s army invaded Tibet in 1950. Years of bloody conflict followed. In 1959, Tibetâ€™s traditional spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India. China has governed over Tibet since then.
During the fourth lunar month in the Tibetan calendar, ethnic Tibetans celebrate the annual festival of Saga Dawa. Tibetan Buddhists believe that on the full moon in this month, in various years of his life, the Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment, and died.
A large armed police presence surrounded the festival during the year I shot the footage you'll see in this episode. When we asked one pilgrim why, she said â€œBecause when too many Tibetans gather in one place, they are afraid weâ€™ll rise up.â€
In 2008, Saga Dawa fell on the heels of a violent government crackdown on pro-independence protesters throughout Tibet, during the run-up to the Olympics. Thousands of armed troops filled Lhasa and outlying towns, and large numbers of "suspects" were rounded up and jailed. Widespread reports of human rights abuses filtered out, despite a virtual communications blackout. This yearâ€™s Saga Dawa festival also fell near the anniversary of the Tiananmen democracy protests, and authorities cited fears that this would inspire more protest in Tibet.
While first-person accounts were hard to come by, there were many reports of ethnic Tibetans being blocked from the traditional pilgimage route around Lhasa in the name of state security.
Previously on Boing Boing tv:
Previously on Boing Boing blog: